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We're interested in thinking about making our technology policies at our company more flexible. Right now IT basically issues everyone a Windows box when they start here. We're primarily a technology company though, and for at least a couple years most of our deployments are on Linux servers, so handing out Windows boxes is often a poor choice.

Management is interested in letting people use environments that 1) they're more comfortable with, 2) would be more productive on, 3) give us a broader set of platforms to play around with (e.g. easily check whether our code runs well on Android devices).

I'm neither in management nor IT, but I've been asked to come up with potential schemes for how we could change the way we do this. Our company is about 60 people (and growing) with around 3 or 4 IT people, and the rest are developers or other technology people.

One idea from management is to give people a certain budget each year (maybe $1500) that could be applied to technology purchases - could be a cheap new laptop, could be a tablet, could even be a standing desk or whatever. Or people could wait a couple years and get a beefier desktop machine, maybe a Mac, maybe a slicker Linux laptop with SSDs, whatever. I'm sure there will also be people who just want whatever standard box they're already getting, too. The point is to give people more control over their technology & environment decisions.

So I'm interested in hearing what kinds of schemes can work well. Are there paradigms that are well-known to be bad ideas, or pitfalls that can be avoided? Any pointers to other places where this gets discussed? What models have been tried by similar-sized startups? (We're not a startup, we're a wholly-owned subsidiary of a huge company, but we have enough autonomy that they don't control stuff like this.) I hope this is the right forum - I waded through all the Stack Exchange sites and this seemed like the closest fit, but I'd welcome any help turning this into a better question or finding a better forum too.

  • Originally asked at superuser.com/q/820543/120672 . – Ken Williams Oct 8 '14 at 14:17
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    Voting to close because the question asks for technical advice. – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 8 '14 at 14:36
  • @VietnhiPhuvan That's a bit odd, you chose to provide irrelevant technical advice that was not requested but the question itself seems perfectly fine. Telastyn's answer illustrates the kind of things that can be said without any reference to the respective merits of various operating systems. – Relaxed Oct 8 '14 at 14:58
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    Who is responsible for maintaining the machines (antivirus, patches, etc)? Does a new platform create work for IT or will employees manage their own boxes? – Monica Cellio Oct 8 '14 at 15:40
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    This isn't a technical question; it's a question about setting policies. I think it's a good question for The Workplace. – Monica Cellio Oct 8 '14 at 15:43
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First step, ask your IT people. Since they're responsible for the technological support and security for your company, you will need to make sure they're cool with expanding the platforms they need to support by an order of magnitude. Standard machine images exist for a practical reason.

That said, I have seen one place where this has worked. It was a startup, and the policy was that IT would support 3 standard machines - some non-technical windows box, a technical windows box and a super-standard technical linux box. If you wanted something different, you could do that but were on your own if you needed any sort of support.

It was made clear that any sort of "but my machine wasn't working" would not be tolerated and that this policy was a privilege like working from home. This limited a bit of the chaos to people who really wanted something different.

  • Yes, clearly IT support is a really big part of the equation. It can't be the whole answer, though - the easiest platform to support isn't necessarily the best platform for everybody to get their work done. Conversely, people won't have time to get work done if they're constantly "configuring" their machines either, so there's some kind of balance to be struck. – Ken Williams Oct 8 '14 at 21:32
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    Your current IT people shouldn't be dictating your desktop platform if business needs indicate otherwise. If your business would be more productive with Linux desktops but your current IT people only do Windows, you should be hiring IT people who can support Linux - not muddling along with Windows. – Andrew Medico Oct 9 '14 at 14:42
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    IT should be a service organization only. They should provide costing for all the various options, especially their costs in supporting each option and security risks with each, but they shouldn't make the decision. It's a business decision, does the value of increased productivity/work satisfaction/etc outweigh the increased costs of these options. – SafeFastExpressive Sep 29 '18 at 23:17
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The best way to make this decision is to weigh costs and benefits. Let IT calculate the costs of each option, not just acquisition but estimate their support costs. Also let each group detail the benefits each option provides their employees, what is most optimal for customer support isn't likely to be optimal for Sales, Marketing, R&D, etc.

For example, sales staff typically need laptops, support reps usually don't. Most employees can be productive with Windows, many developers feel they are more productive with Linux or Macs. Then come up with a policy giving reasonable options for each group.

When I ran software development at a software company, we always bought the fastest possible PCs for developers that could support multiple high resolution big screen monitors. The math was obvious, the difference in cost was about 1/4 of 1% of what the average developer cost. It took only a tiny increase in productivity to pay for the expensive hardware, and that doesn't count the effect it had on workplace satisfaction and lower turnover.

Later when I went to work for a BIG company that had a 400+ person IT department, I found out how crippling hard and fast policies could be. As an individual developer I spent about an hour a day waiting for builds to finish. I requested a faster dev computer, pointing out to the IT purchasing director that it only had to save me less than an hour a month to justify it's cost. Instead of a new computer, I got a tongue lashing explaining that the company was not replacing two year old computers for anyone. They were trying to rigorously apply identical rules to 50,000 employees working in a variety of diverse roles and producing far different amounts of value using their computers.

Shortly thereafter I left to work for a startup and was budgeted a fixed amount to spend on my computer/monitor. I explained to my boss the additional value I could provide if we spent double that amount on a faster computer and better monitors. Not only did he agree, but he also doubled the standard amount for everyone else in a similar role.

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I worked at some point for a large (public) organization that allowed quite a lot of flexibility. Everybody would get a standard Windows machine (with a few options available) and for everything else, you had to find your own budget and write a short motivation (because the main provider had to be chosen through an EU tender procedure).

Support was not guaranteed but generally accommodating. It sounds a bit vague as a policy but that's pretty much how it worked in practice: For example, support for printing, etc. was not as good on Macs but someone did take care of it eventually.

I don't know how much of this translates to your situation but that's one way to do it.

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