Yan Pritzker recently posted “5 ways to get insane productivity boosts for coders” which provides some good tips on how to improve your usage of tools when doing technical work. To summarise:
- Never look when you can search
- Don’t repeat yourself (by setting up shortcuts and command line aliases)
- Learn a scripting language
- Learn an editor (and use that editor everywhere)
- Learn regular expressions
However, nearly all of these tips really boil down to how to be more productive at writing text and the mechanics of writing code – editing actual source code files, jumping to different places in those files, executing commands more efficiently etc. Are these really the tasks that consume the vast majority of a developers time?
While often it feels like they are, after all we spend all day working with a text editor or the command line, are we really spending all that time struggling to keep up with the stream of code our brains are trying to output? Personally, I spend a lot more time thinking about what the best algorithm is, what direction we should be pushing the design in and how to do that and so on. Rarely do I need to type at full speed for extended periods of time.
Given that, I suspect the real bottlenecks in developer productivity are more along the lines of:
- Comprehending an area of code and its design
- Identifying, evaluating and selecting potential solutions to a problem (be that choice of algorithm, design choices or choice of classes/libraries etc)
- Understanding and sharing a design vision within the team
- Understanding and sharing requirements within the team
This isn’t an exhaustive list but it should give an idea for the types of things that really limit programmer productivity. In other words, someone who types with two fingers can be much more productive than someone who knows every shortcut in their editor if they are able to identify a simpler solution to the problem.
For example, recently LMAX needed to make a large and potentially quite risky change to how our system worked. The change affected a core concept in the system and so could have knock-on effects to a wide range of components and be very hard to test effectively. At the start of our two week iteration we already had a potential solution planned out but the developers were uncomfortable with the amount of risk involved with that plan. So we spent a full week discussing options, exploring the code and experimenting, plus talking with business experts to get a better understanding of the domain model. All that discussion led us to find a much simpler solution which, if something was missed, would be sure to cause failures in our existing acceptance tests. Even counting that initial week of discussion, finding the right solution meant we could deliver the change in about half the time we had expected.
So by all means, spend time learning to use your tools better, it avoids a lot of tedious boring work, but if you really want a step change improvement in productivity, work to improve you communication, design and thinking skills.