Calvin Lobo

software design, architecture and philosophy

9-Minute Read

Being a software developer can be overwhelming at times. There are an endlessly diverse set of tools, technologies, languages and frameworks to choose from. To make it worse, that list grows larger and larger each day. Tools like git, docker, docker-compose, kubernetes, ssh, curl, sed, awk, grep, jq etc. are all tools we use multiple times a day.

Most of these tools have a small subset of commands / flags or use-cases that we use most often. In more complex cases, these tools can be piped together. As the years go by, with repetition, you end up memorizing these commands. This is great for productivity, but it takes time!

In the meantime, while you have yet to internalize these commands, your brain needs to stop (even for a second) to think: “What was that flag again?”

These small but frequent context switches cause us to lose a step on what is more important at the time: solving that bug, or finishing that feature. The solution is simple. Keep a cheatsheet of all your favorite commands written on cue cards. Tuck that cue card under your pillow and each night before bed, recite all the commands in their entirety out loud as you eventually fall asleep.

No. We’re not in school anymore (well some of you may be). There is a (much) better way of removing this unnecessary cognitive load so you can always stay focused on your task at hand.

In this article I am going to talk about a few things I do to speed up my development flow. I’ve found this incredibly valuable and I hope you do too. Best of all, you can take as much or as little from this flow as suites you.

Customize it, change it, improve it and share your results, I would love to hear it.

Let’s get started with the simplest thing you can do:

The Shell


A shell alias is a shortcut that you can define for any command. They are simple to create and can save you a lot of time and memorizing. For example, instead of typing ls -lah each time, you can create an alias la that would do the exact same thing:

alias la="ls -lAh"

Aliases act as a run-time replacement of your alias with the defined command. This means you can augment your alias on the fly:

la -R

would translate to:

ls -lAh -R

Aliases are a great way to turn that awkward to remember or type command into something dead simple that you can remember immediately. There is no alias too silly or simple. The following are probably my most commonly used aliases:

alias cd.="cd .."
alias cd..="cd ../.."
alias cd...="cd ../../.."

Lastly, aliases need to be loaded into your shell. The most common way of loading aliases is to define them in your .bashrc so that they are defined whenever you open a new shell.

Shell Functions

An even more flexible option to aliases are shell functions. These act similarly to an alias but instead of simply replacing text being sent to your shell’s REPL, it executes the shell code you’ve defined. Use shell functions whenever you want to do something more complex than just shortcuts such as provide input arguments, flags and pipe input. Below is an example function to extract a specific JSON key-value from input:

# Reads from JSON from stdin and print outs the value of the specified key
# $1: Key to print
# Example: echo '{"a": 1, "b": 2}' | jsonparsekey b
# > 2
function jsonparsekey() {
	local KEY=$1
	python -c "import sys,json; s=json.loads(''.join([l for l in sys.stdin])); print s['$KEY']"

I find this useful for filtering response data of HTTP APIs as I am debugging.

Check out some of my other aliases and shell functions.

Upgrade from Bash

Bash is ubiquitous and great, but over the years people have developed much more full-featured and customizable shells such as zsh and fish. I would highly recommend looking into these shells or the many others that exist. I personally use zsh with the oh-my-zsh configuration manager to extend and customize the shell to my liking.

Storing your Configuration

Over the years you will likely be using many different computers. I personally have my home desktop, a personal laptop and my work laptop. To keep configurations on all my devices in sync I have a git repository which stores all my aliases, shell functions, zsh plugins and common system packages. This repo also prevents me from losing and having to recreate configurations as I reinstall my OS or format my hard drives.

I even have a script that loads the repository, keeping my .zshrc file edits minimal:


source ~/lobocv/mysetup/

Containerized Environments

Docker and docker-compose make it simple to create a customized and reproducible development environment for your team’s software projects. In addition to the docker container, I have several scripts which help make common tasks dead simple. These tasks could be as trivial as building the docker image(s), starting and entering the development container and tearing it down when I’m finished.

The Docker Container

At the heart of the development environment is the development container. This container contains all the tools and dependencies I would need in order to perform my daily tasks. If a public docker image with the main dependencies installed already exists, I use that as the base image for the dev container. For example, when I write Go applications, I use the golang docker image which already includes the go toolchain. Afterwards, I install any additional dependencies I need for the project such as protocol buffers and linters.


