Navigate / search

No More Ad-Hoc Dev Environments

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Windows DevBox

I’ve noticed over the past year that I waste a lot of time on environmental issues. With my machine, with configuration, with things that screw me up and then take forever to reverse or work around.

I should be getting to the root causes of those issues, and I am. But yet, despite our best efforts there will always be new issues with never before seen causes.

Our development environment is the foundation for everything we do. It is insane to focus on automated tests, builds, and deployment, while setting up our dev machines in an ad-hoc fashion.

I’m a strong believer that a new hire should be able to get from a blank hard drive to a working machine with minimal fuss.

Why put the new hire through this? Why not have machines ready to go?

A few reasons.

  1. If a new hire can set everything up then your procedure is solid. I don’t want this job done by someone with a head full of undocumented (or even documented) knowledge.
  2. Why waste the time of an existing employee who could be doing something more useful. Leave the setup of machines to the people who will use them, that way they are productive from the moment they sit down.
  3. Machines are out of date as soon as you configure them. A stash of machines waiting for new hires is just an inventory of machines that will need updating by the new hire anyway.The setup procedure should create an up to date machine. Think Lean, think JIT. A clean up to date machine, pulled into existence any time, by anyone. No waiting for the “New Machine Expert” to get around to it. No having to figure out what’s out of date when you finally get it.
  4. Most new hires just want to get some code, build it and run it. They should be able to do that by the end of day one. In fact they should be there by lunch time. Nobody wants to spend their entire first day or first few days following written instructions to set up their machine.
  5. When you solve this problem for new hires, you solve it for everyone. Our dev boxes should be disposable, interchangeable. Knowing that you can get up and running, or back to a known state quickly is liberating. It frees us all from the fear of screwing something up.

These are not new ideas. Vagrant, Docker and others are solving this exact problem. The installation of software is increasingly moving to package managers. Things tend to be a little easier of you are running Linux than say…Windows.

Oh, did I mentioned that all this has to work on Windows?

My dream is to plug a USB stick into a new machine, turn it on, and leave it to create a working development machine. Over the next few posts I’ll document some of the things I’m learning along the way to that ideal.