Chrome "People," and Lastpass, and Dropbox to Balance Work and Play

After transitioning to a company that uses Google business for email, calendar, etc I have encountered a workflow problem: how do I pleasantly access both my personal Google account and my work account. More broadly, how can I safely make use of personal account information along with work account information?

LastPass for Security

Last Pass is a great way to manage account information. You can even share items like username / password pairs to trusted friends. This is great if you want someone to have access to your account information while still maintaining control over the ownership of that information. You can even keep them from seeing the password such that they never have free access to copy or change the underlying password.

I have two Last Pass account: personal and work. I share needed authentication information from my personal account to my work account rather than creating “work only” accounts on say LinkedIn; sharing that account between my personal and work time makes sense.

In general, this works just fine. You share the password and they are unable to copy or change it; however, the simplicity ends when you you move outside web applications. In the browser, the LastPass plugin will auto-populate the password information for you. On your machine — at least on my Mac and my Windows 8 machine — it will not. Since my shared password may not be copied, I am prevented from logging into those accounts. It’s true that you may share passwords with trusted sources and allow them to change or copy the password, but I think this kind of defeats the purpose o the separation of work vs personal profile concerns. I feel that way now…ask me again in 3 months if I care about that so much ;).

Chrome People for Separation of Concerns

Google Chrome has the concept of “People” or distinct profiles, each with their own settings, bookmarks and themes. They’ve made it pretty easy to switch between the two. This allows me to maintain two instances of Chrome, each signed in to it’s own Google profile, allowing easy switching between environments. My personal account is shared among my family and includes links to favorite youtube videos, learning websites, children’s content, et al. Additionally, extensions that members of my family use are of no use at work and only serve to clutter my environment.

Additionally, each Chrome person can be signed in to a different Last Pass user. Since LastPass is exposed through an extension, the state of that LastPass extension is kept separate from other People.

Having the themes be different is also nice. If you are operating multiple profiles out of multiple instances, a distinct difference in theme helps to quickly orient me when I’m switching between People. Part of what I want in my work environment is clarity. It if is not immediately clear which profile I’m in, I could waste time on confusion; however, if the themes sufficiently contrast with one another, this confusion is avoided and my work flow can continue.

Last, it’s easy to have two instances of Chrome running — work and personal. In Windows, it’s as easy as Alt-Tab’ing from personal to work. I’m working on a Mac these days and still figuring out their windowing system. Within a single desktop, you can Command-` between instances of Chrome, but things get tricky with multiple desktops. When I figure out how to build a keyboard-driven flow in and among multiple desktops, I’ll let you know ;).

Dropbox for Shared Persistence

Dropbox has been a favorite free service of mine for some time. Back when they were getting going, I referred people to them like crazy. The result is I now have 21.5 gB of space without paying any monthly fee :D. This is sufficient to share work-related documents, music I listen to, images I commonly use, etc. This section isn’t as nuanced as the others; it’s just shared file access. The thing that I like about Dropbox is that you can designate a public directory. This allows you to separate personal documents like tax returns and work-related documents like 5,000 word requirement documents ;). With my boss-level 21 gB, I can probably use this service in ways that most cannot. The basic free subscription is only 2 gB; however, you can buy 1 tB for only $10 per month.

The Payoff

This setup buys me several things:

  • Secure password and information management using Last Pass
  • Personal Last Pass account not cluttered with work-related items
  • Work access to personal information is handled securely and without compromising the single source of truth principle
  • Profile collisions e.g. Google accounts, bookmarks, extensions between personal and work environments are completely eliminated
  • Shared access to public files

I value a work space that well-organized and effective. For me, these two attributes together produce an environment that free of clutter i.e. unused or overly complex setup. Surprisingly, I don’t keep my bedroom anywhere near as organized as my work laptop. That is another subject for another blog post :).


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.