Whoa, that was fast
Back in 2009, we were a small team of software engineers building a massive multiplayer game called Glitch.
We started using Internet Relay Chat (remember IRC?) to keep everyone on the same page. As work on the game progressed, we kept wishing our IRC channel could do more than just basic communication. So we found ourselves tweaking it, adding to it and building new ways to get things done more quickly.
Well the game was a flop, so we decided to focus on this new collaboration thing we’d developed. That was a good decision, because we ended up with a great product-market fit: a really effective way for teams to work together.
Maybe that’s because we weren’t trying to “design” anything. There was no ego and no speculation about some fictional user. We were the users. That’s how Slack was born.
Today it’s grown bigger than we’d ever imagined – and its adoption by developer teams of all sizes is a major reason. Yes, Slack is used in pretty much every department and discipline, but software engineering is where it all started and is still the source of a lot of the user love that keeps us coming to work smiling. It’s hugely gratifying that we’re able to create something that makes a direct impact on the daily working lives of developers.
This guide is a quick introduction to some of the ways that Slack helps developers. We hope it helps explain why software engineers seem to like Slack so much.
Why Slack fits software engineering so well
Slack is used by all kinds of non-technical teams every day. It seems to organically adapt to the work it’s supporting.
But Slack seems to fit software engineering like a glove. This is quite a specialised sort of work, after all.
When you think about it, all work is getting more and more like this. But software engineering is an ideal use case. It demands a kind of collaboration that just can’t happen through emails and meetings. This kind of work needs a new kind of collaboration.
Slack: the channel-based messaging platform
People who’ve never used Slack think of it as a messaging app. It’s way more than that. It adapts to the ways that different teams like to work, to their existing software choices… and to change.
- Channel-based messaging
This lets teams put in place channels dedicated to specific tasks, projects or issues. For example, a #devel-new-site channel where all developers meet to work on the new website. Or a #triage-mobile-app channel where teams work together to squash bugs on the mobile app.
Channels are much better than one-to-one messages or closed email threads, because they make it easy to include the right people on the right topics at the right time.
- A searchable knowledge store
Knowledge is only valuable if it’s discoverable, and email attachments usually sink out of view for everyone except the people copied in. Slack, on the other hand, is a single place where anyone can find all relevant documents, conversations and decisions – such as those product specs or the discussion around that new feature.
- An integration layer
With Slack, the software that your developers spend the most time in (such as GitHub, Jira, Jenkins and Trello) hooks into the place where work is discussed every day. This minimises the constant context switching that comes from working across many different apps.
Note: bringing these three functions together in one place makes each one of them far more powerful. The platform is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Benefits to software engineering teams
The right channel-based messaging platform directly influences the things that are most important to every engineering team: better code, delivered more quickly, improved service reliability and a better developer experience (so that you keep your talent happy). Any software that helps you do all that is probably worth looking into.
‘Slack is a living documentation hub, and everything is searchable.’
How Slack streamlines the whole software engineering process
Our developer teams are some of the most sophisticated users of Slack for software development – all our dev teams live in it. But every day we still hear about new use cases and interesting apps and integrations that software teams are deploying.
Let’s go through some of them, organised by stages in the software development cycle.
Slack helps product managers, designers and engineers agree on what they’re building and why.
- Kick off the whole process with a single channel for a new product or feature
It could be called something like #feature-new-app. Now there’s a single place to define the project scope, gather feature requirements, discuss alternatives and make basic decisions on functionality and UX.
- Sharing documents here makes everything discoverable
Slack integrates beautifully with Google Docs, so all documents are just a click away for contributors and new joiners alike.
- Got a question? Pop it into the channel
Launch a discussion and come to a resolution for all to see. Now there’s a permanent record.
Slack helps developers orchestrate the myriad moving parts of a large code base, speeding up development and improving quality. When it’s time to start coding, Slack makes sure the whole team are working together:
- A #devel-product-name channel is the home for everything
Including day-to-day work across engineering and QA, pull requests, code merges, design revisions, daily huddles, discussions, etc.
- A central hub for code review
Slack supports whatever process you use for branching, merging, reviewing and releasing code, whether that’s developing on version branches, feature branches or from a merged master.
Git integrations (with GitHub, Bitbucket or your chosen repository) bring all change alerts into Slack.
- A new kind of huddle
Huddles are an important part of agile development, but they don’t have to be face-to-face meetings. Developer teams use Slack for huddles – whether every morning or every week – and have synchronous meetings or video calls only when they make sense (for many developers, the best meeting is a cancelled one).
Integrations with software such as Standuply automatically push summary reports into Slack so that your teams can share goals and tasks, track business metrics, post meeting notes and monitor the team’s progress and happiness.
Promote code reuse: code reuse is a core principle of efficient engineering teams, but it’s a challenge when you have hundreds of developers contributing to many different products. Before writing any new code, your developers can search across all Slack channels to see if anyone else has already built something similar. The next step: ask in the right channels, ‘Has anyone made a date picker yet?’ Stop reinventing the wheel.
Create and share code using snippets: snippets make it easy to share code, configuration files and log files directly in Slack. Colleagues can download them, view the raw file and leave comments.
Slack in action
Extensibility at its core
Instead, Slack simply unites all these different apps, bringing the relevant information from them into the channels where the work is being discussed (and inviting actions in those applications, triggered from inside Slack).
