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I recently joined a startup, and we've been growing quickly over the last year. However, I've noticed that out of all the new hires (mostly sales and support) they are bringing in their own laptops to work. Is that normal?

Most of the developers have basic linux boxes provided for them. Meanwhile the company keeps telling us every month that they've set a new revenue record.

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closed as off topic by Walter, jmort253, Jim G., gnat, Ryathal Jul 31 '12 at 15:46

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Usually it's the company that has to be worried about employees computers. It's a source for possible data leak, source that can get viruses into internal networks, it has all the legal implications if there is an unlicensed software on those PCs and so on. I wouldn't want unknown PCs on company network if I were an administrator or an owner. –  Coder Jul 31 '12 at 0:38
It is also kind of an issue as you have to assume that everyone has a suitable laptop for doing their job on. That may or may not be true –  Zachary K Jul 31 '12 at 6:01
What is wrong with having basic Linux boxes? –  user1249 Jul 31 '12 at 8:07
It is not "bring your own computer", it's "buy your own computer" –  Gaius Jul 31 '12 at 8:58
@gnat - That question has now been reopened as What guidelines should we have for employees bringing your own device to work? and is gathering some excellent answers. –  Mark Booth Aug 1 '12 at 10:23

8 Answers 8

No, this isn't normal. I guess it depends on the size of the company you work for. I have worked for a company in the past where I developed on my own PC, and we just checked-in to the company source code repository, a la telecommute. But we weren't actually part of their corporate network.

Generally if you're connecting to a corporate network the system admins like to know what you're connecting to it - because your home PC can be "unclean" (e.g. introduce foreign stuff to the network such as viruses).

It is also harder to provide a Standard Operating Environment (SOE) when people are using their own rigs, because they might not want to install insert product here that the company endorses for insert task here and want to use their own thing. Then there's licensing, version compatibility, legalities, acceptable use (e.g. are they playing games all day?), user support (what happens if their system has problems?) etc. that comes into play here.

Overall it seems like a -really- bad idea to me to allow employees to connect their own stuff into the corporate network. I would raise this point as a priority and get them to re-evaluate their ICT policy.

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It's still a pretty small shop. ~30 people. Basically a bunch of guys sitting around, all working off the same wireless router. So no "corporate" network or policy of any sorts in sight. –  charles Jul 31 '12 at 2:10
Without a corporate network then the level of risk is somewhat reduced. Then again though, as the company grows they might want to introduce more infrastructure and support for their developers and have a corporate network. In terms of ICT policy, there should be one in place for governance purposes (but that's really outside of the scope of your question :)) –  Deco Jul 31 '12 at 2:29
@charles small shop is not ~30 people –  Ulrich Dangel Jul 31 '12 at 4:27

It is NOT Normal ! However, everything may happen in a start-up and small soft development shops.

This practice also can turn to be a Big Security Issue, if these personal computers are allowed to join the corporate network.

In our mid-size company, clients visit us on site, and they bring their own laptops. We have a separate wireless guest network set-up for that needs and it has password which changes daily.

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It really depends upon the size of the organization.

Some organizations think they'll save money by having their employees bring their own systems in to do the work on. The more upstanding orgs will claim they're giving you a technology stipend to subsidize this behavior. All else being equal, it's not that uncommon for smaller startups.

IMO, most organizations stop this practice as soon as they either

  • suffer a catastrophic chunk of malware destroying significant parts of the company
  • suffer a titanic sized PR nightmare after sensitive company data is released out into the ether

As far as their statement of setting new revenue records each month, you'll need to dig further into those claims.

On the one hand, it may be true - they are setting new records, but the net effect is still so trivial that they can't afford to pay for hardware. So yes, you celebrate the little things, but they're still little things.

On the other hand, they could be blatantly disregarding the problems caused by a non-standard set of hardware for development, test, and sales. You'll have to get a read on the top brass to see if they're yanking your collective chains (read: find a new gig) or if this is just something the org is transitioning through.

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It's not normal, however, I was in a situation for a company that had us use our own laptops. They used Citrix server for us to connect to our contracting companies server, then from there we had a secure tunnel into the clients computer.

