Tooling has improved for ambitious software developers

Tools for working on software in the large1 have improved a lot over since I last considered them ten years ago.

A sloth cutting an impossible Gordian Knot

IDEs are better, faster, and have excellent navigation/search features. Full-text search is now somewhat syntax aware and able to index and quickly query large codebases. Tools like Sourcegraph exist on the high end and ripgrep on the low end.

AI assistants/copilots can wear the hat of “better autocomplete” today and may wear the “help me understand this code” or “help me write a good PR/commit message” hat later. I’m skeptical about the wisdom of handing off the latter to a program, but we’ll see how it goes.

Applications have made tail -f a better and more legible experience. Somehow, exception trackers and performance monitoring tools don’t seem to have evolved much over the past ten years. This is perhaps a result of market/product consolidation more than an indicator that the category is tapped out.

It’s hard for me to say how much language is creating leverage for working on software in the large. Ruby and JavaScript were prominent in my daily work ten years ago and are still prominent today. Both have evolved gradual type systems that might make it easier to hold a large program in an individual’s head productively. Both gradual type systems are going through the “trough of disillusionment” phase of the technology hype cycle. I’m cautiously optimistic that some kind of static analysis, whether it’s linters or type checkers, will make writing Ruby and JavaScript less haphazard.

Notably, deploying software doesn’t seem to have improved much at all for the individual developer. Heroku, in its prime, is still the golden standard. Perversely, Heroku sometimes fails to meet this mark. The options free of lock-in for such a service are limited-to-nascent2.

In short, tooling has made it easier for fewer people to maintain and enhance larger software. With luck, the options for doing so without paying a monthly tithe to dozens of vendors will improve over the next decade!

  1. We would say “at scale”, now, shamelessly.
  2. Notably, I have not used Kubernetes but the anecdotal data does not lead me to think I’m missing out on much.
Adam Keys @therealadam