Way too often, I see tech companies provide their developers with tooling that can get their job done but doesn’t spark joy. I believe that’s a big mistake. Developers expect joy from their tools, and they will go to great lengths to get them, either in their current job or elsewhere.

Which tools spark joy?

I’m not going to get into the topic of which tools spark joy and which don’t. For some people, anything other than a Mac won’t do. For others, a desktop running Linux with loads of RAM will be the best option. Some people like noisy mechanical keyboards, others, 4k monitors. There are even people who enjoy working on windows.

I get it. These things I’m talking about can be expensive. Not all companies can afford them. I live in Brazil, computers are very expensive here.

Nonetheless, I see companies that could definitely afford better gear, but hold back on providing it because it doesn’t seem rational. I’ll give some examples of this happening and go trough why it is a bad decision on the long run.

Developing country tech company starter pack

I visit linkedin every so often. Every single time I go there, I’ll see someone in my direct or indirect contacts switching jobs and posting a picture of their new work equipment. It almost always looks like this:

  • Some company branded swag: t-shirts, paper notebooks, a coffee mug, the list goes on.
  • A Dell notebook. Not one of their good ones, but one that can get the job done. Usually with something like a latest gen i5 processor and 16 gbs of ram
  • A mouse, because the trackpad is awful.
  • A monitor, usually full hd, but never bigger than 23".
  • A generic membrane keyboard.

There’s nothing inherently wrong here, even with top of the line computers, with a nice trackpad and a 4k screen, most people would still want a separate monitor, a keyboard and a mouse.

What is bad about this setup is that it doesn’t spark joy. Developers will try to find ways to get it.

People will seek joy, one way or another

A friend of mine used to work at a small company. They would also provide their employes with the standard low end Dell + peripherals kit that is uninspiring but gets the job done. What was interesting about this company was it didn’t really force employees to work with hardware they provided. Senior leadership would just bring their personal Macbooks to the office, and slowly the developers working from home started buying more powerful desktops with their personal money and working with them.

Everyone who could afford it was avoiding the hardware the company provided! It was completely demoralizing! I wasn’t because of hardware alone, but my friend left the company shortly after and they have serious retention problems to this day.

This isn’t limited to small companies either. I heard of similar stories in fortune 500 companies in the tech sector. They had stricter controls in place to ensure employees would use the company provided joyless hardware. What ended up happening was politicking. People would make all sorts of excuses to justify why their projects needed macs. Many would complain peers in other countries got better gear working on the exact same project. Some also bought peripherals with their own money, such as noise-canceling headphones and better keyboards.

In this case, the leadership team was smarter about it and just upgraded everyone’s hardware.

Yet, it can be hard to argue in favor of joy

Joy clearly matters. People will waste lots of time and even spend their own money to get it, dragging morale down. A lack of joy might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and leads someone to start looking for new opportunities.

Still, it can be incredibly hard to convince a manager to just pay for better hardware. A manager is part of a chain of people that ultimately need to justify their costs in terms of productivity. It is pretty hard to justify additional hardware costs based on this vague notion of joy.

At the end of the day, a mechanical keyboard or a 4k monitor won’t directly allow anyone to deliver features faster. But they will make people happier. Happier people tend to be more pleasant to work with and to stay longer at their jobs. Which in the end, does have an impact on productivity.