The WFH tools saving software engineers right now

You are reading Compiler, a software engineering newsletter by Triplebyte editor Daniel Bean that delivers regular reportings and rantings on the industry's top news, trends, and interesting players.

Greetings from my home! It’s where I’ve been working from for the last month and half, like most of you. Well, not you at my home, but each of us working from our respective homes. You get it.

Anyway, even though programming and engineering can be remote-friendly work, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some of you out there having a tough time with it. And even if you are loving your commute-less M-F right now, my guess is that you’d be game for hearing ways to make it even better. With all that in mind, I decided to survey some engineers and developers this week to report back on what tools and services they said have made their recent time WFH-ing a little bit easier. Here’s what I got.

First, though you likely know of Zoom video conferencing and are already using it at work, maybe you shouldn’t be. Its security concerns and performance issues were cited by a few engineers I spoke with who said conferencing platforms like, say, Jitsi and Whereby are better choices. “I like Premier Virtual for its stability and its customer service,” engineer and founder of Simple Tech Talk Ricardo Morales gave as another suggestion.

Of course, many of you will use Zoom, in which case Stitch Labs director of engineering Andy Tiffany suggests you try a “buried” feature in it called Zoom Breakout Rooms, which lets a host turn a large conference into several smaller ones that they can then either broadcast to simultaneously or quickly move back and forth between. “It's hard to have a natural conversation with more than about eight people in an online group,” he explained to me.

When it comes to team messaging, Slack is hugely popular, but I also heard love for Tandem and Microsoft Teams, too. Shefik Macauley, tech lead for NBC Sports, says he’s been relying on Teams as a “unified” platform for chat and video, while Gerald Soriano, an app dev at Progressive Insurance, pointed out a solid dev use case for its collaboration tools: “There is one where you can share control of your screen with another person. This helps a lot with pair programming/code reviews.”

Outside of the Microsoft ecosystem, there are stand-alone, engineer-endorsed screen-sharing collaboration tools, Tuple being one.

And when it comes to specifically sharing or pairing a terminal or console remotely among an engineering team, Dat Tran, head of AI at Axel Springer AI, told me he’s using Atom and PyCharm a lot, and Piotr Gaczkowski, a dev freelancer and instructor, said he relies on tmate.

Meanwhile, since WFH home setups can sometimes mean less hardware in general and less screen space specifically, programs like Phoenix (suggested by Triplebyte dev Wyatt Ades) and Spectacle (a fave of engineer Alex Markowitz’s) can be a big help with organizing and moving between windows and programs while working. Triplebyte engineer Carter Sande added that he uses Barrier for saving desk space at home, too: “It’s a great tool for when you want to use the same mouse and keyboard to control both your work laptop and the overpowered gaming PC you use to render virtual backgrounds for your video calls.”

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly for some, it can be true that keeping the work-life balance in check while working at home is tough. This is where things like Pomodoro apps can be more useful than ever, suggested system analyst JD Fuller. “I use Focus To-Do, which comes with built-in white noise. I’m relying on it more at home because I’m less distracted and need to have that forced break.”

In Other News

For Big Tech, “this is a great time.” A Wall Street Journal article this week paints a positive picture for the Googles and Facebooks of the world in a job market where many smaller tech companies are forced into layoffs. The report says that Facebook is moving forward with plans to hire for more than 10,000 “product and engineering” employees this year, while Amazon, Apple and Google say they will also continue bringing in new engineers and data scientists. Data pulled for the story from CareerBuilder shows that, among openings in tech across companies of all sizes, software engineer job postings have been the most popular on the site in the last month.

The big, 500-pound gorilla has always come in and hired from smaller, less-stable companies — you’re just seeing the beginning of an increase in that.

- Martha Heller, chief executive of tech recruiting firm Heller Search Associates

Software companies’ forced pivot to remote work “may never go back.” New LinkedIn data shows there was a 28% increase in remote-based job listings on its platform in the month of March. This is out of quarantine-inspired necessity, of course, but some hiring experts in the industry think that the workplace reset could become a new standard after the dust has settled on the pandemic. Pat Wadors, chief talent officer at ServiceNow, told LinkedIn that her company is taking this opportunity to assess whether it’s possible to add “work remotely” options to roles that never were considered before. marketing director Jesse Wisnewski added there’s an obvious bright side to this scheme for smaller tech companies like hers: “It’s also much easier to scale. We can add people without having to find more office space for them.”

(By the way, LinkedIn says the top three positions that saw the highest jump in remote openings were all engineering-based: full stack engineer, DevOps engineer and software engineer.) 

Quick Hits

Can Google and Apple’s plan to build COVID-19 contact-tracking into their mobile operating systems be pulled off securely? Wired

Even when offices reopen, the “open office” may never fully return. ZDNet

GitHub is now free for teams. GitHub Blog

Games developers aren't having an easy time working from home. The Verge

You can now quickly check to see if your ISP uses basic security features. Wired

From Triplebyte

Coronavirus, social gatherings, and probabilities. A new article at Triplebyte crunches the numbers on what the chances of spread would look like at various social events, big and small, were they to go ahead and take place today. Spoiler: There would be a 99.999999999% likelihood of there being someone carrying the virus at your run-of-the-mill Justin Bieber concert.

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Tech Updates

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