08 December 2021 / Last updated: 08 Dec 2021

Holiday gift suggestions for the hardware hackers in your life - 2021 edition

The holidays are coming up! If you, like me, are not an engineer but have a lot of them in your life, here are a few ideas crowdsourced for the balena team to inspire your holiday shopping this year.

Gear & Tools

Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W

Here's a Raspberry Pi
The brand new Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W is on every developer's wish list right now. It’s just as small as the original Pi Zero but five times as fast, making it perfect for smart home applications and other IoT projects (and it's supported by balena).

Game HAT for Raspberry Pi

Check out the Game HAT
This Game HAT will turn a Raspberry Pi into a classic games console, ideal for hackers looking for a little downtime this holiday season. Compatible with a wide range of Raspberry Pis, chances are this piece of hardware will be the excuse they have been looking for to use that Pi they’ve had sitting on their desk for weeks.
  • Cost: $39.99
  • Where to buy: Find them at Waveshare
  • Notes: The product linked above requires batteries to work which you might want to include in your gift

Adafruit electronics starter kits

Check out this bit of hardware
Maybe the person you are buying for is just dipping their toes into the world of electronics and hacking? If so, check out the start kits from Adafruit. There are so many to choose from, whether you are looking for a project to build or hardware kits to experiment with. We recommend the Bluefruit Express starter Kit or the ARM based IoT Kit with Pi.
  • Cost: $25-100
  • Where to buy: Head to the Adafruit website
  • Notes: Order well in advance to avoid suffering from the global chip shortage!

Compartment organizers

Check these compatment organizers out
This might be slightly less glamorous than some of the other things on this list. But, whether you are shopping for yourself or another, the gift of a tidy workspace to help clear the mind going into the new year wouldn’t fall short. These compartment organisers are perfect for rounding up all those little bits of hardware rolling around.
  • Cost: $25
  • Where to buy: Amazon or check out your local hardware store

Raspberry Pi LEGO Build HAT

Smart Lego is awesome
This Raspberry Pi build HAT fits any Pi with a 40-pin GPIO header and lets you control up to 4 motors and sensors from the LEGO portfolio which control your home built LEGO robots.
  • Cost: $25
  • Where to buy: Find a seller in your country via the Raspberry Pi website
  • Notes: This gift would also be perfect for a curious young maker

Gifts that are developer themed

Rubber Ducks

These adorable rubber ducks
When developers get stuck on a problem, they are supposed to verbalize the problem out loud to help them debug. This is known as rubber duck debugging, and it just so happens that a rubber duck makes the perfect filler for the bottom of a stocking. You can even get a novelty duck that represents a hobby, animal, or piece of pop culture.
  • Cost: Around $5+ the more unusual/rare the duck
  • Where to buy: mazon have tonnes of options for global shipping or try googling for a local rubber duck specialist store like this one in the UK

Circuit Board Coasters

The perfect circuit board coaster
These coasters might get lost on the desk of a hardware hacker who always has piles of devices everywhere, but every developer needs somewhere to safely keep their coffee! You can get coasters, Christmas tree decorations, chopping boards, and more made out of circuit boards so there's something here for every budget.
  • Cost: Approx $10
  • Where to buy: Check these ones out on Amazon or take a look on Etsy to see what ships locally to you

First Computer Patent Poster

Check out this cool poster
A cool piece of art for any developer to have hanging in their office is this print of the first computer ever patented. Created in 1889, it’s a far cry from what we recognize as a computer today, making it an interesting talking point in the back of any Zoom call!
  • Cost: $10
  • Where to buy: Check it out on Redbubble
  • Notes: There is no frame included so you will need to purchase one separately.

Cards Against Humanity: Geek Pack

Cards against humanity is alot of fun
This Cards Against Humanity expansion pack includes 30 extra cards covering all kinds of geeky pop culture references from video games to Game of Thrones.
  • Cost: $5
  • Where to buy: Direct from Cards Against Humanity
  • Notes: There are loads of expansion pack with different themes if the Geek Pack isn’t quite right

GitHub Contributions T-Shirt

Find out how active you've been this year on GitHub
For the software engineers out there who are using GitHub every day, check out these cool personalised t-shirts which display your code contributions over the last year as green squares which would be instantly recognisable amongst members of the developer community.
  • Cost: $25
  • Where to buy: Buy now from the Git merch store
  • Notes: There are a few different formats to choose from, personalise with their handle, keep plain or add a pattern.

