Friday, 11 June 2010

False economies. Software development and pcs. Should you demand the best machine?

I've always wondered as a software developer whether a highered powered machine would be a good investment for the company I work for. Many purchasing decisions are made by accountants and sometimes managers with no input from the people who actually use the machines. They believe that a £400-£600 machine is fit for a developer and that it should be replaced every 5 years. Yet they're happy to pay a developer £35k  I think this is a false economy. Every day I'm at work I can only do as much as my machine allows me to do. It's the same as a farmer using a 10 year old tractor and combine harvester or a new one. You'd expect the new ones to cost a little more (given inflation) but also do a lot more work in the same time. 

I just thought I'd put a short analysis together and see if I can make the argument that it's actually more efficient to give a software developer a better machine because the return on investment will be huge.

I mentioned a salary of £35k. What does that mean per day? Google says there are 252 working days per year. £35000/252 = £139/day. so in a working week my employer will pay me £695(£139x5). I know these figures aren't exact but they're close enough and make the point. The most important tool I have as a developer is my computer. It's the equivalent of a chefs knife, an accountants balance sheet and a printers press. You don't give a chef a shabby knife do you. so why do I get a less than adequate machine. And why do I have to keep this low spec machine for another 5 years. 

Another thing I've noticed is that companies are happy to pay for photoshop licenses (£800 or so), they don't ask graphic designers to use gimp (a free open source product that's excellent but not quite so polished), they'll pay for xml spy for xml developers, for ms office for all, and shell out for ms project. All these products have annual license fees which they don't quibble about paying. I could get a much better machine just by reducing my reliance on these products. That's what I've done but no one has thanked me for it and allowed me to spend the difference on a better machine as a thankyou.

Yet no one considers the value that each item of software delivers is related to the power of the machine it runs on. Developers are the same as graphic artists. Many tasks are intensive. Even searching the code base takes a minute or so and I do that regularly. We get a machine that costs £400 and use it for 5 years. That seems to be the policy of many companies, £80/per year/machine. It makes no sense to me when we pay far more for just one item of software. 

Being a developer means my machine is my most important tool. It's the one thing I use for 7.5 hours a day. So I don't see why it's the tool we spend the least on. Particlulary when I makes specific choices to save money  in license fees for the company I work for. I don't use ms office or outlook, and I use many free but highly rated products.  

I'll stop there but now I've had a little rant I also don't feel like I'm being silly or selfish. The same policy applied where I used to work. It was no coincidence that I delivered sooner and to a higher quality after I fought for a better machine. I'm a software developer. My work is very different to the rest of the company. Therefore I require tools fit for my needs not theirs.

This isn't me just venting and wondering if I am making any points I could potentially take further. After this rant I see that I do have specific needs. I'm just asking for them to be recognised. 

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