Creating useful software is a major activity of many scientists, including bioinformaticians. Nevertheless, software development in an academic setting is often unsystematic, which can lead to problems associated with maintenance and long-term availibility. Unfortunately, well-documented software development methodology is difficult to adopt, and technical measures that directly improve bioinformatic programming have not been described comprehensively. We have examined 22 software projects and have identified a set of practices for software development in an academic environment. We found them useful to plan a project, support the involvement of experts (e.g. experimentalists), and to promote higher quality and maintainability of the resulting programs. This article describes 12 techniques that facilitate a quick start into software engineering. We describe 3 of the 22 projects in detail and give many examples to illustrate the usage of particular techniques. We expect this toolbox to be useful for many bioinformatics programming projects and to the training of scientific programmers.