Continually jumping between technology stacks feels inefficient. Would it make sense to just pick one and stick with it?
To answer the question I spent a week working exclusively with each of the three main technology stacks: Apple, Microsoft and Google. I wanted to see if this approach improves productivity and whether it is practical or limiting.
Each technology stack has its advantages. I’ll write more about that in another post.
The stacks also have common advantages.
Sticking exclusively with one stack means you learn all of its commands, tricks and nuances. Familiarity breeds productivity. As your knowledge of the stack deepens your work becomes faster. Quickly performing complex tasks involving more than one app can be automatic.
While none of the technology stacks are flawlessly integrated, in most cases the quirks and road bumps are easily dealt with.
It’s hard to walk past the efficiency benefits of mastering your tools. You will work better if you stick to just one stack.
So pick and stick with just one stack?
If your technology needs are relatively straightforward and narrow, you should be able to pick one stack, learn it intimately and reap huge productivity gains.
I certainly recommend employers and managers standardise on a single stack in a workplace.
More complex cases
This simple approach will work for most people most of the time.
However, many people have complex needs that may not be fully serviced by a single technology stack. In my testing I found minor limitations with the Apple and Microsoft stacks while the Google stack is much more limiting.
None of this matters for many tasks, but you’d certainly struggle to do creative work like web design if you stayed strictly inside the Google camp. In fact, most creative work means moving across the stack boundaries at times.
Cross stack integration
As I mentioned earlier, none of the stacks are flawless integrated. They all do a good job most of the time.
If I were to put a number on it, I’d give Apple and Google nine out of ten. Microsoft loses an extra point because of the cognitive dissonance of switching between the Windows 8 Metro interface and the older, desktop interface.
Moving between stacks isn’t that much harder. Most apps will copy data from other stacks, although there are still a few glitches.
There are minor problems and inefficiencies moving between stacks. If we stick with the same scale, then on the whole cross stack integration would weigh-in at seven out of ten.
The real benefits of staying in one stack are more to do with learning how everything works than with integration.
Based on my, admittedly unscientific, experiment, the smartest strategy is to pick a master stack, not an exclusive stack.
Choose one: Apple, Microsoft or Google. Plan a stack strategy. Buy your devices within the same stack. Stay with it when you upgrade. Don’t be tempted to deviate unless you plan to eventually move everything to the new standard.
Use the mainstream apps within the stack, such as iWorks, Office or Google Docs. Master the tools, learn all the tricks. Make working in the stack second nature.
Stick with it as far as is practical, but don’t be frightened of moving outside the stack when you need a different tool to perform a specific task. View your chosen stack as a neighbourhood, not a prison.