By Nick Ruffilo
A technologist is someone who can use digital tools. A good technologist is someone who can use digital tools well; and a great technologist is someone who knows how to use the right tools at the right time. No matter what your job is, becoming a better technologist can save you time, increase the quality of your work, and increase your value.
In the same way that learning to properly use a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench doesn’t make you a carpenter or a plumber, it does allow you to quickly assemble furniture, hang a picture frame, and fix a leaky faucet before it becomes an expensive disaster. In an ongoing series of posts here at Publishing Perspectives, I’ll help you put together your publishing technology tool box. I’ll introduce you to a series of simple tools, explain what it is, the basics of using that tool, and then offer advanced techniques, enabling users of all levels to gain value.
What’s more, I’ll strive to help you see their potential applications. Simply knowing that you can get free hosting and have WordPress automatically installed lets you know that you can start a blog with little technical know-how. Knowing that you can link Facebook and Twitter to your blog, or that you can utilize the jQuery framework within iBooks can drastically reduce the time and cost of development for a new feature.
There are three fundamentals that can take you from an inexperienced user to a technologist, from a technologist to a good technologist and from a good technologist to a great technologist.
1. There is almost ALWAYS a better way of doing something.
Whenever you are faced with a difficult and/or time consuming task, stop and think about ways to approach it. Also, take the time to do some Google searches. If a task would take you 4 hours, spending 15 minutes researching a better way often pays off (imagine finding a solution that will take 10 minutes, saving you 2 hours? It would be well worth 15 minutes of searching). Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, and Google Spreadsheets all have really useful functions for adding numbers, transforming data, sorting information, and charting that have saved me countless hours. Microsoft Word has built-in functions for re-formatting documents, automatically generating table of contents, etc. The simpler or more common the task, the better the chance someone has found a good solution.
2. Don’t be afraid to click a new button, or open terminal/command prompt.
Rarely is an action undo-able. Edit->Undo (or ctrl-z) will, in nearly every program, undo the last action done. So, if you’re unsure if a button will do what you want, give it a try and you can always undo. Also, feel free to wander the menu system and see what options are available to you. Often times there is already a function/menu item that will do what you want.
In today’s world of huge computer monitors, everyone feels comfortable with point-and-click, but the terminal (Mac)/command prompt (Windows) can seem intimidating. While drag/drop is an efficient to move files, if you had to rename 100 images, it would require 100 left-clicks, 100 right-clicks, 100 left-clicks (to choose to rename the file) then retyping 100 filenames. Or, you could do this with one command. If you’ve never used terminal/command prompts, don’t be afraid to ask someone around you who has.
3. Learn to love key-commands.
Most of us are touch typists (or at least type using both hands) which means that when we need to use the mouse, we have to stop typing, grab the mouse, do what we need, then move our hand back to the keyboard to type again. While it may not seem like much, this can end up being 30 minutes per day of lost time moving to the mouse (and back). That’s two and a half hours a week! The more mouse clicking you do between typing, the more time is used. Most people are familiar with ctrl-c (command-c on mac) and ctrl-v (command-v on mac) for copy/paste, but most menu commands can be driven by a simple keystroke (usually noted next to the item itself). Try to learn all the key commands for the items you use most to save yourself tons of time. (A future post will go more into some of my most commonly used key commands).
Look for this ongoing series of posts in the coming days and weeks on the Publishing Perspectives news blog. Please leave comments on suggestions for topics that you’d like me to address.