How Visual Studio Code can help bridge the gap between full-stack development and DevOps [Sponsored by Microsoft]

7 min read

The popularity of Visual Studio Code is an indication of how the developer landscape is changing. It’s also a testament to the way the development team behind it have been proactive in responding to these changes and using them to inform iterations of the product.

But what are these changes, exactly?

Well, one way of understanding them is to focus on the growth of full-stack development as a job role. Thanks to cloud native and increased levels of abstraction across the stack, developers are being asked to do more. They’re not so much writing specialized code for the part of the stack that they ‘own’ in the way they might have been five years ago. Instead, a more holistic approach has become the norm.

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This holistic approach is one where developers assemble applications, with an even greater focus – and indeed deliberation – on matters of infrastructure and architecture. Shipping code is important, but there is more to development roles than simply producing the building blocks of software.

A good full stack developer is one who can shift between contexts. This could be context shifting in a literal sense, but it might also more broadly mean shifting between different types of problems. Crucial to this is an in-built DevOps mindset. Siloed compartmentalization is the enemy of the modern developer in just about every respect.

This is why Visual Studio Code is so valuable today. It tackles compartmentalization, helping developers move between different problems and contexts seamlessly. In turn, this bridges the gap between what we would typically consider a full-stack engineer role and responsibilities and those of a DevOps engineer.

Read next: DevOps engineering and full-stack development – 2 sides of the same agile coin

How does Visual Studio Code support a DevOps mindset?

From writing and optimizing code, to deploying to the cloud and managing those resources in the cloud, Visual Studio allows developers to do multiple things easily. Let’s take a look at some of the features of the editor (or IDE, depending on your perspective) to see what this means in practical terms.

VSCode helps developers assume responsibility for how their code performs

Code optimization becomes important when you really start to take the issue of accountability seriously. Yes, that could be frustrating (especially if you’re a bad developer…) but it also makes writing code much more interesting.

And Visual Studio Code has tools that help you to do just that. Like a good and friendly DevOps engineer, the text editor has a set of in-built features and extensions that can help you write cleaner and more performant code.

There are, of course, plenty of extensions to help improve code, but before we even get there, Visual Studio Code has out of the box features that can aid productivity. IntelliSense, for example, Microsoft’s useful autocomplete feature, takes some of the leg work out of writing code.

But it’s once you get into the extensions that you can begin to see how much support Visual Studio Code can bring. IntelliSense has several useful extensions – one for npm, one for Node.js modules, for example, but there are plenty of other useful tools, from code snippets to Chrome Debugger and Prettier, an extension for the popular code formatter that has seen 5 million downloads in a matter of months.

Individually these tools might not seem like a big deal. But it’s the fact that you have access to these various features – if you want them, of course – that marks VSC out as somewhere that wants you to be productive, that wants you to focus on code health.

That’s not to say that Atom, emacs, or any other editor doesn’t do this – it’s just that VSC steps in and takes up and performs in lieu of your brain. Which means you can focus your mind elsewhere.

VSCode has features that encourages really effective developer collaboration

DevOps is, fundamentally, a methodology about the way people build software together. Conversely, code editors often feel like a personal decision – something as unique to you as any other piece of technology that allows you to interface with information and with other people.

And although VSC can feel as personal as any code editor (check out the themes – Dracula is particularly lovely…), because it is more than a typical code editor, it offers plenty of ways to enhance project management and collaboration.

Perhaps the most notable example of how Visual Studio Code supports collaboration is the Live Share extension.  This nifty extension allows you to work on code with a colleague working on a different machine, as if you were collaborating on a Word document.

As well as being pretty novel, the implications of this could be greater than we realise. By making it easier to open up the way we work at a very individual – almost atomized level – the way we work together to build and deploy code immediately changes. Software engineering has always been a team sport but coding itself was all too often a solitary activity.

With Live Share you can quite deliberately begin to break down silos in a way that you’ve never been able to do before.

Okay, but what does Live Share really have to do with DevOps?

Well, if we can improve collaboration between people, we can immediately cut through any residual siloes. But more than that, it also opens new work practices for the future.

Pair Programming, for example, might feel like a bit of a flash in the plan programming practice, but the principles become the norm if its better facilitated. And while an individual agile technique certainly does not make DevOps magically happen, making it normal can go a long way in helping to improve code quality and accountability.

Visual Studio Code brings the cloud to full-stack developers (and vice versa)

Collaboration, productivity – great. Code optimization – also great. But if you really want to think about how Visual Studio Code bridges the gap between full-stack development and DevOps, you have to look at the ways in which it allows developers to leverage Azure.

An article published by TechCrunch in 2016 argued that cloud – managed services – had ‘killed DevOps’. That might have been a bit of an overstatement, but if you follow the logic you can begin to see that the world is moving towards a world where cloud actually and supports and facilitates DevOps processes. It almost removes the need for a separate operations engineer to deploy your applications appropriately.

But even if the lack of friction here is appealing, you will nevertheless to be open to a new way of working. And that is never straightforward.

And that’s where Visual Studio Code can help. With Azure App Service or Azure Functions extensions, you can deploy and manage Azure resources directly from your editor. That’s a productivity bonus, but it also immediately makes the concept of cloud or serverless more accessible, especially if you’re new to it. In VSC you’re literally working with it in a familiar space.

The conclusion of that TechCrunch article is instructive:

“DevOps as a team may be gone sooner than later, but its practices will be carried on to whole development teams so that we can continue to build upon what it has brought us in the past years.”

Arguably, Visual Studio Code is an editor that takes us to that point – one where DevOps practices are embedded in development teams.

Visual Studio Code: built for the needs of individual developers and the future of the industry

Choosing a text editor is a subjective thing. Part of it is about what you’re trying to achieve, and what projects you’re working on, but often it’s not even about that: it’s simply about what feels right.

This means that there are always going to be some developers for whom Visual Studio Code doesn’t work – and that’s fine. But unlike many other text editors, Visual Studio Code is so adaptable and flexible to every developers’ individual needs, that it’s actually relatively straightforward to find a way to make it work for you.

In turn, this means its advantages in terms of cloud native development, and improved collaboration aren’t at the expense of that subjective feeling of ‘yes… this works for me’.

And if you’re going to build great software, both things are important.

Try Visual Code for yourself. Download it now.

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Richard Gall
Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.

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