Leadership

10 gifts to give your development team this holiday season

Show your developers how much you appreciate their hard work and loyalty by choosing from this list of gift ideas. Some are more tangible than others -- and some won't cost you a dime.

The holiday season is upon us, so it's a good time to consider a few things you can give your software development team to make their lives easier and to bring some happiness into their work life. Not all of these are physical items, either. Some are changes you can make in how you handle your team and their challenges. While you surely can't get all of these things for your team this year, you should definitely try to see what is possible -- especially given the loyalty and dedication they have probably shown you over the last few years of these challenging times.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Resharper

JetBrain's Resharper is one of the most useful tools out there for .NET developers. It just does a great job of making lots of minor tasks a lot easier. If your .NET team isn't using Resharper yet, this is a great way to put a smile on their faces.

2: Innovasys Document! X

Document! X is an excellent way to turn in-code documentation for .NET projects into useful help files. Not only will this make things easier to for your dev team, but it will improve the lives of the people who have to work with their libraries and code. It even hooks into Visual Studio 2010's new Help system, so F1 works for your custom code.

3: Mercurial

I have not talked to any developers who were unhappy because they moved to Mercurial for their version control needs. I made the switch myself for personal projects recently, and I could not be happier. If you want to take away the pain of working with source control, give Mercurial a shot. It's an open source project, so the experiment won't cost you a thing, and there are hosted solutions that are dirt cheap.

4: Ergonomics

Developers spend eight hours a day (on a good day) in a chair in front of their PC. The upfront cost of ergonomic equipment such as specialty chairs, desks, mice, keyboards, and better, bigger, and extra monitors may seem a lot. (My home office setup cost a bit over $3,200).But when you consider that it is a one-time expense you do not lose even if the employee leaves, and when you factor in the long-term benefits, it is actually a good bargain.

5: More CPU power, RAM

It's no secret that the tools developers use take up an awful lot of horsepower on the desktop. All too often, the development team is saddled with the standard corporate machines that hold them back. While getting a beefed up machine won't be the difference between "on time" and "a month late," it will definitely reduce the day-to-day frustrations of your team.

6: Growth opportunities

When you talk to employees about "growth opportunities", they usually think about raises and promotions. While I've never met a programmer who has ever turned down a raise, "growth opportunities" mostly mean "chances to learn new things." The best programmers are the ones who truly love to program. Becoming management is not on their agenda, but writing great code and staying up to date are primary goals. If you can find ways for your team to experiment with new technologies, not only will they be happier, but they won't be looking to go to another job just for that chance.

7: Learning and training resources

One constant when I talk to other developers is that their employers do not give them the tools to learn, whether it be the latest-and-greatest techs that they want to experiment with or the bread-and-butter items they need to improve how they do their jobs. Your development team is a bunch of really smart people, but you can't expect them to know everything intuitively. If you give them access to books, training classes (or online presentations), test machines, and the time to learn, it will reap huge dividends in both productivity and morale.

8: Better deadlines

Many, if not most, development projects are behind on their deadlines. The ongoing joke since the first line of code was ever written is that management asks how long a task will take and then completely ignores it and declares some arbitrary deadline. If you want to do something to make your team happier, start being realistic about deadlines. The simple fact is, no deadline can be guaranteed. Instead of picking a date and holding your developers to it, have them produce an estimated time of completion (not a "deadline"), treat it as a rough estimate for business purposes, and then work on getting more accurate estimates down the road.

9: More support from leadership

All too often, the development team feels that when the chips are down, they are on their own. Of course, it is impossible to always do things the way the programming staff wants them to be done. At the same time, though, you can try to take their needs into consideration. One of the biggest mistakes made, time and time again, is when managers let pressure from their bosses flow straight through to the workers. Keeping this from happening will go a long way toward having a team with better morale.

10: QA resources

Development teams do not always see eye-to-eye with the QA folks, but that doesn't mean that programmers are against QA. In fact, developers often cite a lack of QA resources, such as special testing tools, time to test as part of the development cycle, dedicated QA personnel, test labs, and so on, as a major source of frustration and a cause of poor software. If you want to help your team deliver better software, look into getting them the QA resources that they need.

Other gifts

Are you planning to give a gift or two to your developers this year? What items would you add to this list? (If you're a developer yourself, what sort of gift would make you happy?) Share your thoughts and suggestions below.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

18 comments
jonathan
jonathan

Can you tell us a little more about your desk setup? Like what chair, desk, ect? Standing desk?

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

especially like 4, 7, 9 and 10. Never happen though.

Ole88
Ole88

...to receive that is. Where I work, they tend to get new computers and give them to upper management. I have a 4 year old computer and have to suffer with it. IMHO upper management can most likely be better served with smart phones and/or portable computing resources.

