Have a friend, spouse, or family member who’s a die-hard programmer and can’t think of what to get them for Christmas, Valentine’s, or their birthday? You’re not alone! Geek gifts for programmers can be hard to find because programming is so specialized and unusual.
As one myself, I can help you. Every programmer is different, of course, and there’s never such a thing as a one-size-fits-all gift, but there’s a good chance that most programmers will appreciate most of the gift ideas below. We’ll start with the cheapest and work up in price.
1. Rubber Duck
No, this isn’t a joke! There’s a well-known phenomenon among programmers called “rubber duck debugging”: when code isn’t working right and the programmer can’t figure out why, they explain their code line-by-line to a rubber duck (or any inanimate object), and most of the time it becomes clear where the problem lies.
While this Bath Rubber Ducky may be the cheapest gift on this list, it could very well be the most helpful and practical of them all.
2. Programmer’s Puzzle Notebook
Programming is all about logic, so what better way to exercise the mind than with logic puzzles? The Programmer’s Puzzle Notebook contains 100 challenging puzzles that don’t need more than a brain and a pencil to solve. It’s a great gift because it emphasizes the best aspect of programming while avoiding the expected programmer stereotypes.
3. Eat Sleep Code Mug
For coworkers and acquaintances, you may not want a gift that’s too personal. Why not a mug? All programmers drink coffee, tea, or water, so it’s an intensely practical gift. But the Eat Sleep Code Mug provides just enough programmer flavor for the recipient to appreciate, and the design isn’t embarrassing or gaudy in the least.
4. Raspberry Pi
A Raspberry Pi is, simply put, nothing more than a credit card-sized computer. The latest model as of this writing is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, which is equipped with a lot of neat specs and features. Its purpose? You can write programs and run them on the Raspberry Pi, turning it into a media server, retro gaming console, or even a time-lapse camera.
An Arduino is like Lego for adults. It comprises all kinds of circuitry and electronic components that can be put together and coded to do interesting things. Whereas Raspberry Pis are used more for software-based projects, Arduinos are used more for hardware-based projects. It’s a tinkerer’s dream!
Getting started can be rough, so we recommend getting something like the Elegoo Mega 2560 Starter Kit as a gift. And don’t forget to point them to our Arduino getting started guide as well as our roundup of great Arduino projects for beginners.
6. Computer Glasses
We’ve written a lot about digital screens disrupting sleep patterns. It all comes down to the blue light emitted by modern screens and its effects on melatonin production. A few apps can reduce blue light emission, but many programmers don’t bother. That’s why these Gunnar Optiks PPK Glasses are great: they’re convenient and they really work!
7. Mechanical Keyboard
Mechanical keyboards are excellent for anyone who spends all day typing, and that includes programmers. They can be pricey but are totally worth the price: they simply feel better to use, and that kind of improvement can have huge effects on productivity. Consult our guide to buying mechanical keyboards if you have time, otherwise you can get the Das Keyboard 4 Professional if you need something quick and popular.
8. Noise-Isolating Headphones
There’s nothing worse than trying to work (i.e. program) but can’t focus due to the random noises all around you. I bet that happens to your programmer friend all the time! But don’t go and get noise-cancelling headphones — they need noise-isolating headphones. And one of the best quality, most comfortable, most effective options is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.
9. Light Therapy Lamp
One issue that many programmers face is a lack of sun exposure. Not that they’re antisocial or anything like that, but just like any other kind of office worker, it comes with the profession: they spefnd most hours indoors in front of a computer. This can actually lead to problems like burnout or seasonal depression. Not fun.
Light therapy lamps can help. They’re designed to mimic sunlight, allowing programmers to reap the benefits while at their desks. We recommend the Bright Light Therapy Box, but if that’s too expensive then check out these other affordable light therapy lamps.
10. Programmable Drone
Few things are as fun as playing with a drone (i.e. quadcopter). The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is one of the few drones with programmable flight paths and actions, but be sure to point them to NodeCopter, which makes drone programming easier and more fun.
If you have a ton of cash to spend and want only the best for your programmer friend, you might opt for the DJI Matrice 100 Complete Kit. It’s fully programmable and comes with some high-end technology, including high-precision positioning, obstacle sensing, and extra-long flight times. This is for super-enthusiasts.
11. Lego Mindstorms
Though marketed to kids, Lego Mindstorms can be just as much fun for adults. The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Robot Kit comes with buttons, motor ports, internet connectivity, sensors, remote control, and more. Using drag-and-drop scripting, you can make the robot do all kinds of actions. The kit comes with five robot instructions, but you can customize it and make your own robots once you get comfortable with how it works.
12. Certified Coffee Maker
When buying a coffee maker, you should aim for one that’s SCAA certified. This certification shows that the model meets requirements for water temperature, brew time, and several other factors that go into making an excellent cup of joe. As of this writing, only 12 models are currently SCAA certified.
For the best of the best, get the Moccamaster KBT 10-Cup Brewer which comes with a five-year warranty. For something a bit more complex, get the Behmor Connected Coffee Maker. Users can remote control the Behmor with an iOS or Android app. And if you’re on a budget, the Bonavita BV1500TS 5-Cup Brewer is a solid pick.
13. Laptop Bag
If your techie friend does their coding on a laptop (which is more likely than not), then a high-quality laptop bag can be an amazing addition. You’ll want a bag made of high-quality and robust materials, large enough to fit a 15-inch laptop, with extra space and pockets for notebooks, phones, tablets, and maybe even a keyboard and mouse.
The Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag isn’t strictly a bag for laptops, but it checks every box and has a limited lifetime warranty. It even has a magnetic latch for that luxurious feel.
14. Adjustable Standing Desk
Sitting in front of a computer day in and day out can have massively detrimental effects on one’s health, including bad posture that leads to all kinds of physical ailments. Standing desks are better, but standing all day has its own problems too. It’s best to alternate between both.
That’s why an adjustable standing desk is one of the best investments an office worker can make, making it one of the best gifts you can give. The VARIDESK Adjustable Standing Desk is beloved by many, highly customizable, and extremely worthwhile. For something slightly more affordable but just as solid, get the Ergotron WorkFit-T Desk Converter.
15. Treehouse Subscription
Treehouse is an online course library with a heavy lean towards programming. With over 1,000 videos and challenges related to web development, mobile development, game development, and more, there’s always something new to learn for both beginners and veterans alike. It’s an excellent way to expand one’s programming skills.
But it isn’t free: a single-user plan costs $25 per month. However, you can contact Treehouse Support and inquire about a gift certificate. This way you can gift your programmer friend a few months of access, during which they can cram as much learning as they can muster.
Which gift ideas seem the most appealing to you? Are there any other good ideas you’d add to the list? Let us know what you end up going with!