Virtual whiteboards emerge as essential tools for remote development teams

As telecommuting has become more common around the world over the past two years and teams have begun to become more distributed, one common complaint from software developers is the lack of a viable remote alternative to a whiteboard.

Whether it’s a whiteboard test during a job interview, or the original Facebook algorithm memos from Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Severin hung on a dormitory window, Whiteoved has long been an important tool for developers to understand and explain the complex systems they’re designing and operating. being used as a tool.

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With developer teams increasingly distributed, remote, and asynchronous, virtual whiteboards are becoming a key tool for co-solving technical issues, training sessions, and interviews.

get a full view

“For engineers, a whiteboard is a powerful tool for visualizing the different pieces of an application,” said Jevin Maltace, Engineering Manager at Zapier, a fully decentralized automation software company. Communication follows, and a whiteboard is a great way to visualize that.”

Software development agency Crema has been using Miro, a popular whiteboard tool, for four years, and its use has grown significantly during the pandemic. “Whiteboards for project planning, technical planning, and problem solving are used everywhere in the office,” said Neil Diacatz, senior application developer at Crema. Most of the current work is done and stored within the maze. “It’s useful for everyone to have a holistic view of the overall architecture and the current needs and third-party APIs,” Diacatz added.

Rex Sanders, an application developer at Crema, said the labyrinth was very useful during his early apprenticeship. “I spent a lot of time working with mentors on the whiteboard.”

However, the transition from a physical whiteboard to a virtual whiteboard is not so smooth. One common problem is adapting to the change from a physical environment where it is always clear who is conducting a session with a marker in hand, to a virtual environment where anyone can draw at any time. This is still an area the engineering team struggles with, said Maltays of Zapier.

asynchronous work revolution

AWS Senior Developer Advisor Justin Garrison has been working on a completely remote team for several years now, but as a visual learner himself, he often feels the need for a simple way to explain things visually to colleagues. Also, as the team becomes more dispersed globally, Garrison is looking for a better way to communicate this information asynchronously so that his Tokyo or Roma colleagues can get up in the morning and catch up with what’s been going on during the night.

“You can’t schedule a meeting that everyone can attend, and it’s difficult to interact with something,” Garrison said. Existing tools do not natively support asynchronous recording and playback yet.”

Zapier’s Malthais has also been grappling with this problem for the past two years or so. “The way we use virtual whiteboards is to work in an asynchronous way, using the whiteboard as a visual tool, but let each person participate asynchronously at their own convenient time,” says Malthais. Digital whiteboards can run for a very long time. We can record the meeting so that participants can contribute while watching the progress on the whiteboard.”

Zapier opted for asynchronous whiteboards while looking for a better way to communicate with engineers who could only meet face-to-face once or twice a year due to the pandemic. “I think it’s really important to listen to the engineers,” said Malthais. “They often work alone and don’t have much conversation or questioning experience, so improving the way they collaborate and share ideas can be very beneficial.”

Which virtual whiteboard is best for developers?

Garrison has extensively evaluated several virtual whiteboards over the years, but his favorite combination is the very simple Whiteboard Online (WBO) with a tablet and stylus. “What I like about it is its short-livedness,” Garrison said. “The whiteboard is not documentation,” he said.

Garrison also found Zoom’s integrated whiteboard feature useful during meetings, but he didn’t like its siled nature. Garrison used the maze as his primary tool while working for The Walt Disney Company, despite some shortcomings. “The maze is not a good tool for pen use,” Garrison said. That means it’s not a whiteboard app to me.”

Zapier is also piloting Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms VR tool for more immersive virtual whiteboard sessions among developers. “The experience of whiteboarding in this environment is quite impressive,” said Malthais.

Rafen Ericsson, CTO of British betting exchange Smarkets, uses three whiteboards for a variety of purposes. I prefer a simple virtual whiteboard called Excalidraw for impromptu sessions, a feature-rich maze for more formal meetings, and a whiteboard from HackerRank for technical interviews.

Virtual whiteboards are becoming an integral part of the software developer experience, but we don’t see a clearly entrenched alternative to the simplicity of physical whiteboards and markers in the new post-pandemic workplace.

“In the past two years, I have tried about 10 different whiteboard services,” said Ericsson. My conclusion is that no matter which tool you use, remote whiteboarding is less effective than face-to-face sessions.” [email protected]

Source: ITWorld Korea by

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