The Perfect Gift: Part 3
Get the gift the developer in your life will love.
So here it is, the final instalment in our 3 part gift giving guide. Maybe it’s the one you’ve been most eagerly awaiting (developers can be a little tough to read, I wouldn’t blame you for wanting a bit of help in selecting a gift) or maybe you stumbled here after a desperate Google search. Either way, I’ll try to do my best to assist.
For the Product Manager in your life, my colleague focused on gifts that could help prevent burnout. It’s definitely an issue developers face as well, but there are some pretty good suggestions in there so I’ll leave that topic to the side for now. For the Designers in your life, another colleague of mine suggested gifts that could spark that creative fire. Developers, despite common misperceptions that would lead you to believe otherwise, also need that creative spark relit from time to time. But again, there were some pretty good suggestions for that, so you can go over to that article if you’re looking for them.
No, today, for the developers in your life, I want to focus on learning and skills growth. Every single developer I know and work with is on an almost non-stop hunt for new insights and new information. They’re taking courses online and reading article after article and working on small side projects. The nature of a programmer is to have a curious mind and these gifts should help feed that curiosity.
Learning Options (e.g. Udemy Courses, Pragmatic Programmers Books)
It’s fairly obvious, but gifting a course or book that would allow the dev in your life to explore a new programming language or level up their skills in one they’re already familiar with is what most of us actually want. I don’t know a single dev that didn’t learn a pretty big chunk of their skills through continued education like the online courses offered by Udemy or by doing a bunch of independent research through a book like the ones Pragmatic offers. The reality is the tech landscape is constantly changing and evolving, so it’s also the only way to stay on top of emerging languages and trends and stay relevant in the industry. It might not seem like much of a gift, but I promise you, it is.
Another big part of the learning that happens for a dev is reading the experiences and ideas of others actively doing the work they’re doing (or want to be doing). Medium is a great resource for developers at all levels, from junior to senior, and a paid subscription for a year grants unfettered access to the insights of authors on the site.
And because it’s not a site solely focused on web development or programming languages, the dev in your life can also start to glean insights on loads of other things. They say every developer should know a bit about design and Medium is a great place to start that journey.
Noise cancelling headphones
Learning requires a fair bit of doing for developers. When we’re doing any work, but especially when we’re testing new tools and experimenting with new ideas, environments, and languages, the ability to focus is paramount. A set of noise cancelling headphones that lets the wearer shut out the distractions of the world around them and settle into the effort at hand is a key tool for learning and growth. Trust me, a good pair of noise cancelling headphones will be a cherished item for years to come.
While periods of sustained focus and attention are important in a busy office environment, most developers I know do have a bit of a natural tendency towards that. And once we’re in that state, we tend to lose track of… well, a lot of things.
Developers are known for being laser focused on one thing to the detriment of all others. Somewhat counterintuitively for a lot of people, this kind of slavish devotion to one task is often when we’re at highest risk for making mistakes and messing up our code. A simple timer is a great tool for forcing the dev in your life to take those breaks that allow the brain to relax, giving new ideas and information a chance to simmer and be absorbed. Maybe the least fun gift on the list, but also maybe the most valuable gift for learning you could give the dev in your life.
Learning doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be!) restricted to just development practices. Part of being an enthusiastic and open-minded learner is getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new, which makes a meal-kit subscription a perfect gift for a dev. The recipient gets the chance to challenge themselves in a new but not totally dissimilar realm. Think about it: cooking requires a fair bit of order, following specific steps and processes, but with some room for creativity and interpretation as well. It’s a lot like programming really, just in a new format. And as a bonus, you’re giving the gift of nutritious meals and saving them time on grocery shopping and meal prep time, all things that can only help a dev on the road to learning.
Many of us learn the hard skills of coding but we don’t necessarily learn how to work on a project, as part of team, with budgets and timelines and considerations. And that’s a shame, because those skills are incredibly valuable and are a big factor in career and personal growth. And when a bunch of folks have the hard skills but lack the soft skills required to get the job done? Well that’s a great way to slow things down and struggle to get anything done.
Learning to operate in a lean, just-in-time framework is actually a crucial development skill. So maybe this game isn’t a great gift for just one dev in your life, but if you’re looking for a team gift? This could be just the ticket.
If you’ve spent any time in an office with programmers, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a rubber duck on a desk or two. It’s not just a fun little personal flair to spruce up an otherwise drab workspace, these little yellow fellows serve a purpose.
You may have noticed that when you’re stuck on a problem, you often figure it out while trying to show or explain it to someone else, because to explain the problem you often simplify it down to essential components and in so doing, figure out the thing that had been tripping you up. This is a great solution, but as noted before, the ability to focus is key to getting work done and figuring things out, which means you probably don’t want to be interrupting peers and colleagues all the time. So for when you don’t want to distract others with your chatter, you reach for your rubber duck and explain the problem to it. If you’ve got a dev in your life who doesn’t have one of these already, this is a quick, cheap, thoughtful gift that will come in handy more than they probably realize.
Ah, yes. A mainstay of last minute “I don’t know what to get this person” gift choices, a travel mug is easy to dismiss as a crummy, thoughtless gift. But I’m personally of the school of thought that it’s actually a great gift for a dev in particular. There are a lot of stereotypes about us and while they may not all be true for all of us, there’s a reason they’re persistent. We do work long hours and stay up late nights. We do get caught up in spurts of furious coding and forget about things for a while, losing track of everything but the codebase we’re refactoring. And we do love our caffeinated drinks. A top quality travel mug that keeps my coffee warm for long periods of time? Perfect. I can enjoy long sessions of deep learning and a hot caffeinated drink. That, my friends, is living the dream.
I chose these two because they’re of the most interest to me (and also fairly affordable, which is a solid bonus), but really any new tech that gives the dev in your life a chance to play around and experiment is a great gift idea. Maybe it’s a skill totally unrelated to anything they’ll ever do, maybe it’s something they’re actively trying to pick up as part of a career growth plan, but being able to just play around and experiment and have fun with it? That’s the kind of spark that encourages developers like nothing else.