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At work, I was given a reasonably-spec'ed machine (dual quad 2GHz, 4GB RAM, 160GB 7200RPM drive, Win7), but it was lacking in a few places (HDD / RAM). The IT staff was OK with me replacing hardware with my own, so now I'm sporting an SSD and an extra 8GB of RAM (so I can run multiple Visual Studios & virtual machines). I realize it was the company's business decision to pick the machines they did, but at the same time faster hardware made me happier and more productive at work.

I guess my question is, am I the only one (self-employs not withstanding :) who's willing to spend personal money on their work hardware for a better quality of life, and should I approach it in a different way? Is it possible to retroactively say "I think you should reimburse me for this $500 in hardware because [blah]"?

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If I am an employee, and not a consultant, contractor or business owner, I expect my employer to bear the full cost of any necessary hardware. Since the employer, by virtue of owning the equipment, gets to control its use, it is in the employer's best interest to make the investment. –  Robert Harvey Jul 25 '11 at 21:24
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I bought a topflight keyboard for my work computer. I didn't ask to be reimbursed for it, and when my relationship with my employer ended I took the keyboard home. –  user16764 Jul 25 '11 at 21:28
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@insta: System hardware upgrades are a little different than plug-and-play peripherals. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 25 '11 at 21:39
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I'm surprised that your IT staff is lax enough to let foreign hardware onto their network. Now if your machine breaks the vendor won't touch it under service contract, they potentially can't re-image it if necessary, and if you leave how can they guarantee that you're not walking out the door with an SSD full of company licenses and code? –  Patrick Hughes Jul 25 '11 at 21:41
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During the last round of upgrades, the employer said "buy yourself any mice and keyboards you like best, upper price limit is $X, you'll be reimbursed." –  SF. Jul 26 '11 at 14:02

19 Answers 19

up vote 64 down vote accepted

You spend 40% of your waking time at work. Might as well make it pleasant. I expect my employer to provide the tools I need, but anything I want to make it more pleasant I deem my own responsibility. It's not like I'm donating it to the company. I'm consuming it for my own personal enjoyment and will take it with me when I go.

I know developers with their own chairs, keyboards, mice, software tools like editors, even one guy with a 40" monitor. I've brought components from my junk drawer at home that my employer would pay for, just because I wasn't using it anyway and it was faster and more pleasant for me to avoid the procurement process. I bet other people who balk at the idea of bringing their own computer hardware have improved their work environment in other ways at their own expense: pictures, music, kleenex, snacks, plants, books, fans, lamps, eyeglasses, pens, smartphones, etc.

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My sentiments exactly –  Nic Jul 25 '11 at 21:42
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You only 'spend 40% of your waking time at work'? < humor > slacker < /humor> –  this.josh Jul 25 '11 at 23:28
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In addition to this, I think it's important that you clear this with your manager and IT. You don't want to break company policy by bringing in any unapproved devices, especially if they will be added to the network. You'll also want to clearly identify resources that belong to you versus the company so that they don't reallocate resources that don't belong to the company, as well as to avoid issues should you leave the organization. –  Thomas Owens Jul 26 '11 at 12:15

I find it ridiculous to have to do that. If it's necessary to do your job well, and then it should be provided by employer. Bringing your own hardware, working overtime for free, for wage below market average... all of these hurt your co-workers. Bosses will tell them: "don't whine about hardware, look at Smith, he brought his own. Don't whine about long hours, Smith happily stays until 10PM. A raise? Smith works for half your salary and doesn't complain".

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Single people just are better employees then people with kids. they need less money and don't need all that quality time with the kids/wife. when my pc at home broke, i had to save 2 months before i could fix the MB. –  Andy Jul 26 '11 at 11:08

I bring my own keyboard and mouse. My preference is to use a Unicomp customizer keyboard and an Evoluent vertical mouse.

I'm more comfortable and hence more productive.

I don't expect my employer to to buy it, but it's mine and leaves with me. They can keep the keyboard & mouse the machine came with.

I feel that the difference only matters to me, and it's plug and play hardware.

(Subsequently my employer bought a couple of Evoluent mice.)

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If I were in the situation you describe, then I would be perfectly happy to purchase my own equipment. I would, obviously, expect my salary to be enough larger to allow for this. Whether I will supply the hardware or they will should be one of the issues understood during salary negotiation. In fact, I would PREFER the slightly higher salary and purchasing my equipment myself.

