Cross-pollination in software development

Working on multiple products, or at least having a side project, can be much more beneficial than distracting.
Daniel Baylis
4 Jul 2019

Last month we spent building an initial prototype for Uplook, and also building this new site for our 4thPortal brand. Taking a step back from SpecFuse for a few weeks gave us an excellent opportunity to try some new things and to learn new techniques. Ultimately, we've come away with some great ideas we can now apply to all our products.

I realized that working on multiple products, or at least having a side project, can be much more beneficial than distracting. 

A new project provides a fresh opportunity to think about design and layout, and even the whole technical stack you are building on. You can operate free of any previously made decisions about how something should look or behave. A blank canvas. And that can be a lot of fun.

As you explore new ideas, you'll inevitably discover further improvements and approaches that will make sense to bring across to your other projects. 

I started thinking of this as 'cross-pollination', similar to how one flower can pollinate a different type, resulting in something new and unique from the combined genetic material (or code). Now I can't seem to shake the term.

Not only was our Uplook prototype and this 4thPortal site accelerated by having SpecFuse code to borrow from as a starting point, but we've also now got some great new features to push back in the other direction. 

For example, we implemented a new rich text editor for creating content in Uplook. It is an application for creating help and knowledge base content, so having a great editor with lots of formatting options is very important. The next week as we were building the blogging system into 4thPortal we knew we could grab the great editor we'd just made for Uplook. As we started to write a few blog posts, we found a few opportunities to improve the editor. We've now copied those back into Uplook again. 

This new update also means we now have a much-improved content editor we can port back SpecFuse, allowing users to more easily create formatted software specifications.

So by working on another application, we were still building assets that could be used to take multiple applications forward. In this way, I realized that pushing yourself to get started on a side-project can give you the excitement and mental break of starting something new, while still leading to enhancements to your main project.

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