Nick Ang profile picture

Nick Ang

Buy or build?

buy or build nick ang Photo by Robert Anasch

As someone who understands and can write computer programs, I frequently ask, should I buy or build this thing?

Recently I experienced some eye strain and a colleague at wrote a comment recommending me eye drops, a desktop humidifier, and a macOS app. While I can’t make the first two items, I can conjure up a macOS app in a few days.

So I did what any logical person would do. I downloaded the recommended app to bring it for a test drive that lasted as long as the free trial did, which was three days.

Three days went by and I was told by Breaks for Eyes that I had taken several hours worth of eye care breaks. The app did something for my eyes, but it might have also positively affected my productivity since it forced me to look away every 20 minutes.

I liked what the app did for me. Now, a few days after the app stopped working because of the expired trial, I still haven’t purchased it.

At 9.90 EUR the decision shouldn’t be difficult, but it is.

It is difficult because I know I could build it myself, and have a little fun along the way if I did. Why should I buy it if I can make it? This question consistently haunts me in situations like these.

But it shouldn’t be this difficult. I have no qualms about making use of existing code libraries written by other people when they are free to use. It is just another cost-benefit rationalisation that seems to have been burned into my operating system since I could understand basic economics.

Buy or build? Buy, if the benefits outweigh the costs. Build if not.

But how can I quantify the benefits of some degree of eye care to compare to the monetary cost of 9.90 EUR? Assuming I manage the feat, I’m still obliged to compare the benefits against the costs of building the app myself.

  • Buy costs: 9.90 EUR
  • Buy benefits: Eye care, time saved from not building the app
  • Build costs: Lack of eye care for a few days, time to build the app
  • Build benefits: Save 9.90 EUR, pride, learnings

How the hell is my puny brain supposed to rationalise all of this? Should I waste my limited daily brainpower to compute this shit?

Perhaps rephrasing this in a couple of qualitative questions might help.

  • Do you need immediate eye care? Yes.
  • Can you afford to spend 9.90 EUR? Yes.
  • Do you have any desire to program a macOS app? Not really, unless I have to.

For me at least, that was much easier. This time I will buy the existing app for 9.90 EUR. Case closed.

Nick Ang profile picture
Husband, dad, and software engineer that writes. Big on learning something everyday and trying to have fun before the lights go out.
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