Tools Make the Difference

Published January 28, 2008 on adamfortuna

    How much difference do the tools you use affect your productivity? That's nearly an impossible question to answer. Books like Joel on Software or his bible Peopleware are more about how to be productive than how to write good code (for that try Code Complete ). Although some of these tips can't translate to a normal office (such as giving each programmer their own enclosed office), most suggestions are more easily palatable to management like multiple monitors or slightly improved workspaces. For instance, about 8 months ago our team at Westgate had experienced some much needed growth and needed to be split up into 3 rooms for developers instead of 2 interconnected ones. Although this meant we weren't as close, and we no longer knew what everyone did the previous weekend, everyone I talked noted huge productivity gains in the days that followed. Quieter workspaces is on the Programmers Bill of Rights after all, so it's probably no surprise. That's not bad for just rearranging people but are gains like this possible from any tools or initiatives? Multiple monitors seem like a no brainer for increasing productivity. Although 20–30 sound high, I don't doubt it. Assuming you're not just working in your IDE, not having to tab around just to see everything will save you time. Multiple monitors are great, but what I've never quite understood is how people can use a single huge monitor effectively without some kind of software for splitting up screen real estate. With many of the Mac setups I see, for instance, there's often a huge 24" or 31" monitor looming over the developer. Although this might work when a designer might need to see a large portion of an illustration, I don't see how a single huge monitor could be better than two smaller monitors for most developers. With the smaller ones, you'll need to spend time dragging from one to the other to get setup, but for the most part all applications will remain maximized and out of the way. With single monitors it seems lots of time is wasted repositioning everything. Also it's more distracting looking at a monitor that has multiple apps on parts of the page rather than one maximized. For my home setup I went with multiple monitors of course, and can't imagine trading them in for a single large display. What do you prefer, a huge monitor (24"+) or multiple smaller ones? What programs make the most difference will be heavily skewed from one person to another. Little things like using TortoiseSVN rather than Eclipse's much slower Subversion tools might not seem like much, but ”some people":http://www.danielroop.com/blog/ notice the difference and save a little time. Using a ”different text editor":http://www.adamfortuna.com/2007/11/09/what-is-your-favorite-text-editor/ or web browser can make that difference as well. Since just about every developer uses Firefox, it becomes more an issue of finding the right ”extensions":http://del.icio.us/dyogenez/extension . As web developers though, most our time is spent in our editors, some shell, a web browser and a database tool- - why not use the best of each? I'd agree with many of the sentiments in the previous replies though — the tools we use are important. On more than one occasion ”Hal Helms":http://www.helmsandpeters.com/ compared the software and hardware we use as developers to the tools he used as a craftsman constructing chairs (7 - Tools We Use). You wouldn't use a dull knife, why use a dull program?