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DevTools > Types of Opportunities

As a toolsmith, I like to break down opportunities into three categories:

Each of these can be extremely valuable, depending on the circumstances. Having these in place often makes it easier reason about the tools: particularly around execution and prioritization. I'll start by diving into these categories and then talk about how I prioritize between them.

Enabling new, previously impossible work

These tend to be the tools that customers most appreciate, and at the same time, the most exciting to build. It's also extremely rare to get these opportunities – make the most of the ones you find.

Some examples include the ability to inspect the state of programs: record/replay debuggers; fleet-wide telemetry that tracks the lifetime of requests and allows observing global behaviors; easy access to eBPF-like instrumentation to precisely understand what's happening inside the kernel.

I also consider completely automating an existing workflow a part of this bucket: removing the need for human toil also opens up brand new capabilities both for the problem being solved and allows for much more meta-analysis.

Similarly, if you can speed up work by several orders of magnitude, you completely change its nature. Consider speeding up query execution from one day to 30 seconds – people will start doing quick, iterative exploratory queries to find the answers they need; instead of spending hours or days planning them out upfront. Which, in turn, leads to significantly faster and better work.

Improving existing workflows

Customers and toolsmiths most commonly identify this type of opportunity: no one likes to wait for their computer to do something. It's also remarkably easy to justify, validate, and measure, which makes it particularly execution-friendly. Almost no one.

There's almost always an opportunity for making things go faster: you could speed up builds, make pages load faster, speed up CLI start times, or even throw money at a problem and get everyone faster machines.

Similarly, you can also spend time making things easier: build affordance into complex tools, add documentation, tooltips, improve the design and user experience – let them onboard without reading a dense manual. You can also truly unlock the potential of a tool from the previous category by making it accessible.

Consolidating tools to make it easier to complete a task is another common category that falls into this bucket: making it easier to continue a job from one tool to the next or simply merging them into a single tool. I strongly prefer composable tools to giant monoliths.

Changing engineer behavior

Often enough, certain habits would be valuable for engineers to have; for improving code quality, following best practices, avoiding brittle behavior, etc.

Tools can guide people gently in these cases: linters, smart autocompletes, automated tests that guarantee broken code can't ship are a few examples. Tools that can track data provenance and automatically check the health of the data, tools that look for sensitive strings in logs.

Occasionally, you can even try and use these to slowly guide the culture of the company guide people towards behavior you want to encourage. You could push for better quality meetings by explicitly requiring an agenda and providing templates for effective meetings; or improve the diff review process by adding templates for creating commits with checklists for code review.


There's nothing as valuable as enabling otherwise impossible work. Even barely usable – but working tools of this category – tend to get a lot of adoption and use. Accordingly, I tend to prioritize these the highest for immediate impact, shipping a functional MVP to unblock engineers quickly and then iterating to make them more valuable and usable.

And then there's everything else that you could do: UX, quality of life, or speed up people along their way. Making powerful tools accessible to more engineers, eliminating – or reducing – the time people spend staring at their screen and waiting for results is always valuable.

Tools that help build behaviors tend to be outside the standard prioritization cycle: either you need to implement them quickly to respond to major outages and external requirements or bake them into your organization and see them change behavior over long periods.


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