The holidays are just around the corner, and you know what that means — you are obligated by Big Christmas to spend mad cash on the people you love. Spending money is the easy part, though. The hard part is finding a gift that makes sense for your person. If you’re a non-tech person buying a gift for a programmer, it can be confusing as hell. The space is not exactly beginner-friendly. It’s hard to know what’s useful and what’s going to eventually end up in their basement (you don’t want that!).
Unfortunately, most online articles writing about this topic seem to be Amazon affiliate sites promoting a bunch of gimmicky trash. We’ve decided to step in and take a crack at recommending some real software engineer gift ideas. To be clear, we are not affiliated with any of the products mentions, we don’t have any stake in the game. We simply want to recommend stuff that makes sense. (Also, if you have any extra recommendations, hit me up.)
Before you decide on a gift
Always hedge your bets. Never trade without a stop loss. Never buy a gift without a receipt. That’s pretty obvious advice. Outside of that, there are a few more things to keep in mind as you go into the gift buying process. Some are obvious, some are less obvious. Regardless, let’s just run through a few tips so that we can minimise any cash/time/resource wastage.
- People have brand preferences. Having a set of products or matching tech might be an important factor for the person you are buying a gift for. For example, if they have a Samsung monitor, don’t go out and buy them a new Dell or Acer. Or if they are an Apple fan, don’t go buy a mechanical keyboard — because they might be planning to upgrade to a wireless Apple keyboard. If all their tech is matte black, don’t get something that’s silver or white.
- Ask yourself, “will this person actually use my gift?” The best gifts are those that add to someone’s day-to-day life — meaning they get used often. A mug might not seem like this amazing gift, but if someone uses it every day, it’s a good gift. Whereas a book might be considered a more thoughtful gift, but if person is not a reader… they’re not going read your book. Unread book = bad gift.
- Avoid double up. You want to figure out if a person already has the product or something similar. You don’t want to spend $600 on a portable projector and then discover they already have one, which they just don’t use it. The same goes for any tech gear.
- Avoid gimmicky stuff. This is up to your discretion, by my recommendation would be to avoid all gimmicky “nerdy” gifts. I’m talking about t-shirts that have coding jokes on them or mugs that say “eat, sleep, code.” If it’s someone’s favourite video game or TV show, maybe that’s different and you can obviously make that distinction. But let’s try and do better than Alibaba dropshipping. A webcam, or mic or even Nike hoodie is going to be more appreciated than the mild amusement a “bazinga” shirt provides…
- Developers usually know what tech they want. When it comes to tech or our home desk setup, many of us already have an idea of what we want (if we don’t already have it). It makes sense to ask your friend about their setup to get an idea what they are missing or how they plan to upgrade.
- Do they travel a lot? If the person is always moving from one place to the next — they could be a digital nomad or working temporarily overseas — they probably don’t want to lug around useless items. It’s only going to add weight to their backpack. It’s probably better to stick to travel accessories or replacement gear.
Software engineer gift ideas 🎁
We’ve really tried to focus on the utility of the gift rather than listing things that are exclusive to software developers. So I don’t want to hear anyone complain that Apple tags aren’t “programmer gifts” — the utility is more important than if it fits the definition. Let’s get into it.
What seems to be popular these days is having that three monitor setup. Two horizontal and one vertical. Bear in mind, there are a lot of specs involved in picking out the right monitor, so if you’re thinking of getting one, make sure you know what you’re doing. You’ll also need some knowledge about a person’s setup — consider desk space, brand, resolution, and then knowing if it’s going to be mounted or have a stand.
A replacement monitor might be the safest way to go. For example, if they have an old Dell, you could get them an upgrade, maybe a new curved Dell monitor? OR if they’re happy with their old Dell, find a matching monitor (second-hand) and get them some arms. Monitors are expensive, so there’s no shame in going second-hand or dipping into that remote work budget (that’s a life hack I don’t feel comfortable expanding on).
Keyboards are used everyday, at work, at home, for gaming, for research — everything from A to Z. If you get a programmer a keyboard you can almost guarantee it’s going to be used relentlessly. There are a few options when it comes to keyboard choice. You’ve got wider and shorter ones, ergonomic, slim, mechanical, gaming, wireless, and wired.
If they have the apple products, they might appreciate the Apple Magic Keyboard. It connects seamlessly with other Apple products, it’s wireless, and super functional for typing and coding. For the PC users and gamers, you might want to go another route. The customisable mechanical keyboards are very popular at the moment. You can get them in different colours and with unique buttons. People who like having full control over their setup might appreciate this option.
The good thing about headphones is that people often have separate pairs for exercise or work or music or gaming. So you don’t have to buy somebody the “best pair of headphones” to replace all others — you can just get them a great pair for one of these activities. If they have a console or gaming PC, get them some gaming headphones. If they are big into running, go for some grippy earphones.
The pair of headphones that I really like is the Sony MDR-7506. I’m not going to link to anything, so you’re going to have to search them up yourself. They are a super basic pair of wired headphones that have great sound quality and are very comfortable. There are no fancy features, noise-cancelling or wireless Bluetooth. Great option that can just sit at your desk or if you like to mix music. I think the noise-cancelling headphones are also a good option — especially if someone’s working in an open-plan office or a coworking space.
You can probably get a pretty good webcam for around $50. It’s a simple gift, but useful for anyone with a home office set up. If the person you are buying a gift for is into streaming or recording YouTube videos, they are going to appreciate a nice webcam with high resolution.
The same goes for PC microphones. A lot of people have a camera but not a mic. Again, these are helpful for recording or even meetings.