‘Any time I’ve seen a Slack integration, I’ve turned it on. It’s provided so much value and helped us save so many extra steps in our process.’
These integrations help developers to do what they love to do: create systems that just work. The examples shared throughout this guide are just that – examples. There are as many ways to use Slack as there are software teams using it.
Testing is woven into the modern development/deployment process. Slack supports a dynamic, collaborative and transparent approach to testing.
Continuous integration runs your testing suite on every merge with each new chunk of code. Slack streamlines the process in lots of ways, big and small:
- A #testing-feature channel coordinates QA
Let the QA team collaborate with developers in an open forum.
- Jira integration automates test workflows
Capture issues in Slack and get them into the pipeline automatically. Send customisable notifications from Jira into your channels. Quickly assign issues to people and know they’re recorded where they belong.
- Branch off a channel for each platform
With dedicated testing channels for iOS, Android and web.
Working with Jenkins
Lots of teams use Jenkins as their continuous integration server. It didn’t take long for them to work out new ways to integrate Jenkins with Slack to automate all sorts of routine development tasks.
One example: a software team’s custom Slack integration activates a Jenkins server running a big testing suite whenever a developer opens a pull request.
Once the tests have been run, the notifications pop up in the right Slack channels. If the code fails the test, a notification is sent to the developer.
Continuous delivery always calls for lots of small code releases, deployed frequently. Slack helps engineering teams to streamline some of that by automating workflows and notifications.
An example: one of our own software teams wrote an app called Deploy Wizard that integrates with ops and communicates the status of the code in channel. It starts with a ‘canary’ stage (a tiny release to catch any sudden fails) and then progresses to 10%, 25%, 75% and finally 100% of the user base.
Deploy Wizard pings the right developers and channels in Slack as the deployment progresses. The whole thing is managed by the on-duty deployment commanders (trained engineers working on three-hour shifts).
If developers want to test their code in the staging environment, they specify that with their merge request. The deployment will stop staging until a developer reports in the #deploys channel that he or she has tested the code.
Some developer teams use slash commands (such as / deploy_productname_staging) to trigger a deployment directly from Slack. Automated messages show when the deployment has succeeded, with a link to go and check it (or a button to push it to production).
Developer teams use Slack to triage tickets, detect incidents in record time and come together around issues.
- All issues flow through the #triage-product-name channel
Including reports from customer support (manual or via integrations with tools such as Zendesk).
- Integrations bring all alerts into one place
Instead of expecting developers to monitor emails or check in to dashboards, Slack becomes the single place where all alerts find the best people to respond.
Aggregating PagerDuty events or Asana tickets and posting them to the right channels reduces incident resolution times and creates a triage trail. Team members can work with each other on triggering, viewing, acknowledging and resolving incidents straight from Slack.
Similarly, Slack can route all web, transaction, server and mobile alerts from New Relic into a Slack channel for quick responses. Anyone curious about the incident can just pop into the channel and read about it. This reduces managers interrupting the incident responders for constant updates. It’s all there.
Emoji and reacji help to triage issues and trigger workflows
Reaction emoji (or ‘reacji’) are an efficient way to capture the responses of team members, but they’re also a way to trigger automated workflows. An app collects these so that they can be aggregated, flagged and actioned. Any open issues (with an eye emoji but no tick) are shown in PagerDuty.
An automated #decisions channel: some teams use the gavel emoji to indicate when a decision has been made. A bot then pushes all these decisions to a #decisions channel, where management can see the flow of decisions – and team members can easily search through them.
And we’ve built a bot that collects and reports on these in a dedicated channel.
The people side
Software engineers are in demand. To retain your talent, you need to give them the best employee experience that you can. The right tools can play a big role in this, helping to reduce work friction, foster transparency, automate routine tasks and help work across teams.
Talk to any software engineering team that uses Slack. Ask to see how they use channels, apps and integrations. Then ask them what they’d do without it.
Onboarding new developers
Two new developers join the team. How do you get them up and running?
Old way: lots of onboarding meetings and a slew of forwarded email threads to root through.
New way: invite them to the #dev-new-product channel to review the pinned posts, such as:
- The product spec
- The tech spec
- The designs
If these are Google Docs, Dropbox or OneDrive, they’ll always be kept up to date. They can also scan through all previous conversations, decisions and the people involved. Now that’s more like it.
That’s how software engineers use Slack
So that’s our quick tour of how Slack helps software teams streamline, automate and accelerate their work. We hope that we got the main points across:
- This is a new thing: Slack helps engineers to work in new ways. It’s much more than a messaging app.
- It’s super-flexible: it lets your teams ‘make it their own’ with channels, apps and integrations that reflect the way that they like to work.
- It helps you to get more from your existing software: from GitHub and Bitbucket to Jenkins, Jira, PagerDuty, New Relic, Zendesk – whatever your developer, product, QA and support people use, they’ll use those tools more efficiently by bringing their work together in Slack. In fact, there are more than 2,200 apps in our App Directory today.
- It adds value at every stage of the development cycle: from planning to developing, testing, deploying and operating.
Software engineers love it: this means that they’ll adopt it and expand their use over time.
‘We have what we like to call an “end-to-end delivery pipeline” that starts with source code and goes all the way through to production deployment. And now we have Slack integrated into all the key milestones in that process.’
If you want to see more, set up a demo or ask one of our developers to show you around our own Slack set-up. We’re dead proud of it.