|Thanks to that early exposure, however unwelcome it was, I’ve never been intimidated by computers, and I am grateful. To be a CEO today without knowing how to code would be like being a marshal in medieval England and not recognizing the business end of a sword. When I see that an image file is 98MB, I know that means that it has 98,000 off-on switches that map out the colors that we recognize as Notre Dame Cathedral or a cat doing a somersault.|
Why does understanding what makes a text file small and an image file large make me a better CEO? Data size matters: it affects speed of loading, and storing data costs money and uses energy. Good code is pared down to the essentials. Tech people sometimes talk about “bloated” code, which makes our products, our websites, and our businesses less effective than they could be. I think coders see beauty in a perfectly constructed piece of code, as I see beauty in a sentence that unfurls with grace and power.
Any CEO, and anyone employed in publishing today, should understand how code is written, and even know a computer language or two. I admit that languages are a weakness of mine. I really use only one computer language today: HTML. I apparently ought to know the difference between ASP.NET and PHP, so you’ll probably see me taking a course on basic web architecture, or machine learning, before long.
Yes, our business is about words and language, and I haven’t lost my love for literature and stories. In fact my appreciation for them has increased as I have become both an educational publisher and an activist. The power of words is clearer to me today than ever before. But how do words get to those who read or listen to what we create and publish?
If you’ve been in the business a while, and most CEOs have, you’ll have heard it all: SGML, XML, HTML5, mobi. The list goes on. And you’ll have sat with glazed eyes listening to “some kid” telling you about the latest code/plug-in/segmentation faults. Or, even worse, to an ebook coordinator who is trying to impress you with the eleven different versions of a book file she had created.
So what’s it all about, these different languages and file formats? One thing to remember is that the goal is the same as it has always been, to transmit ideas and stories in a way that is as accurate and effective as possible. The endless struggles you hear about are simply attempts to create an orderly transmittal (and secure storage) of ideas and stories in an industry that had for several centuries a perfect technology for doing just that: the book.
Technology now offers us additional ways to transmit and store information, and we should be trying to do it well and do it beautifully.
I’m convinced that the publishing industry is in trouble in part because we literary types don’t want to get our technological hands dirty. We can’t properly assess tech pitches from vendors, and we let technology companies run right over us. And we haven’t insisted that editorial staff develop their IT skills. I keep meeting experienced professionals who feel like dinosaurs because up till now they got by doing things the way they always had, without learning much more than how to attach a PDF to an email.
I field complaints from young, technically able people that the publishing and social media platforms we use change so quickly that they spend an inordinate amount of time navigating rearranged sites and figuring out new tools. How do we all keep up without going nuts?