swiss army knifeI thought it would be fun to help engineers come up with gift ideas this holiday season.  It can be hard to give a really good gift, so we too often default to gift cards, wine and other staples.

I hope this post turns you into a gift-giving ninja.  It's something that I've been working on lately and hope I can share a few things I've learned along the way.

The ideas in this post can be applied to anyone on your list - fellow engineers, colleagues, clients, family, etc.

Many of these ideas are from the book Giftology (highly recommended).  If you want to become a master at gift giving, you'll want to order this book.

Gift Giving Strategy

The act of giving a great gift starts weeks before you actually buy or make it.  Talk to the person and learn about them.  Casually ask them questions and make notes in your phone under their contact details.   Listen to them as they will often offer up information without being asked (e.g. I'm planning on going to Tuscany next summer). The amount of information you can collect is endless.  Here is a short list to focus your efforts on:

  • Hobbies
  • Interests
  • Favourite sports teams
  • Shirt size
  • University they attended
  • Short- and long-term goals
  • Family members' names
  • Pet names

Where to find even more information about the recipient

social media profilesThe internet is full of great information that can help you fill any information gaps while finding new areas of interest.  Look online to see if your recipient has any of the following accounts:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

After you've noted these URLs, do a google search to see what else you can find.  You'd be amazed at how much information is out there just waiting for you.

Gifts to avoid

Now that you've collected lots of information you probably have a few ideas about what would make the perfect give.  Before you go place an order, be sure to review this list of gifts to avoid:

  • Branded merchandise - people don't want to wear your company's logo around town.  Avoid gifts that bear your company's logo since that is more of a gift for you.
  • Gift cards - there are a couple of problems with gift cards.  Firstly, they get used up and forgotten about.  Secondly, they show that you don't know your recipient very well.
  • Money - similar to gifts cards, cash should be avoided.
  • Technology - technology goes out of date so quickly, so avoid buying something your recipient may already have or will only use for a short amount of time.
  • Food/alcohol - consumables are tricky and should be avoided in most cases since they will be consumed quickly, then forgotten.  They can be acceptable if you know the person's tastes, but try to avoid buying the same thing for everyone as you'll risk sending wine to someone with a drinking problem or nuts to someone with an allergy.
  • Easily accessible – If you can order it from Amazon or Walmart it's not going to make someone feel special.  Does that mean you should stop shopping on Amazon?  Nope.  The trick is to bundle a few things together - such as a cookbook from Amazon along with some ingredients from your local grocery store (see my example below).  It's also good to get to know the local shops in your city so you can buy locally-made items that can't easily be purchased online.

When to give

calendarGiving around the holidays is expected.  However, gift giving shouldn't be limited to holidays.  In fact, you'll make a bigger impression on someone if you give a gift when they aren't expecting it.  Pick someone on your list and give them something in the middle of February or September and see what kind of reaction you get.

What to give

Now I know you're looking for me to list a bunch of cool stuff that you can buy for your spouse, boss, parents and kids, right? As mentioned above, it is much better if you spend 20 minutes learning about your recipient and get some good ideas. But, if you're still stuck, here are some ideas to get you going.  These are things that  I have purchased for others recently or am thinking about getting.  I hope it gives you some inspiration.

  • Gifts for seniors:
    • Ancestry DNA kit;
    • A calendar with photos of their kids and grandkids (I use Mixbook for my calendars);
    • If they are travelling in the next year, order them a book that relates to their hobby + the destination (e.g. Birding in Tampa Bay, FL)Cooking bundle gift
  • Gifts for those who love cooking:  Rather than just giving one gift, it's more fun to create a package of items.  A few months ago my wife mentioned that she wanted to improve her cooking skills.  I secretly made a note of it in my phone.  Then I ordered the top cooking book of 2018 - Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and put it in a basket (from the dollar store) along with ingredients mentioned in the book (e.g. 00 Flour, Maldon sea salt, yeast, lemons, limes).  I included a handwritten note and left it in the kitchen for her in mid-November when she wasn't expecting anything.
  • Gifts for your boss: It can be tricky to buy for someone who makes more money than you.  Rather than buy them a $100 watch to replace the Rolex they are wearing, try to focus on something that normally costs $20, but you could buy a best-in-class $50 version of that item (e.g. coffee mug, leather portfolio).
  • LEGO architectureGifts for another engineer: This can be tricky since we are a diverse group.  I don't think there is one gift that will work for every engineer, so you should learn a little about them in order to guide your gift. If they like to build things consider a LEGO architecture or city series set; if they like to entertain, buy them the best cocktail recipe book in the world;  if they like being outdoors, try a mid-range Swiss Army Knife; if they drink a lot of coffee or tea, try a high-end reusable mug from KeepCup; if they are always snacking at their desk, try a tire bowl.  Other ideas: Cozmo Robot and LEGO USB drive.
  • fashion bundle giftGift for fashion nuts: Find out a brand of clothing they like.  Then go to that store and buy 20 to 30 items in their size (check to make sure the store has a good return policy).  Then when that person goes out of the house or office, stage a mini shopping experience for them in their bedroom or office.  Include a note telling them that you know how busy they are, so you wanted to bring the shopping experience to them.  Your recipient will be so happy and they'll likely only pick a few items and let you return the rest.  I did this for my wife shortly after her maternity leave ended (see photo).


Gift giving is not something that should be done last minute.  It takes time to learn about your recipient and buy something that will be meaningful.  Here are some reminders:

  • Research your recipient
  • Always include a personal handwritten note.  If you're not going to include a note with your gift, don't bother sending it.   Avoid sending gifts directly from Amazon!
  • Bundle gifts centred around a theme (e.g. cooking). This is much more fun to open and explore.  This is why everyone loves x-mas stockings.
  • practical trumps consumable.  If you want the recipient to think of you more often, give a gift that they will use daily (e.g. wooden cutting board) rather than something they will use once and forget (e.g. wine).


I hope you picked up a couple of ideas for your gift giving adventure.

What gifts will you be giving this year?  Please leave a note in the comments below. 

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1 Comment

  1. Gavin Simone on December 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    I hope you find something helpful from the above suggestions. Let me know what you try out!

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