Developers build productivity tools not only as part of their trade but for the love of the game. The game being to reduce the number of tasks they (and their colleagues) have to do, to clear the way for the more demanding work of building great apps. Their creativity behind these often great productivity tools comes out of an instinctual distaste for repetitive tasks.
For example …
A developer-friend recently confessed to me that she can be lazy sometimes. “Shamefully lazy,” she said. “And I’m not alone. I’ve made a career out of being lazy.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. Here’s a highly successful tech wizard — a guru of tech forums and events, with large followings on Twitter and Github —and she’s telling me she’s lazy.
“I sometimes get this powerful surge of energy where I can move tall buildings and create cool programs that do tedious programming tasks for me. Then I can spend more time doing my actual job–creating apps that make life easier for the rest of the world, with headphones.”
I’m beginning to understand. “How often does this powerful lazy energy occur?”
“Every day. I write code every day that performs small tasks for me. I never tire of coming up with new ideas and spending day and night making them come true.”
Thus, the developer mindset.
Here at Algolia, almost every week, one of the team shows up with a “side” project that wows everyone and is immediately adopted into our daily routines as a (sometimes open source) productivity tool.
And they tell us it was simple to do. I’m guessing they just needed that momentary lapse into career-making laziness… I mean, productivity.
Productivity apps and tools
We have many offices in different parts of the world, which means different time zones, so it’s easy to feel lost and disconnected from each other’s daily lives. We wanted to create something to “cheat” the distance, something for people to feel more like they belong to one company. The idea was to use our office TV screens to publish people’s birthdays, hiring anniversaries, new hires, events and meetups, candidate onsite interviews, and job openings—centralizing the company’s highlights of the week. The screens are now set up in every office!
It‘s a very common practice and a very bad idea to send sensitive information over Slack or email. The challenge is to create a more secure platform that is also easy to use in order to invite adoption. With the help of my colleagues, I built a self-destructing messenger.
I wanted to automate the process of internal package delivery as much as possible, from scanning the label to notifying people on Slack. Integrating Algolia’s search engine with Google Vision’s OCR API, I found a faster, easier, and scalable way to help our office manager dispatch packages to our growing staff.
We decided to build an Algolia Netlify plug-in to automate indexing for search. Our main objective was to trigger our Crawler to browse the website after each deployment, to build a ready-to-use Algolia index. The result was a Netlify plug-in that made it easy to add search on your Netlify website, allowing you to add an Algolia search experience in just a few lines of code.
The desire to automate everything is pretty common, especially with developers: why should I waste my time doing the same operation countless times? That desire is at the base of the process that led to the making of an Atom plugin: an autocomplete search that allows importing packages from NPM quickly, with only a few keystrokes.
My colleague and I were thinking: Algolia has a .NET API Client, and Unity supports C# as a scripting language–Why not try to bring them together? Our idea was to implement a search-as-you-type experience inside a Unity game scene. We decided to create a Marketplace, a common use case for searching within a game.
A CMS normally doesn’t come with search functionality. It’s not easy to build even a minimal search function on top of it by yourself, let alone something that includes important features like typo tolerance and faceting. This is what our Algolia plug-in does: it adds a flexible and feature-rich search functionality on top of your CMS.
What would a search interface be without a search box? After a few weeks of exploration, I created an app that gave music advice through a conversation. I called it “Musicologist”. This is the story of how I built it, hoping to give you an idea of what kinds of new search interfaces are coming to the fore and how you could start building them yourself.
And last but not least ..
On March 31st, just in time for April Fool’s day, we announced our CSS API Client, that replicated a search engine with only CSS. While it was only a joke in the spirit of April Fool’s, it was a lot of fun to make, and also a lot of fun to see it in the wild. Warning: Please don’t try this at home or in production!