So I made a thing, or at least, I took a thing I've built and made it presentable for other people. I'm talking, of course, about my Emacs configuration.

Check it out at! The README is pretty complete, and giving it a whirl is simple, just do something like:

mv ~/.emacs.d/ ~/emacs.d-archive
git clone --recurse-submodules ~/.emacs.d/

If you're using Emacs 27, you might also be able to clone it into ~/.config/emacs, for similar effect. It doesn't matter much to me. Let me know what you think!

The tl;dr of "what's special about this config," is that, it has:

  • a good set of defaults out of the box.
  • a lot of great wiz-bang features enabled and configured.
  • very quick start times, thanks to lazy-loading of libraries.
  • great support for running as a daemon, and even running multiple daemons at once.

I've sporadically produced copies of my emacs config for other folks to use, but those were always ad hoc, and difficult to reproduce and maintain, and I've been working on and off to put more polish on things, so making it usable for other people seemed like a natural step at this point.

I hope other people find it useful, but also I think it's a good exercise for me in keeping things well maintained, and it doesn't bother me much one way or another.


I think a lot about developer experience: I've spent my career, thus far, working on infrastructure products (databases, CI systems, build tools, release engineering,) that help improve developer experience and productivity, and even my day-to-day work tends to focus mostly on problems that impact the way that my teams write software: system architecture, service construction, observability, test infrastructure, and similar.

No matter how you slice it, editor experience is a huge factor in people's experience, and can have a big impact on productivity, and there are so many different editors with wildly different strengths. Editors experience is also really hard: unlike other kinds of developer infrastructure (like buildsystems, or even programming languages) the field conceptualizes editors as personal: your choice in editor is seen to reflect on you (it probably doesn't), and your ability to use your editor well is seen to be a reflection of your skills as a developer (it isn't). It's also the case that because editors are so personal, it's very difficult to produce an editor with broad appeal, and the most successful editors tend to be very configurable and can easily lack defaults, which means that even great editors are terrible out of the box, which mostly affects would-be and new developers.

Nevertheless, time being able to have an editor that you're comfortable with and that you can use effectively without friction does make it easier to build software, so even if folks often conceptualize of editors in the wrong way, improving the editing experience is important. I think that there are two areas for improvement:

  • editor configurations should--to some extent--be maintained at the project (or metaproject) level, rather than on the level individual engineer. The hard part here is how to balance individual preference with providing a consistent experience, particularly for new developers. [1]
  • there should be more "starter kits" (like this one! or the many other starter kits, but also for (neo)vim, vscode, and others.) that help bootstrap the experience, while also figuring out ways to allow layering other project-based extensions on top of a base configuration.

Also, I want to give chemacs a shout out, for folks who want to try out other base configurations.

[1]There are two kinds of new developers with different experiences but some overlap: folks who have development experience in general but no experience with a specific project, and folks who are new to all development.