There’s no denying that network engineers can be a tricky group to shop for, especially if you aren’t a network engineer yourself. This year-round guide can help you shop for the network engineer in your life, regardless of the occasion. Use this list for some inspiration to help make their work lives a little bit better. You may even find yourself on their gift-giving lists in return!
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10 Gifts for Network Engineers
Wireless Console Cable
Every engineer has been here. In a data center or a data closet or a wiring closet. Countless hours sitting on concrete floors gave them a sore back, sore legs, and sore everything else. Simply because they’re limited to the 6ft/2m length of a standard console cable. If only there was a way for an engineer to extend that so they could feel free to sit nearly wherever they want. That’s where the wireless console cable comes into place. Enabling the engineer on your list to sit more comfortably while they work will certainly go a long way for them.
Air Console makes a series of products that will help your engineer out. Their entry product, the LE, works perfectly fine over Bluetooth for $59. However, if you step above the LE into either the Mini/Standard-Pro/XL, the addition of Wi-Fi and Ethernet-based IP connectivity is a terrific addition. Those step above models start at $85 and range up to $150.
Speaking of those hard floors, engineers can’t always expect to have a comfortable place to sit at a job site. The job can take them from warehouses to factories to retail stores and it’s not realistic to assume there will always be a good chair available. This is where a good, portable, compact and easy to carry chair can be a back saver.
Something like this Yizi Go Portable ($40) chair would be an ideal addition to any engineer’s trunk. Unlike other compact chairs, it has a seat back to reduce strain while retaining its compact and easy-to-carry profile. This is guaranteed to make the work days a bit easier.
Unfortunately not every task a network engineer has in front of them can be performed from a newly gifted chair. Many times they need to get hands on with a lot of little cables, and losing track of those cables can lead to longer and more stressful days. One way to get around this is to label every cable, which can be pretty tedious.
A nicer way to work is with a tool that clamps onto the cables in groups and keeps them in alignment. Over at SeargentClip.com (£12.50 – £37.00, ships from the UK) they make a handy little tool that clips onto cables, in groups of 6 or 12, and keeps all of those cables in alignment. If you aren’t certain how many to buy, I’d suggest starting with a 48 port bundle. The largest number of ports, and cables, you’ll see on a single switch is 48 ports. SeargeantClip is also available at Amazon.com.
A common theme here, which was highlighted under with chairs as well, is the fact that every environment is different. It’s easy to take a chair for granted, good lighting falls into this category as well. Poorly lit environments can wreck what would otherwise be a productive day. It’s not uncommon for a new site to not be fully lit when a network is being installed. It’s not uncommon for an existing site to forget to change the lights in a network closet. Having a good headlamp ahead of time is a great way to avoid any of these scenarios up front.
There are a lot of headlamps you can choose from. I’ll recommend one type specifically, this lamp made by Victroper, for a very specific reason. It has multiple types of headlamps in one. If you need to flood an entire room with light, it can do that. If you need to spotlight something right in front of you, it can do that. There are some other nice features for outside of work, such as red LEDs and strobe, but the ability to recharge it can be very handy.
Cage Nut Tool
If you’ve ever seen a network engineer with band-aids on their fingers and knuckles odds are they were working on installing equipment within the past few days. It’s hard to fully describe the perils of this sort of work but messing with small thin bits of pressure-loaded metal, it’s not uncommon for accidents to occur. Some rack manufactures include a basic version of this tool, but it’s often discarded. Many engineers work for years without knowing a tool like this even exists. You can help in those situations, and more, by gifting an upgraded version.
This screwdriver-ish-looking tool made by STARcase is an upgraded version of what an engineer may find attached to a new rack. Those tools are usually a small piece of curved metal. This upgraded version provides a sturdier install with an easy-to-grip handle which will reduce on inadvertently cut-up knuckles.
Work Bench Safe Drinking Vessel
After all this work, any network engineer is going to require some work-appropriate hydration to stay healthy. One of the trickier things to do, depending on where they’re working, is to make sure their beverage of choice stays where it should be. A spill on a work bench could be devastating and lead to a RGE (Resume Generating Event).
I’m partial to this Coleman Autoseal bottle. Comes in 2 different sizes, 6 different colors, and the feature that keeps it safe is a push button valve to control when liquid flows or not. Knock it over or turn it upside down, the liquid stays inside. It’s also a stainless steel insulated bottle, so no worries about the bottle sweating either.
When it comes to testing equipment an engineer can find themselves in a pinch without some really simple tools. These tools can go high tech or low tech. Each of their time and place. A nice, and affordable, low tech tool is a loopback tester. It’s the equivalent of calling a friend to see if your new headset sounds good, but for a network engineer.
It’s hard to know exactly what sort of equipment any given engineer could be working on. I’d suggest at least these two:
– Ethernet loopback ($9)
– LC Multimode loopback ($15)
And if you’re really looking to stuff their stockings? The list goes on:
– SC Multimode loopback ($8)
– MPO Multimode loopback ($28)
– LC Singlemode loopback ($8)
– SC Singlemode loopback ($8)
Fiber Visual Fault Locator
One very common task a network engineer may have to perform is to check if there is “light” coming through a fiber-optic connection. It’s recommended that you do not look into the fiber optic cable directly as the laser light can damage your eyes, but some people do it anyway. A clever workaround is to use your phone camera, but this may not work for 10gig or single-mode fiber. A good way to make sure they can always safely see the light? With another somewhat low tech tool specifically for the task.
This Visual Fault Finder ($30) is technically used to find breaks in fiber runs but can double as a handy locator for perfectly good fiber connections. This can save an engineer a good amount of troubleshooting on something you’re not technically supposed to look at.
This is a big-ticket, high-tech item, but it can truly be a lifesaver for an engineer in the field. The NetAlly LinkSprinter is a pocket tool that packs a lot of information into a small, handheld, unit. When working at a job site it can be pretty unpredictable where cables connect behind the scenes. Even when it appears predictable, you never know when you’ll come across an oddball that connects somewhere totally unexpected!
The LinkSprinter 300 ($400) helps answer a good number of questions. It can tell an engineer where they’re connecting, how their connection is configured, if the connection is good, and a slew of other good information in the palm of their hands. It can shave hours of troubleshooting time by eliminating a game of hide and seek around a facility.
Raspberry Pi Kit
This last item isn’t specifically for a network engineer, really any technology savvy person, but it’s hard to go wrong with a Raspberry Pi kit. It can help them set up a test bed for learning how to learn programming, which is becoming a common trend for network engineers. It can run dedicated applications aside from their regular computers. It can serve as a house wide ad blocker. A good digital sandbox like this can be truly invaluable.
You’ve got two ways to go about this. You can buy the Raspberry Pi on it’s own but I prefer to gift someone an entire kit to save them having to pick up some odds and ends they’d need to really put it all together. A good starter kit ($130) will cost more but it will give them everything they need, and more, to start using it on day one.
Wrapping it all up – literally!
So there you have it! 10 items that can really help an engineer in their work day year-round. With a few items off this list you can help save them from body pain, or hours of wasted troubleshooting time, and maybe give them a nice learning tool in the process!
Prices are subject to change at any time. The prices displayed herein were the prices as of the publication of this article (December 2021)