PJTechno
PJTechno

This is the most ungrateful way to thank your developers. I opened this message thinking it is gifts that mean something at a personal level only to find it is gifts for the benefits of the company still. Its like buying your wife a blanket for her birthday present.

gzhang
gzhang

You should give your team members more time to spend with their families --- if they have been working hard.

James Brown
James Brown

I've recently used both on different projects. I prefer GIT (also open source) over mercurial. I think the documentation for GIT is better and I found it easier to understand what it wanted me to do next.

asjeff
asjeff

MZ Tools or similar. Cheap and very effective

fbeiderb
fbeiderb

I would include CodeRush/Refactor! as an either or with Resharper.

craigc
craigc

A 'gift' is NOT something that helps the company get more out of the developers. Give them something they might actually WANT.

four49
four49

While there is certainly room for improvement, all but the simplest software projects will be perpetually behind schedule. There are numerous reasons for this, but its not something I see changing.

Justin James
Justin James

Sure! I used the following equipment: Desk: Herman-Miller Envelop Chair: Herman-Miller Embody Mouse: Evoluent Vertical Mouse Keyboard: Kinesis Advantage Monitors: Samsung SyncMaster T260 (primary, centered in front of me), Samsung SyncMaster XL2370 (secondary, slightly angled, to the right of the primary) Headset for desk phone: Jabra GN9350 Lighting: GE Reveal light bulbs (incandescent), overhead This combination has been put together over years. The mouse and keyboard are indispensable. I know a number of people who have tried one or the other and also love them. They both take some getting used to (a day or so for the mouse, about a week on the keyboard) but you will never want to go back. The desk is the least important part of this setup. While I personally love mine, I could "make do" with a regular desk or table. If I were to go back to a regular desk, I would want to have a keyboard tray. The chair is the most expensive piece of the puzzle. If the Embody chair is too pricey, stepping down to the Aeron (which can be had for half the price if you shop around) is not a bad option at all. Humanscale makes some equally innovative chairs that I have not tried, when I tried the Embody I didn't feel the need to explore more chairs because it was perfect for me. Incidentally, I have reviews of all of the above products here on TechRepublic if you want to learn more. For the other items, the headset... can't get rid of it. This headset has at least 500 feet of range. I can roam all over the place while on a call and the quality is still outstanding. It has oodles of talk time too, I have been on it all day. It is very light and comfortable. It can be used as a USB headset as well, so if there is something where I need to record audio at a decent sound quality, I can do it too. Having this headset makes it possible to type and be on the phone at the same time, instead of holding it to my face, put the other person on speakerphone, or cradle it with my neck. I love my monitors too. Between the two, the XL2370 is the better. It has the best color I have ever seen on a screen, and looks extremely sharp. But I appreciate the bigger size and higher resolution of the T260 (1900 x 1200, 26" screen), which is why it is my main monitor. It still has good picture quality, but it just can't match the other one which has an LED backlight. The biggest issue with both screens is that they are non-adjustable and don't have VESA mount points on the rear. Herman-Miller has a system to mount monitors on floating arms, which frees a ton of desk space, but I can't use it because the monitors can't be mounted. If I were to replace them, I would go with the Dell Ultrasharp series. My weak point is the lighting. The GE Reveal bulbs are decent, and if you don't get a quality task lamp they are about as good as you can reasonably get. But I'd still like a task lamp. Along the same lines, I'd like to get some of the Gunnar glasses and try them out. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

"The holiday season is upon us, so it?s a good time to consider a few things you can give your software development team to make their lives easier and to bring some happiness into their work life." If work for a company that actually will spend money (more than a few dollars) doing nice things for their employees that have no impact on the bottom line, you are lucky. Most companies won't spend a cent! This is a list of things that a manager can do that employees will appreciate and be able to do within the boundaries of a company budget. Quite honestly, I'd rather get something like Resharper than most of the stuff my wife's bought me over the years anyways. She tends to buy me things like blankets. J.Ja

PJTechno
PJTechno

If you are to buy a gift to thank someone then let it mean something. If you want to enhance your team performance then do that as part of your strategy not as festive season gifts.

lishchuk
lishchuk

+100 Also, - gift them more organizers and more project managers; - gift them more extra hours to work on the projects, (sorry, it can't be paid by law) - gift them a chance to know that anybody can be fired at any given moment, (the actual gift here is - be happier you are not fired yet)

fatman65535
fatman65535

In my case, that would be an electric cattle prod for the sales weasels that promised the moon, and expected YOU to deliver. (/snark) Oh, my inner `BOFH` is showing!!!

twistedg
twistedg

If you DO have a bit of cash to spend, one of the best and most appreciated gifts I have received from work was a gift card to ThinkGeek.com. A geek's paradise.

Justin James
Justin James

Yes, ThinkGeek is a great place to shop for tech types! Even those who wouldn't like being called "geeks" can appreciate a lot of the stuff there, particularly the puzzles. J.Ja

Editor's Picks