Not buying nice computers for software developers is a mistake. I put this so bluntly because I think it’s an easy mistake to make if you don’t really understand developers. I’m not going to make an argument based on the productivity gains to be had through the use of more powerful computers and bigger monitors. Those are good reasons to make sure people have the tools that make them most effective, but the reasoning behind making sure developers have nice computers goes beyond that.
First of all, it should be noted that many developers are computer enthusiasts. The developers you most want to hire fall into this category. They know the difference between the laptops Dell sells for $600 and the Lenovo ThinkPads that sell for $2,000. They can tell the difference between the nice 20″ LCD monitor and the crappy one. And in most cases, they care about those differences. So when they get a hand me down laptop or a new computer that’s substandard when they start a job, most developers find it a little disheartening. They know they could have something better, and in many cases they do have something better sitting at home on their desk. Ideally, when you’re looking to save money, it should be in an area where people won’t notice. When it comes to their tools, people notice.
The second point is that providing developers with top of the line tools lets them know that the company takes their work seriously. It almost doesn’t matter what someone gets paid — if they are given substandard equipment, it makes them feel like the company doesn’t really value their work, probably because whoever is making the decision doesn’t understand their work. Going all out on equipment is a strong signal to prospective employees that you have a clue.
And third, it’s not that expensive. Software developers tend to be pretty well compensated, and when you add on the amount of money it costs to provide benefits, a work space, and everything else, the difference between a cheap computer and a nice computer is really small. The most expensive laptop in the Apple Store is $2,500. The cheapest is $1,000.
To make my point, I’m collecting job ads that promise nice computer hardware to developers. Here’s a job posting from Tumblr:
You’ll get to work in a nice office in New York City on a Mac Pro with giant monitors on something you actually care about that’s used by well over a million people.
And here’s what Mint.com offers:
Engineers get their own top-of-the-line laptop with 4GB RAM and a docking station, and flat LCD monitor for their desk. Built-in unlimited mobile broadband is a company-sponsored option. Having the right tools is important.
I worry more about equipment purchases as someone who’s gone out and hired developers than as an end user. Finding good developers is really, really difficult, and companies should give themselves every advantage that they can. Having an equipment policy you can brag about is a tangible advantage, and I’m always amazed when companies forgo that advantage.