Always date your work

Excellent advice. I wish more organizations would follow it. It doesn’t really matter if what you’re writing is meant to last for a long time, or is supposed to be timeless, or if it only has meaning for a specific time period.

When I was in middle school, I never liked dating my homework. It seemed silly – this report on the effect of jerk on a string tied to a hanging weight was obviously from Thursday’s lesson, and once it’s graded, why does anyone care when it was? Plus in one particular case I think a teacher was very particular about the specific way you wrote dates, which rubbed me the wrong way.

In professional life I realized it was generally useful to have a date on your work. And after a while of writing code, any good developer will realize you should always comment and date your work. You know that you will be called upon to fix something in your code long from now, even when you think at the current moment that it’s throwaway code (generally a bad idea) or when you’re planning to leave the project soon. The lesson takes a while to sink in – several iterations of saying to yourself “yeah, I know I wrote this, but what the hell was I thinking?” – but eventually it does, and you start putting in the date and a comment.

This concept came to the forefront today when we were at a medical appointment. We were in a rush, and I didn’t realize that the two (different) insurance cards I brought with me were both outdated. Neither had dates, of course; I just guessed from the names which should have been correct, but neither was still valid. So tonight I dig through the filing cabinet to find the right one, so we can call it back into the office for billing.

Ah-ha! At the very back of the first folder I look through, I find the letter from the insurance company, with the little wallet cards stuck at the bottom. Nice. But wait. There are two letters, both from the same company, both saying blah blah here are your cards blah blah. Both with my name, and what (could be) the correct year’s subscriber ID number.

But no dates.

Anywhere.

I lie; actually there is a date. On the back, the first one lists “Notice of Privacy Practices, Effective August 2003”. Ah – go check the other one. No good – it’s the same exact notice. Sigh. C’mon, folks, you’re a big insurance business, and I’m sure that you triple check dates when claims are made to see if I have coverage on that date or not. And you can’t be bothered to include the date on the letter? Anywhere? Jeesh.

Reading the letters more carefully, I believe I have figured out which card is later than the other (they changed the plan names, and one letter mentions the change). However I still have no idea if this is the card from 2005, 2006, 2007, or 2008, or even if it matters (I sure hope they finally made up their minds as to what subscriber numbers to use!) Guess I’ll try looking through the other pile of to be filed papers to see if I have any other versions, huh?