Let’s stop letting tools get in the way of results

I was asked by a colleague what tools I use for writing. I actually have a workflow:

  1. I use Twitter to gauge interestingness of my ideas. If a Twitter post gets good engagement rates it tells me the topic is interesting to my blog readers.
  2. I use Evernote to capture all other ideas in my “Writing Ideas” notebook.
  3. Typically on weekend mornings I scan through my Twitter reports and my Evernote and pick something to write about.
  4. I do most of my writing in Markdown in Byword app on the iPad. I store my stuff in Dropbox and use Byword on the Mac for desktop editing and to publish.

I’ve tried many different writing tools over the years. What I find is that thinking about tools gets in the way of writing. There is a ton of software out there, each tailored to different workflows and preferences. Trying to find a perfect one consumes so much of mental capacity that no room is left for thinking about writing itself.

Overthinking the tools gets in the way of a lot of other productivity aside from writing. It is especially true in software engineering. Let’s consider a few examples.

Eclipse vs NetBeans vs IntelliJ

A friend of mine asked what IDE I use for my work and I pointed out that I use Eclipse for just about everything. She seemed shocked that I don’t use IntelliJ. But what does it matter ?

Last time it mattered what IDE one used was back in the 1990s when corporate IT departments determined what is installed on developer workstations. In my experience that has not been the case since at least 2005.

If a developer is productive in one IDE and their colleague in another that is their choice. As long as they are productively working together, how they get there is irrelevant.

Software project management

This comes up at my work all the time. We try different tools and techniques. Big important tools like VersionOne or JIRA impose some kind of a workflow. Inevitably, try as we might, we fall back on using spreadsheets in Google Drive to share project timeline and tasks.

Web application frameworks

This is a particular pet peeve of mine. Each time a new web-app requirement comes up the teams spend way too much time debating which framework to use. At my company we’ve used everything from JQuery Mobile to Angular to Polymer. There is a cacophony of frameworks out there, each one is unique and different and there is lack of standards.

This 2016 list of frameworks one should learn includes Angular, React, Polymer, VUE, and Ember. A similar article for 2015 lists out Angular, Backbone, React, Meteor, Ember, Polymer, and Aurelia. In one year alone, it would seem as if Backbone and Aurelia fell off the radar and VUE showed up out of nowhere.

Meanwhile 96% of web apps use JQuery. Yes, that is ninety-six percent.

Let’s just focus on the end result rather than tools

I could go on and on. Perhaps we should all focus on the end result, rather than on the tools and frameworks to get us there.

Photo credit Dorli Photography via Creative Commons

One thought on “Let’s stop letting tools get in the way of results

  1. It’s a shame that we live in the “wild west” of frameworks. But you can’t just ignore the discussion and use jQuery for everything.

    Part of the reason for the cornucopia of frameworks is from the rapid and constant development of new underlying technologies: mobile phones, websockets, webcomponents, service workers, the list goes on and on. Heck, the blockchain was invented seven years ago and there’s still no standard altcoin (as of this writing, people can’t even decide which ethereum to use).

    The chaos probably won’t settle anytime soon, but I imagine someday, maybe in 50 years, there will be lasting standards. Until then, discussions of what framework to use are necessary. A car manufacturer couldn’t just say “So many engine types! Let’s just focus on the car and not the engine.” Choice of framework is an essential part of web development; you can’t just ignore it.

    Or are you actually proposing ignoring innovation and using jQuery forever?

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