On any given day I might be writing code, designing the architecture for a content-centric solution, meeting with clients, collaborating with teammates, installing software on servers, writing blog posts, answering questions in forums, writing and signing contracts, or doing bookkeeping. Some days I do all of that. My day is probably similar to that of anyone else doing professional services work as a small business. Here are some of the tools I use to keep all of that going smoothly.
Hardware & Operating System
In 2006 I left Windows behind and never looked back. I ran Ubuntu as my primary desktop for three years, then switched to Mac OS X. I still love Linux, and all of my customers run Linux servers, but for my primary machine, I am most productive with my MacBook Pro and OS X.
I’ll admit that the latest MacBooks shook my faith by incorporating a shiny feature I’ll never use and not upgrading the CPU or RAM. I briefly considered moving back to Linux on something like a System76 or a Lenovo, but I am so deep into the Apple ecosystem in both home and office it may not be practical to switch. I’m hopeful the new MBP’s will get beefed up in terms of RAM and CPU later this year.
Collaborating with teammates and clients
I’ve been using Trello for project and task tracking for a long time and it really agrees with me. I set up Trello teams with some of my clients and it helps keep us all on track.
For real-time collaboration I tend to use Slack. It doesn’t always make sense to do so, but for selected projects, I invite my clients to my corporate Slack team and we use private channels to work on projects. We use Slack’s integrations to get notified when changes happen in Trello or in our codebase which resides in either Git or Bitbucket.
For real-time collaboration via IRC, Jabber, and GChat I use Adium.
Creating content & code
For Java projects I’ve recently moved from Eclipse to IntelliJ IDEA. I’ve used Eclipse for many, many years, but IntelliJ feels more reliable and polished. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far.
IntelliJ, WebStorm, and PyCharm are all available from JetBrains and the company offers an all-in-one subscription that is worth considering.
I do a lot with markdown. For example, if I’m taking notes on a customer’s installation and those notes will be shared with the customer, rather than just doing those notes in plain text with no structure, I’ll use markdown. Then, to preview the document and render it in PDF I use Marked. This is also handy for previewing Github readme files, but Atom can also be used for that.
Another time saver is using markdown to produce presentations. I wouldn’t necessarily use it for marketing-ready pitches, but for pulling together a quick deck to review thoughts with a customer or presenting a topic at a meetup, markdown is incredibly fast. To actually render and display the presentation from markdown I use Deckset. It produces beautiful presentations with very little effort while maintaining the editing speed that plain text markdown provides.
Sometimes I’ll create a video to illustrate a concept, either to help the community understand a feature or extension technique or to demo some new functionality to a customer when schedules won’t align. Telestream is a wonderful tool for creating such screencasts.
My open source projects live at Github while my closed source projects live at Bitbucket. The primary draw to Bitbucket is the free private repositories, but I really like what Atlassian offers. When git on the command-line just won’t do, I switch to Sourcetree, Atlassian’s visual git client.
Automation, Social & News Feeds
I have a client where I have to manage over 60 servers across several clusters. To automate the provisioning of new nodes, upgrades, and configuration management, I use Ansible. It’s much easier to learn than Chef and it requires no agents to be installed on the servers being managed. Plus, it’s Python-based.
Lots of servers, lots of customers, and lots of business and personal accounts means password management can become an issue. I use KeePassX on my desktop and iKeePass on my iOS devices to keep all of my credentials organized.
I have a ton of different news sources I try to keep up with. Feedly helps a lot. I use it on my mobile devices and on the web.
I have a personal Twitter account and a corporate Twitter account, plus I help out with other accounts from time-to-time. Luckily, Hootsuite makes that easy, and it handles more than just Twitter.
When you run your own business there are two things that can be a time suck without the right tools: contracts/forms and bookkeeping. PDF Expert lets me fill in PDF forms and sign contracts and other documents right on my mobile device. It has direct integrations with Google Drive, Dropbox, and other file share services so it is easy to store signed documents wherever I need to.
I used QuickBooks Desktop Professional Services Edition to handle my bookkeeping for several years. But that edition was only for Windows, so I ran it in a Windows VM on my Mac with VMWare, which was kind of a drag. I finally got tired of that and migrated to QuickBooks Online. The migration was completely painless. I just called them up, and within about an hour they had taken my money and moved all of my data without anything getting screwed up. It was a pretty awesome experience.
I’ve been working from home for over ten years, so I appreciate the importance physical space plays in a productive working environment. My desk is a custom-built UPLIFT standing desk with a solid cherry top. I love it and haven’t had a problem with it. I do need to make myself stand up more often, though.
I found that even with the desk raised completely, my cinema display wasn’t quite high enough. So I snagged a Humanscale M8 articulating mount with an Apple VESA adapter. Now I just grab my display and put it exactly where it needs to be.
My Mac hooks up to my display via Thunderbolt, which makes connecting and disconnecting a breeze. But I didn’t like how much real estate the laptop took up on my desk. There are a variety of solutions for this. I went with a Twelve South BookArc vertical desktop stand and that’s worked really well. I have a minor concern about whether or not using a MacBook in a vertical position is bad with regard to heat dissipation but I’ve decided to roll the dice on that.
I love my home office setup, but I do get tired of the same four walls sometimes. To combat that and to just change things up a bit, every week I try to spend some time in a co-working space. Here in my hometown there’s one right on the square in the historic part of downtown that has got a good vibe and is close to good food. You might check Sharedesk to see if there’s something similar near you.
So there you have it. Those are some of the tools I use every day. Got any favorites you’d like to share?