Gifts which use great engineering


the perfect multi-tool
Perfect for working on projects, DIY around the house or in pretty much any situation. The engineer in your life will love being able to whip out their multi-tool and get stuck in on a problem, and the Leatherman is the king of multitools. The Leatherman Rebar even comes with wire cutters, an electrical crimper and wire strippers.
  • Cost: starting around $49.95 and up
  • Where to buy: Go straight to the source at Leatherman.com
  • Notes: All multi-tools come with a standard textile sheath but as a gift you might consider upgrading to leather or adding personalization to the blades.

Lock Picking Kit

learn to pick lots with this kit
I was given so many options for lock picking kits by the balena team (for some reason), and while we don’t endorse breaking and entering, a lock picking kit will be an interesting challenge to keep the developer in your life occupied for hours this holiday season.
  • Cost: $50 and up
  • Where to buy: Check out this kit at Covert Instruments designed to help you go from beginner to advanced with one tool

Coffee Subscription

Never run out of coffee again
Coffee seems to be the staple food of many of my engineering friends, but have you heard of smart coffee? Bottomless offers a coffee subscription using a smart scale that automatically orders a fresh bag of coffee from one of 500 local roasters so that fresh coffee is being delivered just as the last bag runs out.
  • Cost: Get set up with a 3 month gift card for $54
  • Where to buy: Check out bottomless.com
  • Notes: The recipient (or yourselves) can rate the coffee beans and based on your preferences Bottomless will send you new roasts to try.

A Custom Mechanical Keyboard Kit

Up your home office game
Developers are working at a computer all day, so keyboards are important for both comfort and productivity as well as being visually appealing. You might want to check with the recipient before buying a mechanical keyboard kit but they will be incredibly grateful to get something that improves their working life day in, day out.
  • Cost: $70 +
  • Where to buy: This blog breaks down some of the best kits to give your recipient some options

3D Printing Pens

Start 3D printing today
This is a small-scale way into the world of 3D printing. 3D pens are a great gift for makers of all ages. Once they were suggested at balena, everyone wanted one immediately.
  • Cost: $55.99 but there are lots of options at different prices
  • Where to buy: The 3 Doodler has lots of sets to get you started


The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss

The four hour chef
This might sound like a book about cooking, and fundamentally it is, but maybe don’t give it as a hint to learn to cook! This book will give you an idea of the engineering world from a completely new angle by applying the tools needed to learn to cook well to every manner of endeavor.
  • Cost: $28 new
  • Where to buy: Amazon or ask at your favourite local bookstore

Immune by Philip Dettmer

Not only is understanding the immune system a timely topic to read up on, the immune system is very similar to microservice design patterns making this a fascinating read for developers. It also happens to be beautifully illustrated-- a perfect coffee table book for 2022.
  • Cost: $25
  • Where to buy: Amazon or ask at your favourite local bookstore

LaserWriter II by Tamara Shopsin

LaserWriter ||
With heaps of nostalgia LaserWriter II is a short novel based in a New York Mac repair store in the 90s. One reviewer said it is “a novel of appreciation for computers' dust and guts” alongside fantastic characters and a snappy storyline that is sure to hook any reader.
  • Cost: $25
  • Where to buy: Amazon or ask at your favourite local bookstore

Clean Code by Robert C. Martin

Clean code
Clean Code is a handbook of agile software craftsmanship, a manual for writing code and creating software platforms for the 21st century. The first in a series of books to help you become a better programmer and build a better product.
  • Cost: $39
  • Where to buy: Amazon or ask at your favourite local bookstore

Genius Inventions by The Science Museum

Genius Inventions
This book tells you the stories behind some of history’s greatest technological breakthroughs that have helped to shape modern civilization. Find inspiration in the process of reaching a breakthrough. As a bonus, there are beautiful illustrations making this another great coffee table read.
  • Cost: $12
  • Where to buy: Amazon or your favourite local bookstore

We hope this list has given you some great inspiration to wow the hardware hackers and developers in your life this holiday season (or a little treat for yourself). Let us know if you like our suggestions or have any of your own in the comments below.
Happy holidays!
by Lizzie EptonMarketing Manager at balena

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