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7 ways to get more from Slack

Paul Rubens | June 22, 2016
Developers share their top tips for being lazy (i.e., increasing coding efficiency) using the popular group chat app.

Slack exploded onto the group chat scene almost three years ago, and if you’re a developer you've almost certainly come across it.

One reason for Slack’s popularity with developers — as well as the wider community — is that it's easy to sign in to Slack and use it anywhere, according to Adam Preset, Gartner's research director for digital workplace. "Using Slack is good in a rich client, using a web interface, and on a mobile device," he says. "It's not mobile first or desktop centric, and in a world where developers want to work anywhere that's very important."

The ability to communicate in persistent chat rooms or channels organized by topics or projects, or using private groups or messages, is the bread and butter of any group chat application. And Slack does all of that very well. But one thing that makes Slack particularly appealing to developers is the ability to integrate other applications into Slack.

The code hosting service GitHub and the build and testing tool CircleCI are two such examples. Out of the box it's possible to integrate GitHub into Slack and automatically post notifications about GitHub project commits, pull requests and issues into the appropriate Slack channels, along with links directly to these GitHub events. And with CircleCI integrated into specific project channels, whenever code is deployed, developers can be notified by a red or green traffic light in the chat room so they don't have to wait to check a build state at the CircleCI website, according to Radek Zaleski, head of growth at international software development house Netguru. "If something fails, the notification is pushed as a Slack chat message with a direct link to the build," he says.

One more reason Slack appeals to developers is that the platform is open enough to allow them to use their coding skills to mold it to their own requirements, says Matt Dolan, developer team lead at content management system provider Jadu. "The developer mindset is one of working to fix things, adding things, and being lazy by automating," he says. "Slack allows you to do that because it has made itself a platform for hackers, so we can always hack something together to make life easier."

Jadu uses Atlassian's JIRA issue and project tracking software, and Dolan has written a Slack chatbot called Jiri (a kind of Siri for JIRA) that takes a JIRA issue ticket number and brings information about that ticket into Slack. "The idea of Jiri is to fill in the context of a ticket, and at the same time it reduces the friction of using two tools like Slack and JIRA together," says Dolan.


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