Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Buying Your Own Tools for Work


I've been thinking a bit lately about what to do in the situation where you can't convince your management to get you some tool so you consider simply buying it yourself.

For example, I've already bought my own keyboard and mouse for work (because I don't like the ones that came with our computers and it's hard to convince management that the "feel" of the keyboard matters) and I've recently been thinking about how nice it would be to have multi-monitor at work and that buying a non-3D multi-monitor card and a 15" LCD wouldn't really cost that much.

Now, of course, several people will say that you should quit any job where management balks at spending $1000 for programmer tools. But let's, for the sake of argument, leave that aside and assume that, for some reason, one wished to stay at the current job (and working at home isn't an option, either).

So the question is:

suffer with what The Man gives you because buying work equipment out of your own pocket is stupid; after all, it's their loss if you're less productive

or

spend some money to invest in yourself because it's your sanity/comfort/productivity/etc.

Bill Tomlinson
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

You should quit any job where management balks at spending $1000 for programmer tools. <g>

That said, if the multi-monitor card makes you feel better and more confortable, I'd buy it. However, don't forget to take it with you when you actually quit the job.

It would be different with tools that directly enhance productivity but with not much impact in personal comfort, eg a faster compiler (assuming it exists). A faster compiler will save you (i.e. the company) some time, but you can be just as happy using your present compiler and reading JOS while it's working.

So personally, I would make the move only when personal satisfaction is directly involved.

Daniel
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I have brought my own tools into work, which then got popular so licenses were bought for others also. The thing that can get ugly however if you buy private stuff and bring to the office is the need to prove ownership if the company gets into fincncial difficulties or something like that.

Patrik
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

The problem with buying your own tools *after* management baulks is that you may be sending a clear signal that you don't think they can do their jobs.

In some ways, it's even worse than whining that they don't appreciate programmer productivity: by spending your own money, you're actually usurping their managerial position and overturning their decision.

If they believe the tools will help but there's just "no money in the budget," it isn't so bad. But if they believe the tools won't help, then their interpretation may be that you are slapping them in the face for no good reason. Remember that *they* think these things are frills.

I won't tell you to go work with people who respect the value of your time. But I will say that if you're going to "play on the team" you may have to go along with stuff you don't like.

Is this an isolated incident in the midst of an otherwise wonderful stage of your career? If so, why not shrug and find other ways to be the very best programmer in the Universe?

http://www.braithwaite-lee.com/

Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Why not ask management how they'd feel about you bringing in your own equipment?  That way, you can get explicit agreement from them.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

And by the way, do make sure you explicitly register the items with the IT dept and put labels with your name on them.

If you get let go, someone else may clear out your desk for you...

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I alternate between three keyboards as my mood suits me.

IBM model M, Happy Hacking Lite and a Compaq cheap china version that is about 5 times better than the new HP/Compaq cheap china ones.

I also bought Textpad and Ultra Edit for my own use.

Mike
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Nothing wrong with buying your own tools--to an extent. I wouldn't bring expensive hardware into work though (even if you tell IT). Software's a little different.

stevel
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Then you run into stupid IT policies like "No freeware allowed on office machines" (they wouldn't let me install IrfanView)

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

And the winner is... (opening an envelope) Philo.

Leonardo Herrera
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Buy a Dell notebook and have all the fun. :-)

Evgeny Gesin /Javadesk/
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

A lot of people I work with bring in their own tools.  Sometimes we ask management to spring for it (ie I really wanted a special editor, so I got manager to buy it), and sometimes for luxury items we just buy them ourselves.  Our QA guys use pens instead of mice.  The pen doesn't really help them do their job.  It is a luxury item.

I bought my own lamps, chairs, headphones, etc for my office.  All of which in the end make more productive, but I had a hardtime getting the guts (gall?) to ask for Seinheizer headphones. 

my own stuff
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Actually I worked for a company that gave us an office personalization budget.  That worked out pretty well.  But that was back in the dot com days.  I suspect that sort of thing is pretty rare now.

my own stuff
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Evgeny - no foreign machines on the network, either.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Our IT department won't let you bring in your own monitor.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I remember the height of the no-personal-stuff stupidity in my life.  It was at a small company, which had instituted a policy of no company software on home machines (reasonable, if not exactly common for small companies where having your own laptop for business trips as opposed to the 486 brick the sales guy no longer needs).  And no personal software / shareware / freeware / open source / etc on company machines.

The interesting feature was that the company's flagship software would only build on one machine in the entire universe, and it was the lead developer's personal laptop.  Of course, speaking as the PM who couldn't fire him, he was exempt from all rules.  (And no, I'm not bitter.  Just because I had to leave a company I'd once liked because of this guy, who still makes twice my salary for being a manipulative asshole...  They clearly deserve what they got, so I'm glad to be gone.)

I just find it funny that if they'd actually followed the rules, they'd've gone under much earlier.  Oh, never mind.  I admit -- I'm a little bitter.

On topic, though -- if you have some trust and respect for the company, buying your own hardware means you can be comfortable if you want to (Aeron chairs, nice headphones, etc).  I know I'd rather do the ROI for myself out of my personal budget and just do it, rather than worry about all the me-too requests and tax issues and such that come along with the company buying something.  But then I've got a very consultant-ish outlook toward my so-called "permanent" position, and when it comes to nice stuff I want or good books I'll continue to reference, I'd rather take it with me than have the same battles every few years.

Mikayla
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Bah, personally I don't mind if the company don't bought what I want, but I will never work for any place where they don't allow me to use my own damned stuff. So I'm now using my own 19" monitor instead of the customary 17" ones.

YMMV.

