8 Essential Productivity Tools Your Development Needs

With our first full time developer on board I had to put some structure around the tools and services we will use to manage our work. In general I don’t want to be too prescriptive on what tools they should use to get the job done but it will be good to put some guidelines for the tool set and outline the mandatory and optional ones. For our development we’ve made the following choices:

  • Microsoft Azure as Cloud Provider
  • TornadoWeb and Python 2.7 as a runtime for our APIs and frontend
  • DocumentDB and Azure storage for our storage tier
  • Azure Machine Learning and Microsoft Cognitive Services for machine learning

Well, those are the mandatory things but as I mentioned in my previous post How to Build a Great Software Development Team?, software development is more than just technology. Nevertheless we had to decide on a toolset to at least start with, so here is the list:

1. Slack

My first impression of Slack was lukewarm, and I preferred the more conservative UI of HipChat. However compared to HipChat, Slack offered multiple teams capability right from the beginning, which allowed me to communicate not only with my team but use it for communication at client site as well as with the advisory team for North Seattle College. In addition HipChat introduced quite a few bugs in their latest versions, which made the team communication quite unreliable and non-productive, and this totally swayed the decision to go with Slack. After some time I got used to Slack’s UI and started linking it, and now it is an integral part of our team’s communication.

2. Outlook 2016

For my personal email I use Google Apps with custom domain however I’ve been long time Outlook user and with the introduction of Office 365 I think the value for the money is in Microsoft’s benefits. Managing multiple email accounts and calendars, scheduling in-person or online meetings using the GoToMeeting and Skype for Business plugins is a snap with Outlook. With the added benefit of using Word, Excel and PowerPoint as part of the subscription, Office 365 is a no-brainer. We use Office 365 E3, which gives each one of us full set of Office capabilities.

3. Dropbox

Sending files via email is an archaic approach, although I see that still being widely done. For that purpose we have set up Dropbox for the team. I have created shared folders for the leadership team as well as each one of the team members, allowing them to easily share files between each other. For the leadership team we settled on Dropbox Pro for the leadership team and the Free Dropbox for the team members. In the future we are considering to move to the Business Edition.

4. Komodo Edit

I have been a long-time fan of Komodo. It is a very lightweight IDE that offers highlighting and type-assist for number of programming languages like Python, HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3. It also allowing you to extend the functionality with third party plugins offering rich capabilities. I use it for most of my development.

5. Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code is the new cross-platform IDE from Microsoft. It is a lightweight IDE similar to Sublime Text, and offers lot of nice features that can be very helpful if you develop for Azure. It has built-in debugging, Intellisense and has a plugins extensibility model with growing number of plugin vendors. Great tool for creating mark-down documents, debugging with breakpoints from within IDE and more. Visual Studio Code is an alternative to Visual Studio that allows you to develop for Azure on platforms other than Windows. If you are Visual Studio fan but don’t want to pay hefty amount of money you can give Visual Studio Community Edition a try (unfortunately available for Windows only). Here is a Visual Studio Editions comparison chart that you may find useful.

6. Visual Studio Online

Managing the development project is crucial for the success of your team. The functionality that Visual Studio Online offers for keeping backlogs, tracking sprint work items and reporting is comparable if not better than Jira, and if you are bound to the Microsoft ecosystem it is the obvious choice. For our small team we leverage almost completely the free edition and it gives us all the functionality we need to manage the work.

7. Docker

Being able to deploy a complete development environment with the click of a button is crucial for the development productivity. Creating Docker Compose template consisting of two TornadoWeb workers and NGINX load-balancer in front (very similar configuration to what we plan to use in Production) is less than an hour task with Docker, and reduces the operational overhead for developers multiple times. Not only that but also completely mimics the production configuration, which means the probability of introducing bugs caused by environment differences is practically zero.

With the introduction of Docker for Windows all the above became much easier to do on Windows Desktop, which is an added benefit.

8. Draw.IO

Last but not least being able to visually communicate your application or system design is essential for successful development projects. For that purpose we use Draw.IO. In addition to the standard block diagrams and flowcharts it offers Azure and AWS specific diagrams, creation of UI mockups, and even UML if you want to go so far.

Armed with the above set of tools you are well prepared to move fast with your development project on a lean budget.