But my current employer is a bank. For very sensible security reasons, they cannot allow random hardware connected onto their network, only things they have vetted. So for me (and many others for whom security is an important issue) purchasing my own hardware is not an option.

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First, I will try to persuade my boss. But if he persists in refusing my idea I will spend my own money to buy it. Because it will help me to get my work done better and faster. Time is money !

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Yes, I've done that on quite a few occasions.

There's gear that's adequate, where you can get your work done, but you might wind up staying late a lot. Then there's gear that's good, where you can get your work done in time to go home and hang with your family. In cases where an employer has only supplied adequate gear, I've brought in my own good gear. That has included:

  • A USB Flash memory stick needed to boot Linux boxen, so I didn't have spend a half-hour a day hunting the one company-supplied stick everybody on the team shared.
  • Extra RAM and a new GPU, because a new version of Ubuntu wouldn't boot on the company supplied HP box. (Since Ubuntu will pretty much boot on an empty cardboard cereal box, that will tell you what that employer considered "adequate for development".)
  • A modern mid-range laptop that, doing builds, ran rings around the ancient company-supplied tower.

I figure it's a cheap trade: some money now for more hours of my life free. I can make more money, but I can't get more life.

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I've posted my multi-monitor setup already. My employer supplies a laptop and an external 19" monitor. I always bring in my own MS Natural Keyboard (the plain Jane version), but I picked up the two 27.5" monitors on my own. I also bought a Logitech Trackball to help navigate the screens. I don't mind buying it all myself since I can take it all with me whenever I leave. I know how I work best and I'd rather know I can move my setup around rather than wonder if the next company will foot the bill to recreate it.

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If there's any trouble at all getting gear, I do that pretty much routinely unless the employer tells me not to. It's often the difference between staying late and going home at a good time. But I also usually take it with me when I leave.

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If you feel you don't have the right equipment to do your job - be it the right sized monitor or the right chair - then it is up to you to ask your employer to provide this for you.

You should provide the necessary justification for this - be it the relevant health and safety regulations if your chair is not up to scratch or a cost/benefit analysis of fitting 8GB of RAM to the machine you use. If you make a good case then your employer should provide you with the upgrade. If they don't carry on working with what you have.

What would be useful in this case is to keep a record of the problems that it's caused - extra days off due to your bad back, how long it takes to rebuild the application etc. so that the next time you ask you have even more data and you also have a record of why the project overran.

No IT department where I have worked would be willing for me to modify the machine without their express permission or going outside their procedures. As others have said you will find that they will be unwilling or even unable to help you resolve problems with the hardware.

The only hardware I have ever thought of buying myself or have been allowed to use everywhere I have worked is a pair of head phones. Even having an external hard drive or USB pen drive has been disallowed more times than it has been allowed.

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I bought the best set of head phones I could afford and use at work. They do make me more comfortable. No data to show I program better with them or some cheap pair of earbuds. Cordless mouse? Not a factor. How much better can a keyboard unless it's broke?

Storage processing speed, ram, that's on them.

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I did, and I would. But as it was not requested I would not seriously ask for reimbursement. I would make a couple of joking remarks about it however and if there's common sense there .. there will be an echo.. when my boss comes to me and says.. "I see you are trying to give your best, so I'll give you a big raise this time".

But if you'll just go and ask for money for something you were not requested they can just tell you to take your equipment home.

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We get dual 22 inch monitors, but we have a guy who also brought in his own 32 inch and has a 3 monitor setup.

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I've paid for my own zip drives, external hard drives, firewire cards (for external drives), and similar stuff. Reason - I was struggling to concentrate in the work environment, and it was convenient for me to work at home. This was before decent-sized USB sticks were available.

I've also paid for a soundcard, so I could listen to MP3s at work. And my own mouse and keyboard.

The point so far is that this was for my personal comfort/convenience, or so I could manage my own problems.

A recent question pointed out that a lot of employers under-invest in equipment given what they're paying their developers - that the time lost implies more money lost than the equipment would cost (false economy). If I knew that would be the situation going in, and if I knew my pay was enough to cover it, I wouldn't be worried about paying for my own PC. I would expect it to be my own PC, though, that I could take with me when I left.

I even have a view along the line that a carpenter is most effective using his own tools that he has been working with for years. It probably makes some sense (especially for a contractor, but maybe also for a conventional employee) to work with his own laptop, configured the way he likes it. The problem then being a software environment suitable for the job, and of course the security issue implicit in having a kind of system configuration anarchy.

