I only use them for work I care about. Examples include lesson development for R workshops, my recent performance review packet, and collaborative projects on species distribution modeling. Oh, and Software Carpentry workshop websites (obviously).
The version control system and the companion remote host system (GitHub or Bitbucket or CloudForge, etc.) provide a great versioning and collaboration platform, the highlights of which have been enumerated many times over and in such depth that I won’t talk about them here.
The reason I like this dynamic duo is that it reinforces best practices. I should say that using version control won’t necessarily make you 100% compliant with everyone’s idea of best practices, but with a little consideration of a workflow, it can go a long way. Here is why:
Reproducibility: By ignoring my
output folder in pretty much all my Git repositories, it forces all figures & analyses to be completely reproducible from materials that are in the folders that are tracked.
Offsite backup: Rather than lugging my aging laptop to and fro,
pull-add-commit-push allows me to preserve my work in a location accessible from any internet-enabled terminal. This has the added benefit of protecting against natural disasters and the inevitable bricked hard drive (mark my words, death, taxes, and a failed HD are the only certainties in life now).
Sharing: Sure, some of what I currently work on is not ready to be released, so I use the private repository option. But when I am ready to share my code and data, it’s literally one to two mouseclicks and my work is open for re-use by the community. The visibility of platforms like GitHub and Bitbucket make work that much more discoverable.
Documentation: Everybody’s favorite part of software development is … not likely writing documentation (granted there are some of you out there). Because good documentation is imperative for re-use and evaluation, the little reminders from GitHub (“Help people interested in this repository understand your project by adding a README”) further encourage best practices for open research. The support for markdown rendering on GitHub makes it especially nice for writing professional-looking documentation of your work.
struggled struggle sometimes with Git syntax and concepts, but 98% of the time I only use four commands (
pull-add-commit-push, remember?) and the Git/GitHub combo reduces the time I spend developing, preserving, and sharing the work I do.
– Jeff Oliver, Data Science Specialist, Tucson, Arizona
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