However, you had to login multiple times and on top of it you have a secureid card for the clients login. Took a lot of time to login and the connections dropped easily.

I've only had that come up one time in 13 years of developing.

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Oh my gosh.. Memories I hoped would never come up again.. I used to work in a similar system. However, there were still some security issues. –  Bruno Schäpper Jul 31 '12 at 4:55

It's not normal but in my last job, all the developers brought (and bought) their own laptops. We worked half from home and half from the office. I think the company's main rationale was simply to save money - they were very tight. They company also expected my to buy my own copy of the Javascript library we were using (I refused).

I have never heard of this happening anywhere else.

Aside from sharing the wireless router in the office and a central svn server, we had no common infrastructure.

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In contrary to most other answers, I have experienced co-workers bring their own laptops to work as rather normal. I have worked in 3 different shops of different sizes in Germany (ca. 200 with 10 devs, ca. 200 with 150 devs and ca. 15000 with ca. 2000 devs). In all those shops different but sizable percentage of the people tended to bring their own laptops and in none of those they were allowed to (or could) connect to the intranet.

As I asked some of them why they were doing it, the answers were rather different. Some typical answers were:

  • listening to streamed music
  • taking notes on evernote/springpad
  • fb/g+ during the lunch break
  • doing work stuff out on their own machines

Most of those were explained by restrictive blacklisting policies of the shops. The worst case was the one illustrated by the last point, where developers had to request and wait several days even for the most trivial tools and libraries, so in order to do their work, they resorted to using their own machines.

tl;dr Maybe it should not be normal, but it often is

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This sounds more like "I'm bringing in my own computer so I can do something other than work while I'm at my employer's location," as opposed to "I bring my own computer in so that I can do my job, because my employer won't provide a computer for me." –  Shauna Jul 31 '12 at 12:48
@Shauna Please, elaborate - what makes you think that? IMHO listening to music (1) or writing down what you did (2) does not have negative effects on the performance. 3 - it's about the free time. 4 rather illustrates positive effects of bringing your own laptop. Of course, the employer has no control over the usage and I do not know if the social network sites and similar were used during the work hours. OTOH if the employer doesn't trust the hired professionals and is unable to measure their performance, I do not think that extensive blacklisting will result in more or better work –  kostja Jul 31 '12 at 13:10
The usage examples you provided, except for "doing work stuff" are generally frowned upon in a corporate environment, at least by default, even if there are/can be legitimate work usages for them (ie - Evernote would likely be frowned upon unless you can provide a good business justification; what's wrong with Notepad? Why do you need something like Evernote that Notepad or other text editors can't supply? Why do you need to risk the potential security/data leaks that come with storing company data on third party servers?) –  Shauna Jul 31 '12 at 14:57
In short, the people you mentioned can do their job without their personal computers. They're simply using them for supplemental and/or not-necessarily-kosher-with-IT purposes. –  Shauna Jul 31 '12 at 14:58
@Shauna you're right, it's definitely not about the bare necessities. I guess it's an expression of the local job market, where developers can afford to take more liberties –  kostja Aug 1 '12 at 7:24

It's becoming more common recently. A lot of it has to do with companies that are forced to keep computers for 5+ years due to asset depreciation schedules, and stick with just a couple of "standard configurations" to keep support costs down. With hardware becoming cheaper (remember when you couldn't touch a decent laptop for under US$2000?) and more varied (tablets, anyone?), people began bringing their own stuff to work rather than work with outdated or underpowered company machines. The rise of web-based applications has also lowered the barrier of entry for a wider range of machines. The last place I worked, you were free to bring in any computer you wanted, as long as you could interoperate with your co-workers (which usually means you need to support MS document formats) and had appropriate anti-virus software installed. Personally, I've been supplying my own keyboard, mouse and monitor for over ten years, and I see a lot of Kindles and iPads in meetings.

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Outside of security, I can see it as a nasty operational nightmare. Lets say you are building everything off your personal PC. And the sales guy spills coffee all over it. Who is going to replace the PC? And who is going to pay through the nose for immediate replacement given things like this only happen when you are on a deadline?

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