Books are a tough one. 90% of the time when you get someone a book, they don’t read it. So unless the software engineer you are buying a gift for is a big reader, maybe pick another gift. For those people that are readers, whether that’s for learning or just for fun, a book is a great option.
For something that is heavy and focused on work/upskilling, you can check out our list of software developer books. The hard copies version of these types of books are better because a lot of these books are like text books, they will be referenced a lot (if they are used). But books on software developer aren’t really fun books, so for fiction your best bet is going to Reddit or Goodreads, people over there get real serious about making lists and ranking books. All the best recommendations I’ve found have been from these sites.
6. Fast charger / MagSafe charger
When you are travelling or away from home for long periods of time, you tend to think about your phone battery often. You don’t want your phone to go dead or have to sit around for an hour while you charge up. This is where a fast charger comes in handy. You can get a full battery in 15 - 30 mins (depending on the device). A really handy accessory for travellers — you can also get ones with different adapters for the various regions (UK, Euro, US, etc.).
A MagSafe charger is a magnetic one that clips to the back of your phone. You could get a desk charger that also acts as a phone stand, those a quite cool. You can also get a MagSafe phone case that can connect to bike handle bars and/or a car mount. These are super handy for people that commute around the city.
7. World Congress ticket
One of the greatest gifts you can ever give someone is an unforgettable experience. Something that will stay with them forever. Skydiving, a Taylor Swift concert or for developers — the World Congress. If you want to send someone to a place where they’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people with similar interests, World Congress 2024 is a great choice.
Or if you want to check out other tech conferences throughout the year, you can find a whole list here with dates, location, and ticket prices.
8. Mini projector
Since a lot of young people don’t have a TV these days, a mini projector is a nice portable substitute. It’s great for travelling and great for those minimalists that don’t like owning a bunch of gear.
Mini projectors aren’t super cheap, they will cost a couple of hundred dollars, so maybe you can crowd fund this one. And if you do get a projector gift, you can badger the recipient for monthly movie nights where you can watch all of your favourite tech movies and documentaries.
When you work from home, you don’t usually put on any footwear. You’re not going to see someone in their bedroom wearing sneakers, right? What you see though are slides, flip-flops, and Birkenstocks. I think anyone of these are a good gift for someone that works remote or spends enough time working from home (most programmers do).
Slide have got to be the most comfortable and stylish, though. You can also never have enough slides. A decent pair of [insert brand] slides will set you back like $50. Rubber ones are the best for indoor wearing. In terms of colour, you can’t go wrong with black — tan and those beige colours also look good.
Hoodies are a staple for anyone that works remote or in a startup. You want to be comfortable and warm but also have something that’s easy to wear and goes with anything, maybe hides your coffee stained t-shirt when you’re on a call. If you’re going to get an item of clothing like a hoodie, don’t get one with memes or jokes on it. Get a nice one. Like a Nike or Adidas or whatever brand.
You could also get a little creative, and try for a branded hoodie from a startup or tech company. A lot of tech companies have their own “mech” and they’re usually quite happy to send out a t-shirt or hoodie to people who are fans of their work. It’s going to be easy to get a free t-shirt, but you might have to work for that hoodie.
11. Apple air tags
I think most people would appreciate Air Tags as a gift— especially if someone is lugging around a laptop with their entire life’s work on it. A bit of insurance never hurts. Put an apple tag in your backpack, put on in your computer case, put it on your car, on your keys. It seems like everyone is getting mugged these days, so this is a good security gift. A four-pack of tags is around $80.
12. Nvidia GeForce NOW
A lot of software engineers are into computer games, so a gaming gift could be a great idea. Unfortunately, Mac users don’t have many options because most games aren’t compatible with MacOS. A nice workaround for someone that’s a casual gamer would be GeForce NOW (or any other cloud gaming service). In this case, all the games are hosted on the Nvidia servers, so you don’t have to download anything, and you can play PC games on a Mac. The app links up to their Steam account, so they won’t have to re-buy any games.
There’s probably cheaper ways to game on your Mac, but this seems to be one of the more convenient ways to game. No storage space, no shopping, no torrenting, no new operating systems. You can get gift cards, that’s probably the best way to do it — just double check region availability, while you can get it in most places it might be through a partner company.
13. Steam Gift card
While we are talking about gaming, a Steam gift card is a nice safe gift. They can spend it on whatever they want, and you don’t have to do any research. Maybe just check that the person uses Steam or is into PC gaming. If they have a console, maybe get them a gift card for that particular console (Xbox, Nintendo, or PS).
14. Gaming controller
A gaming controller is also a nice gift for someone that games on their laptop or PC (or wants to). There are a few generic brands to choose from. Steam also has their own controller. You can also get an Xbox, controller and link it — from what’s been reviewed, this seems to be the best-rated option. Go have a look and see what make sense.
15. Coffee tumbler
While a seemingly simple gift, you’ll notice appreciation compounds over time. And that’s because a tumbler is multifunctional and portable. Once someone starts using it for one thing (coffee), they start using it for everything (iced tea, water, soup, etc.).
The Yeti tumbler is great, but that's all I know. I'm sure there are a bunch of other great options out there. Frank Green seems to be popular at the moment with their tumbler-water bottles. See what makes sense for you and your budget. If you do go this route, don’t get a smaller mug though, go for a 500ml one — that’s typically the best size for everything cold and hot.
16. Computer drill/screwdriver set
This gift is more specialised to those who have a PC and like to tinker with their machine. A precision screwdriver set is going to be super handy. A drill might be a little overboard — it’s really only necessary if you are always screwing and unscrewing things (not many people are doing that). Also, don’t just get any screwdriver set. Make sure the screw bits are a size and shape that make sense for the PC. Safest option is Googling “computer screwdriver set.”