Where is your notebook?

Can you remember the first day of high school? For some, it’s a time far behind us, for others it’s much fresher in the memory. And yet the same goes for all of us: it was the most structured day of your entire academic career. You had everything with you: a diary, your books, pens and above all a notebook. Some had a separate notepad for each subject, others did their work with a combined notepad.

Most things I didn’t do anymore. I didn’t keep track of my schedule, didn’t meet my deadlines and regularly had to borrow a pen because I had no idea where mine were. Nevertheless, throughout my academic career, I did one thing faithfully: I always carried a notepad with me, and neatly wrote down everything that would come in handy for me later on.

Usually, I didn’t do much with that. Most courses were easy for me and I didn’t really have to study for it. Still, I think many of my successes back then were based on the fact that I wrote everything down so faithfully. At the time of writing, it forced me to think in a structured way. Writing over what was said was not an option, because I didn’t write fast enough for that.

As a programmer, that’s the only thing that really matters: structure. As a developer, you’re more of a designer, an architect. Once you have a good overview of the program and the internal structure, the rest of the work is child’s play. Once you’ve worked out a program on paper, a chimp can type it for you.

And that’s why I’m so surprised to see so many programmers who don’t even have paper in their pockets. These programmers are so self-overestimating that they try to do everything in their heads. Many, perfect illustrations have already been made about this.

And of course, I don’t advocate writing out complete pieces of code on paper before typing them into the computer. That would be absurd. Compile errors are fine, they’re part of the job. What is not fine are errors in the structure of an application. That’s what you get when you start writing without a plan.

And besides that, it’s not wrong to write something down if you come across something. Sometimes you come across a flag of which you don’t immediately know what it is meant for. Of course, you will have to make sure that the documentation improves or the comments are clearer, but it is also useful to have it written down. So you can read back what considerations you made two weeks ago, for example.

So, where’s your notebook?

6 thoughts on “Where is your notebook?

    1. Hi, John. That’s a good question and I should have thought of that when I wrote the article. At the moment almost all the pages I have are covered by a non-disclosure agreement, but the next one that is for a personal project I will photograph for you.

  1. I bought a voice recorder, about the size of a pack of chewing gum, and it’s been my go-to device for almost 20 years to save and recover things I need to know. I also do most of my planning on paper, so I’ve long had a Leuchtterm 1917 with me at all times.

    1. Dictaphones seem great to me, but most of the notes I make are graphic in nature. Something else that bothers me a bit is the fact that many of the notes I make aren’t when I’m alone. A dictaphone then doesn’t always seem ideal to me.

  2. I use OneNote for this. Very handy, very cross-platform, and I can post in just about anything. I keep a localized todo list in there, as well as snippets of code and screen shots of things that I need to know.

    1. Although digital notebooks have great advantages, such as not being able to lose notes and storing different types of media, it’s really a different way of working for me. It doesn’t give me the opportunity to sketch and draw the way I like to do. In addition, I remember a lot of things by writing them down, after which I often don’t have to re-read them.

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