Developers Are Obsessed With Their Text Editors

Developers are constantly discussing and even fighting about text editors and IDEs. Which one is better, why is it better, what’s the philosophy behind one or the other, which one makes you more productive, which one has better themes, which one is more customizable.

I myself have fallen victim to this trend, with several articles about why Emacs is not a good idea for Java, why I still use Eclipse (though I’d still prefer some IDEA features), and what’s the difference between an editor and an IDE (for those who’d complain about the imprecise title of this post).

Are text editors and IDEs important? Sure, they are one of our main tools that we use everyday and therefore it should be very, very good (more metaphors about violin players and tennis players, please). But most text editors and IDEs are good. They evolve, they copy each other, they attract their audiences. They are also good in different ways, but most of the top ones achieve their goal (otherwise they wouldn’t be so popular). Sure, someone prefers a certain feature to be implemented in a certain way, or demands having another feature (e.g. I demand having call hierarchies on all constructors and IDEA doesn’t give me that, duh…) But those things are rarely significant in the grand scheme of things.

The comparable insignificance comes from the structure of our work, or why we are being now often called “software engineers” – it’s not about typing speed, or the perfectly optimized tool for creating code. Our time is dedicated to thinking, designing, reading, naming things. And the quality of our code writing/editing/debugging tool is not on the top of the list of things that drive productivity and quality.

We should absolutely master our tools, though. Creating software requires much more than editing text. Refactoring, advanced search, advanced code navigation, debugging, hot-swap/hot-deploy/reload-on-save, version control integration – all of these things are important for doing our job better.

My point is that text editors or IDEs occupy too much of developers’ time and mind, with too little benefit. Next time you think it’s a good idea to argue about which editor/IDE a colleague SHOULD be using, think twice. It’s not a good investment of your time and energy. And next time you consider standardizing on an editor/IDE for the whole team, don’t. Leave people with their preference, it doesn’t affect team consistency.

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