FROM golang:1.16

RUN go get \

Docker-compose makes it simple to orchestrate several containers which can then communicate with one another via a common network or share volumes with the host or one another. In the following docker-compose example config, I define the development container, dev, and mount my local filesystem (./) to a /src folder inside the container. This allows my development container have access to code in the repository and immediately see changes being made to them from my IDE.

The example configuration below also starts up a MongoDB container named mongo.


version: "3"


      context: .
      dockerfile:  ./Dockerfile
    command: sleep 1000000
      - ./:/src

    image: mongo:4.4-bionic

Accessing the Development Environment

To make it fast and simple to get going, I write a bash script that starts the container(s) and enters the development container’s shell, which I call the devshell:

#!/usr/bin/env bash


# If the -b flag is provided then build the containers before entering the shell
if [ "$1" == "-b" ]; then
  docker-compose -p ${PROJECT_NAME} build

# Check if the dev container is already up. If it's not, then start it
[ ! "$(docker ps | grep ${DEV_CONTAINER})" ] && docker-compose -p ${PROJECT_NAME} up -d ${DEV_CONTAINER}

# Enter the dev shell and load the rc file
docker exec -it -e "TERM=xterm-256color" "${PROJECT_NAME}_${DEV_CONTAINER}_1" bash --rcfile ${RC_FILE}

This script checks if the docker container is already running so that it does not always need to call the (somewhat) slow docker-compose up command.

Customizing the environment

You may have noticed that in I provided an --rcfile parameter to bash. This allows us to setup any customized environment we want in the devshell. This can contain functions or aliases that are specific to your project. I like to have this script define a help() function and print it upon entry of the shell. This helps new team members joining the project get accustom to what features exist in the devshell. It also helps broadcast any improvements added to the shell and acts as reference documentation for the devshell.


# Define any common useful aliases or functions for the team 
alias gotest="go test ./..."
alias testify="go test -testify.m"
alias lint="golangci-lint run -v ./..."
# Set default cd to go to project root
alias cd='HOME=/src cd'

function help() {
  echo "
Welcome to the dev shell

Type "help" in the shell to repeat this message.

Additional shell customizations can be loaded by creating a .customrc file in the root of the project.

Here is a list of common commands you can do:

* gotest: Run all go tests in the current directory

* lint: Run golangci-lint in the current directory

* testify: Run a testify test by name
      1 : Regex to match test names

# Source any user-specific / personal aliases or functions
if [[ -f .customrc ]]; then
    echo "Custom shell configuration found. Loading..."
    source .customrc


Personalizing the Shell

At the end of the .devshell_bashrc script above, we source a .customrc file (if it exists). Each member of your team can use this file to personalize their devshell. Be sure to add .customrc to your project’s .gitignore so that someone does not accidentally share their own personal scripts.

Here is an example of some additional personalization I do to my devshell:


echo "Hi Calvin!"

alias cd.="cd .."
alias cd..="cd ../.."
alias cd...="cd ../../.."
alias la="ls -lah"
alias gofmt="gofmt -w -s ."
alias run='go run ./...'

While these examples are pretty general purpose, there are many ways you can tailor your environment to speed up your development flows. Be creative! Here are some ideas:

  • Changing to a particular directory which I often use
  • Run a particular tool such as generating proto files
  • Building and running a program / service via a regex
  • Changing to a particular project directory via a regex
  • Shortcuts interacting with ElasticSearch: List/delete aliases, templates, indices

Teardown and Cleanup

Tearing down the containers is as simple as calling docker-compose down. Although this is a simple command, having it defined as a script opens the door to add more functionality such as only shutting down certain containers. It also provides nice symmetry to and makes things dead simple.

#!/usr/bin/env bash


docker-compose -p ${PROJECT_NAME} down --remove-orphans

Try it yourself

A working example of this development environment can be found at my project-bootstrap repository. Feel free to try it out!

Make it your own

There is a lot of focus on optimizing your code or algorithms, but optimizing your development efficiency is one of the highest impact changes you can make. These are just some examples of what you can do. Be creative and come up with your own optimizations. Keep track of the context changes and inefficiencies in your workflow and you’ll be surprised how much of an impact it can have on your output. Keep in mind, that unlike code, these gains with follow you throughout your professional career.

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