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“I’m happy to represent the minimalist setup lifestyle”: Dev Tool Time with Leah Culver

Vanesa Ortiz on

When Leah Culver, iOS Developer at Twitter, joined us for Dev Tool Time on April 28, 2021, we weren’t expecting her to make us question our Google Docs habit.

We’ll get to Leah's preferred alternative to docs, but a lot of Leah’s developer setup is unconventional: she’s mastered the art of a minimalistic workspace, working with a MacBook on her kitchen table with wired headphones/earpods and an iPhone cable to connect to iOS devices for development testing.

Leah's desk setup

That’s it. She keeps her setup distraction free, easy to sync with her second MacBook, portable and travel friendly. This less-is-better theme can be seen throughout her choice of developer life tools:

Dropbox

“As a developer, one of the things I love is using other people’s tools. I don’t want to think about code or work or tools or systems when I'm not at work.”

Leah keeps all her files in the cloud, ensuring that everything is backed up and secured in case the hardware gets damaged. Setting up the environment again (if she gets a new laptop, for example) can also be done with ease. Having all her data in the cloud also allows her to keep her two MacBooks in sync with each other.

GitHub

Leah’s fondness of keeping all her data in the cloud also applies to her Git version control and coding projects, which she keeps in GitHub. She also prefers GitHub for project management, viewing it as a method of communication:

“I don’t believe things like Slack or email are the best place to have conversations about work, but using a tool that everyone can access—it’s more permanent. If you have a conversation somewhere else like a text message or on Slack, you can copy that info over to where the project lives.”

Tower

“I’m a big advocate of self-review.”

Tower is Leah’s visual Git client of choice. She likes using a GUI over the command line as it lets her preview what she’s doing clearly before committing. For example, you can see the changes as they would appear in a pull request, which makes self-reviewing (which Leah values highly) much more pleasant.

Slightly more complex Git functionalities, such as cherry picking into other branches, can be easily accomplished through drag and drop.

Dropbox Paper

Leah loves the simplicity of Dropbox Paper for taking notes and appreciates how easy it is to include Markdown as well as the fun features like adding emoji. Despite its name, Dropbox Paper is not intended to be used to format something that will later be printed. It’s intended as a minimalistic note-taking app that allows the user to discover hidden features along the way instead of the traditional approach of cluttering all the options into hierarchical menus. One of the cooler hidden features is its rich code syntax highlighting (this blew our minds).

Dropbox Paper code syntax highlighting

1Password

“I’ll put it in my public service announcement: Please be using a password manager, please be using 2FA!”

Password managers aren't just useful to store secure passwords but also to write notes you want to keep private and protected. It also makes it easier to entrust someone to take care of all your accounts via the master password if you were to pass away. While this is something most people don’t like to think about, it’s important to keep this in mind and be prepared.

Xcode

“It’s just straight-up Xcode—I don’t even change the colors or anything, I’m really boring.”

Leah's one trick for Xcode is to use presentation mode (Preferences>Themes>Presentation) for a larger view. Otherwise, Leah keeps her configurations simple which makes it really easy to switch out laptops for work.

Acorn

“All it is is a cheap Photoshop!”

Acorn has everything a developer needs in an image editor, according to Leah, without the commitment of an expensive subscription.

Superhuman

“Nobody wants to talk about email but I’m like ‘Let me tell you how I do email!’”

Leah doesn’t make use of notifications or badges with email, so she can get into deep focus when she’s writing code. She checks her email several times a day, and says the key is to handle things quickly as they come in, using her system:

  • Spam -> archive or unsubscribe
  • Newsletters -> skim quickly and archive
  • Notifications -> configure the tool to send only the notifications she wants to see, rather than filtering them
  • Emails that actually need attention -> deal with it right away, if possible.

If something requires a lengthy response, she will often ask to follow up on a call instead.

One thing Superhuman does really well is to show you the context and profile for anyone in your inbox: your email history with that person, plus links to their social presence (even including recent tweets!)

There are also features like labels and snooze to help locate and surface messages later. Leah uses the snooze function to bubble up context for upcoming meetings (like her Dev Tool Time session) at the time when she needs them.

Watch the recording

Check out the recording of the episode below, and be sure to sign up for upcoming events!