News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

Geek gifts gone wrong: What not to buy your loved ones

Geeks confess the nerdy gifts that didn’t work out and offer a note of caution when it comes to buying for them, too. Hint: no more USB sticks.

There’s what to buy a geek. And then there’s what not to buy a non-geek.

For many geeks, the holiday shopping season is fraught with peril, as they try – and often #FAIL – to find the perfect gift for less technologically inclined loved ones.

Let’s face it. Geeks have a reputation for giving bad presents. One geek’s significant other charitably describes her loved one’s gift choices as “very utilitarian.” For example, on their first Christmas together, he gave her a food processor. A memory foam pillow “randomly showed up one year,” she recalled. The following year, her specific suggestions went unheeded, and she ended up with silverware and a travel coffee mug.

Enough with the USB sticks, already.

“It could be worse,” she sighed. “He gets himself books on UNIX.”

“I used to make my holiday lists a collection of part numbers,” confessed one of our geek advisors. (All names here have been withheld to protect the innocent.) “Too many snarky looks from my wife unfortunately put an end to that practice.”

Some geeks have learned the hard way to be careful with technical gifts for non-technical recipients. “Sometimes you end up getting kids something they’re not ready for, and it just sits collecting dust most of the time. Like an e-book reader,” lamented one geek dad.

Adds a geek son, the least successful geeky gift ever was an iPod Classic. The iPod Touch might’ve been better, this geek argued, “but at the time I was outvoted.” The click wheel on the iPod Classic proved too complex to cross the generational divide. Another lesson learned from this experience? “If you’re not sure about the gift, do not get it engraved.”

This same geek was in for a double-whammy when he bought his father a pair of Bluetooth headphones for working out. “He never used them and now he doesn’t even know where they are. I would gladly use them, but he can’t remember where he put them.”

For geeks immersed in their work, sometimes it’s not the gift itself so much as the timing that’s tricky.

“Some of us forget our anniversaries (yes, I really did), and there's not a really good enough gift to make up for that one,” said another self-identified geek. (For the chronologically challenged among you, Christmas and Hanukkah are right around the corner.)

Other times, the problem lies with being too literal.

“Every year my wife asks about this time if I got her anything yet for Christmas and I answer yes,” said yet another geek. “Well, the next question from her is normally ‘Wow, what did you get me?’”

“I don’t know why she asks if she does not want to know,” he lamented.

A two-way street of awkwardness

That’s not to say that geek-gift faux pas only travel in one direction. In their own defense, geeks say there are also plenty of screw-ups when it comes to non-geeks’ gift ideas for the technically savvy.

“You have to be careful to know what else is on a geek’s network,” advised one member of our panel. For example, “The Kindle Fire is the new thing, but I don’t want it. I don’t understand its appeal -- if I wanted an Android device, I would get an Android device. The iPad does everything; I think iOS is more elegant.”

Sometimes the minutiae of technology can trip up a perfectly good gift.

“People tend to have their own likes and dislikes,” pointed out one of our panelists. Take, for example, an SD card. “Is it micro SD card? Is it compact Flash?” he said.  “If I get a camera that’s compact Flash and everything else I own is SD, now I’ve got to carry around a card reader just for that one camera.”

Another of our geek advisors would like to issue a public service announcement: Enough with the USB sticks, already.

“I probably have a drawer full of the freaking things. But people are constantly giving them to me. I get them at shows, I get them from family, I get them at holidays, for Christmas, from friends, from managers, other employees. Most every IT guy I know has a drawer full of these things. We just don’t need any more.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

Dig Deeper on Introduction to virtualization and how-tos

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.