Make Your Own Tools

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Spencer Miskoviak on the Wealthfront blog:

By creating custom DevTools specific to an app, they can operate at an even higher abstraction to handle things like user interactions, or debugging tracking events. While this requires building and maintaining the custom DevTools, it also means it can be tailored to the needs of the app and engineers to streamline development.

I think it’s super cool and smart to build custom tools for your team of developers. Even if custom tools are just for yourself they can be a productivity boon. But by building custom tools for your whole team, and opening the door to their ideas, that’s extra smart and compounds the value.

Spencer showcased a variety of different tools they have, all under the umbrellas of a UI popup widget thingy:

  • Shows current branch and CI status
  • Fills out forms, performs user actions, switches between users
  • Highlights components

Clever stuff.

We don’t have a fancy UI widget like that at CodePen, but do have some productivity-helping fuctionality sprinkled into the app. For example, many forms have a prefill button that only shows up for devs:

And we have a custom tool for our support inbox that gives context to the users and content that the support ticket references:

Not to mention a whole protected admin area on the site itself to perform a whole slew of admin and developer focused tasks:

I think the “component highlighter” that Spencer talked about is particularly neat:

React DevTools can be helpful in seeing what parts of the current page are which components, but that’s not on-page like this. I think it would be rad to have a little 🔗 next to each title that would open that file in VS Code.

Speaking of building your own tools, Shawn Wang wrote “You’re Allowed To Make Your Own Tools” recently:

Even the greatest software has parts that aren’t so great for you. But the difference between you and everyone else is that you can code.

Shawn talks about things like…

  • Building your own custom stylesheets
  • Building a UI query generator
  • Building your own CLIs (I’m reminded of Mina Markham’s dotfiles)
  • Building your own proxies

Shawn wrote his own dang proxy for Google Search Results to optimize them and present them how he likes:

Once in a while, I’m in the mood to focus on tooling, which leads me to do stuff like when I decided to “Run Gulp as You Open a VS Code Project using VS Code Tasks” which I had to learn all about and struggle through weird problems. I’d think a great DevOps person at a company would be all over stuff like this—constantly thinking of developer experience for their own people.

I even scripted the opening of a text-based multi-player video game I play not long ago to save myself some time.

And speaking of building your own tools generally, I think of Dick Proenneke’s in Alone in the Wilderness documentary. In this intro clip, you can hear Dick talk about quite literally building tools, which was useful for him as he didn’t need to hand-haul them deep into the Alaskan wilderness.