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Having worked for non-profits and public institutions with IT budgets stretched out really thinly, I've supplied my own "luxury" items that make me happier.

I consider myself pretty low maintenance as a programmer, but I had a hard time asking one of my managers for a mouse that I wanted ($75 USD or so) when the budget was stretched so thin anyway. At one place, it was really difficult to get a second monitor. I didn't donate the items, so I took them with me when I left.

I'm now in a position where my employer is basically "tell me what you need and I'll get it for you no matter what", which I still have reserves on some things. I understand the "get your programmers whatever they need" mentality, and I also understand the benefits. I think when that's not possible, and it isn't at the fault of management, you have to adapt. I guess I did that.

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I don't spend personal money on equipment for work.

It is up to your employer to provide you with the tools to do the job. If you need something better, ask. But I wouldn't go out and make a purchase it with my own money unless I know that I am going to be reimbursed first.

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I plunked in my own Core 2 Duo processor to replace our dinky celerons in our 'new' computers. I would seriously be hating life if I hadn't. I run linux and use windows in a VM, if I had to use a processor without the features allowing me to use both cores in my VMs. I originally complained about the celerons but them my boss was like, 'well you we've got an AMD k6 in the basement you can have'.

Other programmers have purchased their own PCI video cards to furnish their 3rd monitor habits.

It's not a bad idea to trick out your own PC to your liking. You probably use it a lot more than your home computer so why not make it as quality as possible.

Yeah, you should ask them to reimburse you, what are they going to say, no? You won't be fired for asking.

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I would but, if I left, I would take it with me unless it had gone beyond value to me by that time.

I think you're lucky to have the option, to be honest. Often, there is an IT Support department who insist on limiting the number of machine specs around the company, to ease their support, even for people they know would never ask for that support.

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No. If I'm working with their equipment, it is up to them to provide fast, reliable hardware. I am not going to buy my own equipment for their benefit. They will buy it or they will deal with the productivity cost incurred by less-performant hardware. Do not even set the precedent.

Your last question about a retroactive reimbursement, that's just folly. If they were inclined to pay for the hardware, this would have been discussed up front. Do not buy your own equipment and expect for them to pay you back. If they want the equipment, they buy it. Period. If they feel inclined to consult you on said purchase, all the better.

The fact that they would even allow you to do this is going to be a non-starter in many organizations. You work on the machines they provide. Employers are not going to want to deal with the question of whose equipment it is, whose responsibility it is to fix it, what will be done with it (and the data on it) when you leave, etc.

If you're an employee and they do not provide you an adequate machine, that's on them. It's not your job to remedy that.

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I'm not gifting the hardware to them. As of right now I own all the extra hardware and there's no preconceived notions otherwise. The only stipulation is IT must be allowed access to my SSD to zero it out before I leave. –  insta Jul 25 '11 at 21:25
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What if this extra RAM is the secret weapon which allows Bob to get 10k bonus, while everyone else gets 3k while working the same amount of time? –  Job Jul 25 '11 at 21:25
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I think that's a poor attitude. What if this company is a startup? Say it was google many moons ago with 10 employees, no additional money. But you know Bringing in your own tools could help you help your company? –  Bryan Harrington Jul 25 '11 at 21:47
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@Bryan - if the company is a startup then there's a good chance that you are one of the founders. That's a totally different case - why aren't you as the boss providing your workers (one of whom happens to be you) with the appropriate hardware? If you're not one of the founders then the same employer/employee relationship exists as at any other company and it's still up to them to provide you with what you need. –  ChrisF Jul 25 '11 at 22:03
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I think the point of the question is that you would be buying it for your benefit, not necessarily the benefit of the company. Theoretically the company benefits because of your increased productivity, but I think the question was about buying equipment you want, not need. –  Bryan Oakley Jul 26 '11 at 15:18

I think you could ask for reimbursement if you leave the hardware there when you leave the job / when that workstation is decomissioned / if the new hardware is ever used by anyone else. But if I were you, I'd just make sure that the hardware upgrades never leave your workstation (if possible).

I would not purchase hardware out-of-pocket. I feel it's my employers duty to supply a properly equipped system. If they don't they will pay the price in longer development time. But I'm not spending my money to upgrade their systems.

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