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Tech Talk Live Blog

Fun with Tools: Insights on Buying and Leveraging Developer Tools – Part 1

Matt Kernicky


Imagine you are in a meeting for a development project that you started a few months ago. You and the other members of your team revisit requirements with the potential end users. As the discussion progresses, you realize that the requirements are more involved than you originally suspected. Your department has recently purchased a development suite/library/plug-in/framework that you are expected to use to develop this project, although your team has minimal experience with it.

In an ideal world, your department would have a very flexible and customizable set of tools that could apply to any project that comes down the pike. Requirements could be gathered independent of tool selection. During development, the existing toolset could be augmented to meet specific requirement demands or to streamline the development process, as needed.

There are a number of different ways to explore a middle path, but for the purpose of this post, I will focus on a few insights about the judicious acquisition and use of development tools.

Justify Your Love

When considering a shiny new tool, it is always a good idea to do some basic accounting. Try to quantify the benefits and costs below as best you can.

Benefits

  • What will this new tool give you (I mean above and beyond what your existing tools give you)?
  • Are the added features critical to the current project?
  • How much custom coding/time savings/stability/reusability do you estimate that you will really get?
  • How usable is this tool for future projects?

Costs

  • What are the purchase/subscription rate/maintenance costs?
  • How much will training classes/materials cost?
  • How much developer time will be needed to attend training and ramp up?

Not only should you be asking these questions when you are trying to push your pet tool, but you should also bring them up when someone else champions his/hers. In a business environment the goal is to get the job done quickly and cleanly with a minimum of fuss and a reasonable attempt at future-proofing. More tools equal more complexity, so as a general rule, the fewer tools, the better.

I know some of you are thinking, “This is obvious – cost/benefit? Really?” Admittedly, this is not rocket science. However, before you gloss over this, I would invite you to consider the following questions:

  • How often have tools been purchased in your environment that by all rights should not have been?
  • How much effort (if any) did you make to quantify why the cost/benefit did not make sense beforehand?

Whether we can see that something is obvious and whether we act on what we see are two different things. This is not about noticing that a new tool is going to be more trouble than it is worth. It is about making sure you say something – and something specific – about why it is going to be more trouble than it is worth.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the best ways to work with the tools you have once you have bought them.

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