Thursday, April 16, 2015

Artful Notes

It’s difficult to be a successful developer unless you keep prodigious notes. Notekeeping can be an art all its own: it’s really counterproductive at the point of code development if you find yourself with a huge pile of disorganized Post-Its of the use-cases.

While you are in the midst of designing software the useful information pours in across scenarios with a wide variety of formats. You may hold a meeting where everyone is talking. You may receive a PDF specification from a vendor. You may pick up the phone and chat with a colleague to answer some questions. You may shoot off an email that causes a cascade of responses. You may read something relevant on the internet at home. How can you possibly keep track of all this information in a sensible fashion?

Many of my developer friends like to keep spiral notebooks, but I’ve never been able to easily find what I’ve written previously. I prefer a mixed approach. I use a PIM (personal information manager) to gather and automatically categorize short sentence snippets of concise information. I keep folders organized on the network for documents. I also keep hardcopy in manila folders for documents that I think will have lasting importance. I keep a folder in Outlook for each gigantic-scale project. And I use Google Desktop to find my way amidst all of the detritus.

In meetings I take a single loose leaf of paper and then either transfer my notes afterward to my PIM or a more formal document to mail or file on the network. When I'm not at work I also *always* carry a Kindle for any spur-of-the-moment revelations.

Notekeeping is complicated: experiment with different methods and software to find something that works efficiently and correctly for your own style.