Tools of the trade – COVID-19 edition

Back in 2017, I wrote about the tools I use at work and why good tools are important. I wrote about three bits of kit that back then and I still use two of them. In this post, I’ll introduce three new tools: noise-cancelling headphones, a USB-C monitor, and a standing desk.

In these turbulent COVID-19 times, it’s reassuring to find some stability. Three years is a long time in technology, but the post I wrote back in 2017 is still (IMHO) pretty darn relevant. I still believe in the importance of investing in the tools we use for 40+ hours a week. A carpenter would not put up with blunt chisels – nor should we put up with bad keyboards.

NB: Just like the original post, I’ll be using Amazon affiliate links in this article. They won’t mean you pay more, but I will get a bit of a kickback if you do make a purchase. If this offends you, the products are also very Google-able…

Like the article in which they featured, two of my favoured peripherals are still in active service. I’m still very much in love with both my Filco Majestouch-2 keyboard and my Logitech MX Master mouse. There may be newer versions available, but I have no reason to go looking – both these items are still fantastic to use.

Of course, Coronavirus has turned all our lives upside-down. Like a lot of people, I’m now working from home full-time. Since the birth of my second child, I no longer have a spare room. Instead, the baby and I are using her room in shifts – she sleeps there in the night and I work there in the day. Why am I mentioning this? Because my recommendations in this post are strongly influenced by my current situation!

My headphones: Sony MDR-ZX770BN

Yes, OK, I admit it – I’m a big fan of Sony’s headphones. I only got rid of my last pair (Sony MDRRF865RK) when they died. For me, Sony is bang on the mark when it comes to the trade-offs between comfort, audio quality, and price.

I bought the MDR-ZX770BNs (side note: why do Sony insist on such awful names?) back in 2018 and they have travelled with my to Malaysia, Australia and back to the UK. The noise-cancelling does a great job of eliminating engine noise – a godsend on long flights.

Of course, no-one is flying right now. Perhaps a more topical example would be how competent they are at cancelling out the wails of my infant and toddler office-mates.

Insert head here. 👆

Besides the audio quality and noise-cancelling abilities, there are a few more things I really like about these headphones. For starters, they have excellent battery life. Secondly, the controls on the ear-pieces are very intuitive. Finally, they are really, really comfortable.

If you’re in the market for some new cans, you can get Sony MDR-ZX770BN on Amazon.

My monitor: Dell Ultrasharp U2419H

For this one, I have to thank my colleague Sneha. I’ve never been fussy about monitors previously, but this one has changed my outlook.

Despite being firmly mid-range in terms of price and size, I think this monitor packs a lot of punch. On top of the excellent image quality (apparently the product of great colour reproduction and pretty good brightness), there are a couple of little features that I like more than I’d have anticipated.

Mountain scene not included.

For starters, the stand is adjustable in all the right ways. There’s a decent amount of range and it’s easy to use. No more hunching over a badly positioned screen. No more stacking books on the desk to gain height. Good work Dell!

Secondly, I love the fact I can use my monitor as a docking station. By supporting USB-C, it becomes more than just a display; it becomes my charger and my USB hub as well. This means the cable from the monitor is the only one I ever plug into my laptop. My mouse, keyboard, etc. all plug into the monitor instead. When I want to move away from my desk, it’s just a case of unplugging one cable. Sounds like a small thing, but I love it.

If you’re in the market for a new monitor, the Dell Ultrasharp U2419H is available on Amazon.

My desk: Jarvis Adjustable

One of my favourite things I miss most about my old office in Melbourne (aside from the people obviously!) is the ubiquitous standing desks. Given the choice, I will preferentially spend 50%+ of my time stood up at my desk. When I have the option to stand, I find I get less restless and am generally more comfortable.

Before COVID, our office space had plenty of opportunities to stand. These were all in communal areas, so couldn’t be my main desk, but their existence made me reluctant to invest in an adjustable desk for myself. Since working from home, the algebra has altered. I finally caved and bought a Jarvis adjustable desk for my birthday.

The Jarvis desk is a motorized adjustable desk. With the push of a button, it will rise up from a sitting position to a standing position. With another push of a button, it’ll go back down again. I opted for the controller with memory, so I get four customisable heights to choose from, or I can use the up/down controls as needed.

Yes, of course my home office is that tidy! What are you implying?

I’ll admit that it was somewhat expensive (at ca. £650 for mine), but I have zero regrets. As you’d expect at this price, I was able to choose all the details and I am very pleased with the result. It looks great, there’s plenty of room, and I’m 100% more comfortable than when I was sat at the dining table.

The team at Fully should be commended on their excellent customer service too. I initially ordered the bamboo top but was informed that COVID-related delays would mean I’d be waiting a while. Over a chat, I was guided towards a combination that was in stock, and would, therefore, be quicker to ship. (Important for someone as impatient as me!)

Fully don’t sell on Amazon, presumably because they wouldn’t be able to support the same degree of customisation as they do on their website. That said, if you’re thinking about a standing desk, do go and check them out.

That’s all folks

There you have it, three new tools of the trade on top of the two that have survived from last time.

As professional developers, we already spent a lot of our time sat at desks, hammering at keys and pushing mice around. Now that I’m working from home, I have new challenges to contend with and new opportunities as well.

In the age of COVID-19, many people are struggling to make ends meet – I’m very lucky to be in a position where my biggest adjustment has been to work from home. Part of me feels a bit self-conscious to be showing off my purchases at this time, but I do strongly believe that these tools are important.

If you’re lucky enough to be working at the moment, give serious consideration to the tools you’re using. Whether you realise it or not, your choice of tools will determine your productivity and comfort.

Prefer some other kit? Let me know in the comments!

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