A Web Developers Virtual Toolbox - Tools and Tips of the Trade

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Distance-working is becoming a lot easier and a lot more common these days. This is all being made possible with availability of cloud based services such as TeamworkPM.net. Find out how an Irish based web development company is managing their work force and client base across the world.

it’s been amazing to see how the digital office and workspace has enabled much greater flexibility in our working methods and given us the freedom to work in far flung locations across the world.

PixelApes (http://www.pixelapes.com) are based in Ireland and offer various services including print design, web design & development, and web hosting. Throughout the seven years we have been in business we have come across some great productivity tools that enables us and our clients to communicate efficiently and work productively .

Prior to 2010 our core team of two worked from a single office space, and up to that time our virtual toolbox had been relatively simple. This changed when our web developer, Alex Leonard, relocated to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Initially it was to be a ‘working holiday’ but he liked it out there so much that he stayed for two years.
Since then we’ve had multiple relocation's, working between Cambodia and Ireland; Cambodia and South Africa; and, Northern Ireland and South Africa. Our current situation sees us split between Dublin, Ireland and Ballycastle, Northern Ireland.

As a result of these relocation's and the new experience of distance-working, our virtual toolbox has had to adapt.

Our projects vary hugely; print design, web project consultation, simple brochure websites, bespoke web development, search engine optimisation, and more. Our clients are based all around the world too: Ireland, United Kingdom, Norway, Canada, United States, Cambodia, New Zealand; and include NGO’s, artists, small to medium enterprise, charities, e-commerce websites, and more.

Design and Development:

Certain applications are a given when working on web and print. The Adobe CS suite is one of those. Illustrator is our primary tool, with InDesign being used for brochure print work, and occasional usage of Photoshop although we prefer using vectors where possible on our design work.
Graphics tablets have also become a necessity, with the Wacom Intuos range being the preferred option.

From a web development point of view, we’re currently rocking Aptana as our IDE, although still do miss StyleMaster for fine-grained CSS control which hasn’t been actively developed in a long time. SQLYog and MySQL Workbench co-exist as useful tools for database planning and management as they both have their strengths and weaknesses.

We’ve also been finding Diagram.ly useful for quick and easy sitemapping and increasingly indispensible is Balsamiq (http://www.balsamiq.com) Mockups for wireframing.

Life in the cloud:

With regard to distance-working, we’ve become much more dependent on cloud computing than before. SpiderOak has been mission-critical for us, ensuring complete file-synchronicity between multiple machines in multiple locations. Their service is well-priced and includes versioning and encryption. We really would struggle to stay on top of local file management without it. Even with SpiderOak, we still find quite a lot of use for Dropbox.com as a lot of clients already use it.

For invoicing, whilst we used to use the solid open-source BambooInvoice for several years, it ceased development and we migrated to Freshbooks.com which offers an extensive feature set and makes it easy for us to issue invoices & receipts and get a quick overview of what payments are outstanding.

For project management we use TeamworkPM.net. Our clients are always impressed by the functionality on offer and we’ve been absolutely delighted with the level of service offered by http://www.teamworkPM.net. The TeamworkPM developers are insanely quick to respond to any support queries or feature requests. We can manage multiple projects in one location and easily stay on top of what tasks are assigned, who they’re assigned to and when they’re due for completion. It’s also much easier to track communication within TeamWork than it is via email and for people not using Dropbox they can easily upload larger files without having to send them via email.

We’ve also been relying on Google Docs more and more, just for the simple collaborative power of it. Whilst it falls short on more complicated word document layouts, it’s invaluable in numerous cases, and also helps us keep track of our accounts.

Interestingly, a new development that looks like it may provide some benefits is Google Plus - namely the Hangouts feature. We’re currently working on a project where it’s very useful for us to have a Hangout with our client , as the three-member client team tend to be in different locations all the time. I think it could become a very useful tool for us.

Another aspect of our business is providing managed-hosting. We maintain a dedicated server which is well specified and resides in co-location space in Park West, however with our frequent re-locations and our server administrator being based in Cambodia, we’ve stopped maintaining a back-up server locally. This has moved to the cloud and we’re happily utilising Amazon Web Services for this. It gives us great flexibility and ensures low costs for our redundancy commitments.

Round Up:

The last few years have been fascinating, and it’s been amazing to see how the digital office and workspace has enabled much greater flexibility in our working methods and given us the freedom to work in far flung locations across the world.
If you’ve ever thought that distance working and a digital office is not possible, we’d like to point out a small company whose software powers 15% of the top million websites in the world and has a workforce spread across over twenty countries. Who? Automattic, the company behind WordPress.

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Sam Kidd

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