Increasing My Developer Happiness

I've bought into the idea that a happy developer requires a clean, attractive, comfortable workplace that encourages healthy, sustainable productivity. Rich Armstrong of Fog Creek Software explains how they spend $6,174 per developer to make them happy. Shortly after reading this article, I tweeted:

My ideal setup is ~$10K more (MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, two 30s).

While this is my ideal setup, it's not something I actually need. If you've ever worked with two 30" monitors, you might agree. That much screen real estate can be too much, as you have to pan your head side-to-side to take it all in. I've found that a single 30" or 27" is good enough for me. As far as a Mac Pro goes, they can have awesome horsepower when full-loaded, but unless you're doing some serious processing, you probably won't utilize it all.

The last time I bought a new computer was March 2009, when I bought a 15" MacBook Pro with an SSD. I upgraded it to 8 GB RAM a year later and it's hummed along just fine since then. I also had the pleasure of working on a fully-loaded Mac Pro at Time Warner Cable for all of 2010 and a company-provided MacBook Pro at Overstock for most of this year. With my recent move to a new client, it's time to increase my developer happiness. Since I am my own boss, it's easy to get hardware upgrades approved. ;)

My current hardware inventory is as follows:

  • A 15" MacBook Pro
  • A 30" monitor at home
  • A 27" monitor at my office in Downtown Littleton

Since I ride my bike to work everyday, I've been hauling my laptop back and forth on my 8-mile commute. This is getting old quickly. I'd rather have a permanent machine in my office and a laptop for when I travel to clients, the mountain office or to conferences. So here's what I hope to buy in the next week:

  • A new 15" MacBook Pro, fastest CPU available
  • A fully-loaded 27" iMac for my office

I'll be moving my current 27" monitor to the mountain office. I plan on getting rid of my current MacBook Pro through the Apple Recycling Program. I'm also planning on trying out Apple's 24-month leasing program. I like to get new hardware every two years and it's a better tax deduction, so it seems to make sense.

My only question at this point is should I get Apple's SSD and RAM instead of getting it aftermarket (e.g. via Crucial)? My original plan was to install an aftermarket SSD and 8 GB RAM in the MacBook Pro. For the iMac, I've heard installing an aftermarket SSD isn't an option, but RAM is. I was thinking about getting the SSD + 1 TB drive combo and upgrading the RAM to 8 GB myself. There's a good chance aftermarket is better quality, but I'd also have to pay more vs. having it wrapped up in the total lease price.

Of course, new hardware is only part of developer happiness. A clean, attractive, comfortable workplace is an essential component as well. My home and mountain offices are nice, but my Littleton office needs work. I currently share it with two other developers, Angela and Jim. Over the next couple months, we plan on making a lot of improvements to our daily digs. I'll make sure and take some before and after pictures and blog about how we improve things.

Update: Thanks to everyone for their advice. As I suspected, upgrading RAM and disk aftermarket is the way to go. When I wrote this, I was under the impression that you couldn't upgrade the iMac's disk. Since then, I've discovered OWC's Turnkey Upgrade Program. Using this, I can send them my iMac and get a wicked fast 480 GB SSD, a 2 TB drive, 16 GB of RAM and have it shipped overnight for around $1400. Add in 8 GB RAM and a 480 GB Mercury Extreme 6G SSD for my new MacBook Pro and I'm looking at $2600 (aftermarket) + $5500 (Apple) = $8100. Now I just need to find some external hard drive enclosures for my old drives. Bonus points if I can find one with Thunderbolt support.

I can feel my developer happiness increasing already...

Posted in Mac OS X at Oct 07 2011, 03:35:35 PM MDT 11 Comments
Comments:

I'd go with purchasing aftermarket SSD and RAM regardless of the tax benefits. Last year I purchased a minimally equipped MacBook Pro and purchased an aftermarket SSD and RAM and installed it myself. I saved hundreds of dollars and got superior hardware to what Apple offers.

Good luck with the office improvements. I recently improved my man cave just by getting getting rid of stuff including my second 24" monitor. Now my desk sits in the middle of the room and I make a habit of opening the window blinds. Less distraction, a single monitor and a brighter room seem to helping my productivity.

Posted by Shane Witbeck on October 07, 2011 at 07:12 PM MDT #

Dude - the MacBook Air with SSD and a ThunderBolt display to dock with is everything a biker would want

Posted by Richard Williams on October 07, 2011 at 09:07 PM MDT #

Hi Matt,

I just recently installed a OWC 240G Mercury Extreme 6G SSD +Data Doubler into my 2011 MacBook Pro 2.3ghz / 8gig. There is a new chipset in the 240G+ models that makes them even faster than the smaller versions. Make sure you are running the latest firmware upgrades as they fix some issues with 6G. Make this drive your boot drive and copy all of your 'media' to the spinny platter drive. You will also notice your machine is *quiet*. For a long time, my friends kept telling me to upgrade... they were right... it is seriously the best ~$550 you can spend and of course, it is a nice tax benefit.

http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/SSD/OWC/Mercury_6G/

Just to give you an idea of the speed increase. A fresh install of Lion from a USB flash card took 4 minutes. Total. Boot up takes 4 *seconds*. You will notice apps launch before the bouncing icon stops. Using Eclipse, writing code is amazing now.

Good luck.

jon

Posted by Jon Stevens on October 08, 2011 at 09:31 AM MDT #

Do NOT get Apple's SSD or memory options. Particularly the SSD - because the Apple SSD has a slow controller compared to what is the current state-of-art. As a developer you want high-as-possible IOPs on reading and writing small files, the latest generation Sandforce 2200 based drives are near the point where they can saturate the SATA6 bus (note this is the latest SATA interface and 2x as fast as the previous one). The Crucial M4 is also a good option. Be happy to write a detailed blog post if you want more details.

Posted by pratik patel on October 08, 2011 at 09:31 AM MDT #

The current macbook pros came out in Feb. Apple is sure to have an update in the next 4-6 weeks. Intel released a suitably better set of chips just recently too. Looking at your old post, looks like you almost bought your current laptop just as an update was imminent.

Posted by Ted Bergeron on October 09, 2011 at 09:28 AM MDT #

Thanks for the advice fellas, I've updated this post to show how you've swayed me towards the aftermarket.

Ted - you're probably right. But with all the aftermarket disk and RAM updates I'll be doing, I'm hoping I won't have buyer's remorse in December. I suspect they'll wait until next year, but they could be smart and go after the Christmas market. Where's some insider information when I need it?! ;)

Posted by Matt Raible on October 09, 2011 at 09:55 AM MDT #

I wouldn't bother with the huge SSD drive. The pricepoint just isn't there. All you really need it for is your boot volume and commonly used files. All your big media stuff that doesn't need the SSD io speed can live on the spinning platters. I love posting comments on your blog... keeps my math skills going...

Posted by Jon Stevens on October 10, 2011 at 08:38 AM MDT #

I work for TWC in Broomfield - right next to the airport. What were you doing for TWC? And more importantly, how come I didn't know about it? :-)

Posted by adam on October 10, 2011 at 10:58 AM MDT #

Adam - I was part of Jason Gaedtke's team that built TWC's iPad app. I wrote about the team and our move to LoDo almost a year ago.

Posted by Matt Raible on October 10, 2011 at 11:29 AM MDT #

So what do they say about cube sizes?

Posted by Russ Baker on October 12, 2011 at 04:03 PM MDT #

Russ - Fog Creek recommends private dev offices. No cubes.

Posted by Matt Raible on October 12, 2011 at 04:25 PM MDT #

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