cool File management is a power skill

I never thought I’d have to know about folders, but I do.

When I was in college, we were a “Google Campus.” That means we all had a Google account, we used Gmail for our email, and we used Google Docs for everything. I think I wrote all my papers in Google Docs, and most of my assignments were sharing a Google Doc with the instructor.

And using Google Docs is a big deal. You need to know how to collaborate with people using Google Docs. Sharing a document with someone so they can do a peer review is important and we do that all the time. But one thing you miss when you do everything in Google Docs is the idea that things live somewhere.

I missed that when I used Google Docs. I just kept everything in one big “Google Docs” pile, and I didn’t think about where I put it. I just searched for everything. This idea that you might need to know the location for something just didn’t make sense to me when I managed all my own files, and whenever I needed to share a Google Doc with someone, I just shared it. And when someone shared a document with me, I just looked it up in the email that Google sends you and get to it that way, or I’d just search for it in my Drive.

That’s not how professionals do it

It was a bit of a challenge when I took a class that required actually knowing where things were being stored. Suddenly, I had to know this idea about “folders” and “files” and I was hearing this new term about “paths” and having to track a “location” for something. It seemed kind of old fashioned to have to know all that stuff, couldn’t I just search for it.

But no, in the Real World (where I work) it turns out we actually do need to know where stuff goes. We use Google Docs for a bunch of things - don’t get me wrong there. But we do a lot of other work that actually means you need to know where you saved something the last time you worked on it.

My most obvious example is working with DITA. We have a lot of objects and assets in our DITA project folders. I don’t want to give away an actual number, but it’s more than “a few.” And that doesn’t get stored in something like Google where you can just search for it. We actually have a hierarchy where we need to store things in the right spot. And that’s really important if you work on a team, because other people need to know where you put something. You need to be consistent across the team, too, because tomorrow I’ll need to know where you saved something.

If it’s all in the hierarchy and we’re all following the same rules, it’s easy. I didn’t know when I was in college that “file and folder management” would be such a big deal. But it is.

Know where you parked

If I could go back in time, I’d tell a younger me to learn about folders and files, and practice keeping stuff in the right place. Learning it wasn’t too big a deal, but I just wish I’d done more practice of that when I was still a student. I’m really glad I had that class that required we know about folders, because that was pretty much the only practice I had.

It’s like when you park your car, you need to know where you parked it so you can get home again. In the Real World, where you work on a team with other people, you need to all follow the same rules about where you save things so you can find it again. They are called “assets” for a reason, and you need to know where your assets are.