If you knew these tools existed, you'd probably be using them by now.
This article isn’t going to tell you about saving your neck with a Roost stand, or your wrists with a split keyboard - I’ve already done that. This article is about saving your brain – let's call it technical ergonomics.
When I first began to program full time, I found myself constantly tired from the mental exertion. Programming is hard! Thankfully, you can take some solace in knowing it gets easier with practice, and with a great supporting cast.
Some very nice folks who preceded us came up with tools to make the difficult bits of communicating with computers much easier on our poor human meat-brains.
I invite you to explore these super helpful technical tools. They’ll improve your development set up and alleviate much of the mental stress of programming. You soon won’t believe you could have done without them.
Not your average syntax highlighting
If you’re still working with syntax highlighting that just picks out variable and class names for you, that’s cute. Time to turn it up a notch.
In all seriousness, syntax highlighting can make it much easier to find what you’re looking for on your screen: the current line, where your current code block starts and ends, or the absolute game-changing which-bracket-set-am-I-in highlight.
I primarily use Visual Studio Code, but similar extensions can be found for the major text editors.
Here are my favorites:
- Bracket Pair Colorizer highlights sequential bracket pairs in different matching colors, making the pain of picking through nested brackets and parentheses a thing of the past.
- TODO Highlight effectively removes any excuse you may have had for unintentionally committing
FIXMEcomments by making them really easy to see. You can even add your own custom keywords to be highlighted (I suggest
wtf, but you didn’t hear it from me.)
- Indented Block Highlighting puts an easy-to-distinguish but unobtrusive highlight behind your current indented code block, so you can see just where that
ifends and why that last
elseisn’t doing anything at all.
- Highlight Line puts a (slightly too) bright line where you last left your cursor. You can customize the line’s appearance - I set the
borderWidthof mine to
The theme pictured in Visual Studio Code above is Kabukichō. I made it.
Use Git hooks
I previously brought you an interactive pre-commit checklist in the style of infomercials that’s both fun and useful for reinforcing the quality of your commits. But that’s not all!
Git hooks are scripts that run automatically at pre-determined points in your workflow. Use them well, and you can save a ton of brainpower.
pre-commit hook remembers to do things like lint and format code, and even runs local tests for you before you indelibly push something embarrassing.
Hooks can be a little annoying to share (the
.git/hooks directory isn’t tracked and thus omitted when you clone or fork a repository) but there’s a framework for that: the confusingly-named pre-commit framework, which allows you to create a shareable configuration file of Git hook plugins, not just for
I spend a majority of my time these days coding in Python, so here is my current favorite
fail_fast: true repos: - repo: https://github.com/pre-commit/pre-commit-hooks rev: v3.1.0 # Use the ref you want to point at hooks: - id: detect-aws-credentials - id: end-of-file-fixer - id: trailing-whitespace - repo: https://github.com/psf/black rev: 19.3b0 hooks: - id: black - repo: https://github.com/asottile/blacken-docs rev: v1.7.0 hooks: - id: blacken-docs additional_dependencies: [black==19.3b0] - repo: https://github.com/pre-commit/mirrors-mypy rev: v0.780 hooks: - id: mypy - repo: local hooks: - id: isort name: isort stages: [commit] language: system entry: isort types: [python] - id: black name: black stages: [commit] language: system entry: black types: [python]
There are tons of supported hooks to explore.
Use a type system
For Python, I like using mypy for static type checking. You can set it up as a
pre-commit hook (see above) and it’s supported in Visual Studio Code too.
Quit unnecessarily beating up your meat-brain
I mean, you wouldn’t stand on your head all day to do your work. It would be rather inconvenient to read things upside down all the time (at least until your brain adjusted), and in any case you’d likely get uncomfortably congested in short order.
Working without taking advantage of the technical ergonomic tools I’ve given you today is a little like unnecessary inversion - why would you, if you don’t have to?