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The Forgotten Editorial

By Phil Factor,

GitHub is a good place to store your code, but why stop there? Code is just another document, after all, and the life of any IT professional is awash with documents: the ones that you receive, the ones you edit, approve or publish to your peers.

GitHub has grown up a lot. If you write your documents in AsciiDoc, you can even edit them in-place, within GitHub. The basic operations of code are the same for documents: branch, merge, fork, pull and so on. A team that needs to deal with documents needs GitHub as much as the developer.

There are, of course, drawbacks to a scientific approach to document retention. In the days of paper documents, we used to be able to lose documents. Sometimes it was accidental and sometimes less so. At one company, we had, as was customary, an employee whose job it was to file the vast swathes of documents that swilled around the offices. This poor soul, let's call him 'George', was particularly useless at it, a genius for hapless filing. George was in some danger of getting 'the sack', until we realized suddenly the possible benefits of his unusual talent.

In an IT department, it is essential, occasionally, to lose documents. Then, as now, we would get absurd dictats from the management team. The standard tactic was to mislay, bury or destroy the document and, if challenged, claim that we never knew it existed. To have someone with a flair for making documents disappear was a delight for us and it made the life of IT Management far easier. If ever we wanted to send a coded message to the team about our feelings towards the contents of a document, we'd loudly call George over and ask him to 'file it appropriately'.

Even genuinely accidental loss of documents can prove to be an unexpected blessing, or a chance to escape the tangled briar patch of corporate paperwork. The same goes for source code, strangely enough. Before version control, I once managed to lose the entire source of an application. After a brief period of cursing, I rolled up my sleeves and managed to completely rewrite it, only for the original source to turn up again shortly after. However, the replacement was so much better and more concise that I quietly gave the disk containing the original source to George.

Technology has unintended side-effects and the right to have things lost or forgotten is one of those bittersweet aspects of life, the passing of which we sometimes regret.

Phil Factor.

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