Developer Productivity and Cost of Tools

As a consultant for software development I do work about 90% on machines my customers own and manage. Often the software already installed on such a machine is an out dated Windows Server 2008 (sometimes even Server 2003), Office, Visual Studio 2010 (very rare: VS2012). The hardware is managed by a provider like HP, IBM, etc. and consists many times of a 4-core Intel with a traditional hard disk of about 250 GB (sometimes 2 of them using one as a backup device) and 8 GB of RAM. Some of them use virtualization (VMWorkStation as a hyper visor – or hyper-v which I prefer) to deploy standard hard disk images. Mostly on such machines as a consultant you have to work without the permission to install any software, because that would impose a risk for the customer.

I live and work in Germany. As you might know, this is not one of the countries with low labor cost – if you trust sources like GULP, the average cost of one hour “IT-free lancer” is about 70,- to 79,- €.

You might have a look at your preferred hardware shop to see that additional 8 GB of RAM you can have for about 75,- € (incl. VAT) and a 250 GB SSD for about 150,- € – so that’s worth about 3 hours of work if you want both of them. Assuming that you might save about 5% of your time when working with a much faster system (compile time, running the rest environment etc.), you save about 0.05*8*20 = 8 hours per month running that additional hardware. Installing Visual Studio did cost one of my customer 2 hours on the “cheap” machine – I’ve just installed VS2012 on my Laptop with a time invest of less than 20 minutes.

There are plenty of productivity tools developers do use – Fiddler, ReSharper, CodeRush, StyleCop, VSCommands, Beyond Compare just to name a few of them. Running these tools will not only speed up coding (so increase productivity), but also increase quality, because some of them will warn the developer about common typing mistakes. I would roughly estimate another 5% increase of productivity by letting use developers the tools of there choice – opening another 8*75€ = 600,- € opportunity of saving money per month and developer.

License cost? Some of the tools do not have any license cost attached to them (like StyleCop) others have already been licensed by the developer (in my case ReSharper, VSCommands and Beyond Compare), so many times you don’t need to care at all about license cost. Management of the PC? You might already have virtualized the development environment – just create a snapshot of the standard installation, then let the developer install whatever she/he needs and in case of any trouble: restore the snapshot. So: no additional issues with the installation of additional software.

Don’t get me wrong: I respect the choice some of my customers made about how to manage the systems and how to spent there money, but I also want to make clear, that investing the money of 3 hours worth of developer time + some more relaxed policies may save them more than one day of developer time per month. Since the 75,- € per hour rate is not the average cost of development freelancers but the average of all IT freelancers together (including some students that do web design for SOHO and many administrators that typically cost less than a Java or .Net developer), this calculation might be wrong for your scenario – your cost for development consultants may be up to twice as high. Have a look at the cost of your development staff and think of 5 to 10% savings by just installing a SSD, some more RAM and letting the developers use the tools they know best.


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