Leonardo Herrera
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

If you offered a solid case on why product X will pay for itself in Y months because you can do it Z times faster and they still refused - oh well. Move on. Leave the good stuff at home and don't let them reap the benefits. Corporate charity is so overrated.  :)

m
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

If you ask management if you can use your own tools and they say "no" ask "why?".

It's not really worth suffering with grossly inferior tools (and there are A LOT of those).

Walter Rumsby
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Now think about how the IT users feel that want to buy a tool that they want, some kind of software application and their outsourced IT support won't allow it to be installed on the network because its not a supported application.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I think full time employment in this industry is almost a joke.

Think about it. An employee who is treated like a low level unprofessional line worker with no management voice (as most SW people are) is forced to buy their own tools to do their work properly. Yet they work for someone else who is supposed to be fronting the risk and expenses of being in business.

Except for small token purchases, *no* way! I say - whoever is in business should buy the necessities to perform the job. That's practically a moral imperative in my view.

On the other hand, independent contractors who want their client to buy everything for them are sloughing off the duties of their own role and are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

If you're in business, buy your own tools. If you work for someone else in business as an employee, then that's their job.

Having said that, there are a lot of FT employers in our industry who simply aren't worth working for, but there are few alternatives...

PS: I work with a company that has duel head (huge) flatscreen monitors for all developers. It's a sweatshop, though. With the expensive baubles comes the expectation to live in the place when the employer sez so.

BB
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Be a telcommuting contractor and be forced to spring for it all yourself!

Arron Bates
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Social norms might be different between different workplaces.  I used to do metal shop work, and there's no way you would have been allowed to work there without your own tools.  There was a union (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), which made sure people got their wages, plenty of overtime (calculated as over 8 in a day OR over 40 in a week), and benefits - but the union didn't get you tools.  That was your problem.

The actual amount of tools depended upon who you were - to some degree, old-timers had big expensive collections more as something to brag about than to use - but you'd need a couple hundred $ worth of stuff at the very least.  Socket wrenches, screwdrivers, carpenter's square, wire cutters, soldering gun, needlenose pliers, vise-grips, clamps, hammers, punches, tap-holders, VOM, whatever.

The company, however, did provide CONSUMABLE supplies like bolts, screws, paper, tape, drillbits, taps, hole saws, as well as the large gear like bandsaw, table saw, and two kinds of drill motor (small and varispeed, large and fixed-speed) for those who didn't own their own.  The company also provided fixtures - like electrical extension cords, sawhorses, etc.  The union would have certainly fought any attempt of the company to force the workers to buy their own consumables - but tools were seen as the workers responsibility. 

I think the basic idea was that if you wanted to start a shop, you could buy a few basic things, call up the union, and workers would show up with all their gear ready to work.  It was seen as a professional ethic.  And it may have seemed pretty rough at the entry level - buying $200 of tools for a $7/hour job - but it wasn't so bad when you figured that you'd be working 56 hours a week and getting paid for
64. 

Now that I'm a bitter old graduate student, I'm pretty much writing off the tools I've bought for THIS work - they mostly seem to have been absorbed into the lab, and honestly I might as well let it go.  I don't have the heart to walk out of here with, for example, the only crescent wrench large enough to hook up a gas regulator.  It's my fault really - I wasn't too careful about getting reimbursement - but Hell, I've been paid to go to school and that's a sweet assed deal, nothing to nickle-and-dime anybody about.

So for some jobs, buying your own tools is how it's done.

Trollumination
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Trollilumination, I was thinking of the trades when I posted that message and I realize there's an apparent inconsistency at work.

The "rub" comes in that many IT workplaces demand that you work lock-step and use exactly the same tools as everyone else - down to the editor and the IDE.  However, being that overtime is generally unpaid for salaried programers, etc, the company is basically screwing you as an employee when they force you to use less efficient tools.  You're supposed to compensate with your own unpaid hours.

So I would say, if I have to buy my own tools, then I demand the freedom to choose how I perform the work. And that almost never flies in an office environment, so you're back at square one.

And I rarely hear of office workers buying their own equipment and tools.

BB
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I use all my own tools at work. Notebook, monitor, keyboard, mouse, scanner, external CD burner... the list goes on.

I work for a small company. They pay me what I asked for. At the end of the day, if I go somewhere else, all the toys, erm, I mean, tools, are mine.

Jack.

Jack of all
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Bill,

I think if you want to buy your own tools because i twill help you work more comfortably and more efficiently, then you shuld go ahead and do it. Keep the receipts and deduct it as a business expense. Etch your name on the side "Property of Bill" with your Dremel tool so there's no question about whose it is when you leave. There's no shame in buying your own tools and it makes sense to do so. Schoolteachers often have to buy their own classroom supplies even though they shouldn't be doing it. But from a practical standpoint, it's gotta be done and just because the system is lousy doesn't mean you should work uncomfortably or lacking the basics. I'd be open to talking about it often when bigwigs are about, "Man things are so tight here I had to buy my own monitor." Say that in front of a few prospective customers who then go elsewhere because they think your company is on the verge of bankruptcy and maybe the man will spring for your monitor next time. :)

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, October 09, 2003


Thanks a lot for everyone's responses.

I went out and bought some stuff to make me more productive:

Here's my new monitors:
http://www.maxdisplays.com/products/md418.html

My new desk:
http://www.poetictech.com/aura/

And my new computer:
http://www.hitachi.co.jp/Prod/comp/hpc/SR_e/11ktop_e.html


It cost a bit, but I'm worth it.

Bill Tomlinson
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Perhaps instead of complaining you should be grateful that you have a job that affords you the luxury of being *able* to purchase your own equipment. In todays market there are tons of people that don't even have jobs.

Required
Friday, October 10, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home