Choosing the Right Tool

Ian Baker

At work we get into discussions regarding the best tool for the job. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about programming. These are all good conversations to have, but there is a point where you have to make a decision and it might not be the best decision.

I am beginning to get to a point in my career where it doesn’t matter too much about the language we pick or which cloud service we use. It matters more to me that we are delivering on the customer’s needs and fulfilling our promises.

If you’re anything like me, when I started development, you will start looking at a few things. What is the best programming language? How quickly can I get something done? Do I need to learn Java to understand programming?

I’d encourage you to instead think about the problem. What do you need to solve for your customer? Don’t worry about the database or the code yet. What specific problem are we solving? Are you going to need real-world sensors to communicate with the customer’s manufacturing facility? Do you need to solve an inventory control issue? Do you need to publish product to an online store? Think about the problem first.

Once you have thought about the problem I encourage you to flowchart out what the solution is. It helps sort out the problem for your own sake and is an easy document to give to coworkers to validate an aspect of the problem. Have you notice we didn’t talk about which tool is the best tool to use yet? The only thing discussed was the problem at hand. I didn’t ask you to think about how the data is supposed to be stored, what language to use, what framework, etc, and honestly, it does not matter.

How to pick the right programming language?

Pick what you feel is natural and what you find accomplishes your personal goals. I originally chose PHP early on because it allowed me to create websites that could interact with a database and be dynamic. I continued using PHP until it was no longer capable of a customer’s demand: counting plastic pulleys rolling down a ramp.

For counting the plastic pulleys I chose an Arduino and learned the basics of C and eventually meandered over to Python. When Liturgical Publications had me evaluating the recent mobile application they purchased I made the choice to learn Angular and become more comfortable with Javascript.

I picked the language that I thought was best suited for the job at the time. You need to pick the one that is right for the job instead of debating over the perceived fallacies.

What Would Dad Do?

I am not sure why but I always imagine what my Dad would do. What tool would he use? He would definitely participate in the conversation or debate over a proper tool. In the end, Dad would not care what tool was used, he would only care that the job was done properly. I want to conclude with one of WordPress’s philosophies that highlights this point and am also curious what you think about this matter.

“Many end users of WordPress are non-technically minded. They don’t know what AJAX is, nor do they care about which version of PHP they are using. The average WordPress user simply wants to be able to write without problems or interruption. These are the users that we design the software for as they are ultimately the ones who are going to spend the most time using it for what it was built for.”