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Episode 501: Bob Ducharme on Creating Technical Documentation for Software program Initiatives : Software program Engineering Radio

Bob DuCharme, an skilled technical author and writer talks about writing documentation for software program merchandise. On this episode we talk about the varied varieties of documentation that one creates for software program merchandise. Host Nikhil Krishna spoke with Bob in depth concerning the distinction between all these documentation and the audiences they aim; significance of utilizing correct grammar and readability in writing good documentation that folks wish to learn; different types of documentation (photographs, video and audio); challenges of sustaining and updating documentation; preserving documentation in sync with merchandise; toolchains for constructing documentation; historical past of software program documentation tooling and requirements.
This episode sponsored by OpenZiti.

Transcript dropped at you by IEEE Software program journal.
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Nikhil Krishna 00:01:05 Whats up and welcome to Software program Engineering Radio. I’m Nikhil and I’m a brand new host on Software program Engineering Radio, and I’ve the pleasure to introduce Bob DuCharme. Bob is an achieved author, software program engineer, and an information architect who has been concerned with the semantic internet since 2002. Bob is an writer who has written books for O’Reilly, Manning, and Prentice-Corridor — particularly, Studying SPARQL, XSLT Shortly, and The Annotated Specification and SGML CD for Prentice-Corridor. He’s additionally written in magazines, so he has written for the Modalities journal, O’Reilly Networks,, Dr. Dobbs channel, and even IBM technical books. He’s at the moment a technical author at Katana Graph, makers of a high-performance distributed graph database, and relies in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has 5 books and practically 100 on-line and print articles about IT. Bob is proud to have by no means used the phrase “performance” in any of them. Bob, is there something in your bio that I would’ve missed or that you simply want to add?

Bob Ducharme 00:02:16 I feel you’ve bought the important thing issues. I imply, I’ve type of gone backwards and forwards between software program growth — resolution architect is at all times such a imprecise time period, however , serving to clients determine what they’re going to do — and writing it up. So typically extra coding, however proper now I’m completely satisfied to be able the place I’m just about a full-time author.

Nikhil Krishna 00:02:35 Superior. To provide listeners just a little little bit of an outline on what they’re going to do on this specific episode, we’re speaking about creating technical documentation. So, clearly there are numerous varieties of documentation and you’ve got a job as a technical author proper now in Katana Graph. So maybe we should always begin with just a little bit concerning the technical author function itself. So, the primary query can be, why do we’d like this function? Why is the technical author vital for a software program group?

Bob Ducharme 00:03:06 Usually, when individuals get a product, they wish to know use it. And there are good programmers on the market who know their favourite languages inside out and all of the cool issues you are able to do and do them effectively. However these builders may not know clarify the tip person utilization of these merchandise to people who find themselves new to it. So, explaining to individuals, determining what they’re going to wish to search for and do this stuff, that’s actually the tech author’s job: , to put in writing the person handbook, principally, the person handbook or/and reference information and different issues like that, which we will speak about have overlapping tasks. However individuals will get a software program product, they wish to know use it, so the tech author is the one that explains use it.

Nikhil Krishna 00:03:50 Cool. So simply to dig in just a little bit, what are the specialised abilities? So, what does the technical author carry to the job that possibly a software program engineer with an English talking background can not do?

Bob Ducharme 00:04:03 Effectively, usually to take pleasure in writing. I imply, lots of people simply don’t prefer it; they view it as an terrible chore. Possibly someone writes on the facet or has a weblog or one thing like that, however you want to have the ability to speak and talk with on one hand the tip customers and however with software program builders to know the technical elements. If a developer has a brand new characteristic and says, right here’s what it does, and that’s not clear, the technical author has to have the ability to ask the best inquiries to say, ‘I get this half and this half, however this half right here, how does that work?’ They should type of interview them to search out out the knowledge vital, to then clarify it to people who find themselves new to the product who don’t have that technical background. So, the communication ability goes in two instructions. One, to the end-user and two to the extra technical individuals, the builders.

Nikhil Krishna 00:04:50 So, does that imply that the technical author must have a software program engineering background as a result of if he’s speaking to software program builders about technical matters, does that imply that it is advisable have that very same language of similar vocabulary to have the ability to perceive?

Bob Ducharme 00:05:08 It helps. I do have, since I first grew to become a technical author, I alongside the best way did get a grasp’s in pc science. And that has helped me so much to know the technical speak and likewise to assist type out precise technical phrases from buzzwords, which is one other factor, as a result of, , you hear these phrases getting thrown spherical. A few of them have particular meanings, a few of them get misused. So, I’ve typically joked in some locations that I’ve labored at having a grasp’s in pc science helps me to speak to the PhDs. After which translate what they’re saying to common individuals. So it helps, but it surely’s not essentially, particularly if the product is — some merchandise can have finish customers who’re non-technical. If it’s a telephone app to assist monitor one thing, however some merchandise can have technical finish customers, particularly in the event you’re going to be writing about, an API or one thing like that. The flexibility to speak with the builders turns into increasingly necessary then the extra technical viewers is.

Nikhil Krishna 00:06:05 Superior. So once more, simply to sort of elaborate just a little bit on that. So what sort of documentation, technical author usually deal with? Do they really create design or structure paperwork? Or is it extra like user-facing documentation, like manuals and installations? Is that, I suppose a operate of what sort of software program venture you might be writing documentation for? Or is that this one thing that as a normal is at all times going to be written by a technical author?

Bob Ducharme 00:06:38 I’d say that you simply’re, if somebody has a technical author function there, their major job is to put in writing user-facing documentation. These type of structure diagrams and stuff, it’s attention-grabbing to see these, and people are good background after they’re creating. But when an organization goes to price range to have a tech author that’s to have somebody who creates that a part of the product. The a part of the product that helps finish customers stand up and working. And there’s three fundamental varieties of person documentation. And after I first began this, it was again within the day when there have been printed documentation. We’d make three separate volumes for this on the locations the place I labored. The primary can be a reference information. A reference information ought to clarify principally the whole lot someone sees within the product, each icon, each menu alternative. In the event that they take a look at one thing and suppose, what good is that?

Bob Ducharme 00:07:20 What’s that for? They need to be capable of shortly discover it and look it up and see what it does. After which other than the reference information, the opposite huge one can be the person information. A person information is organized extra by way of the duties that the tip person needs to do. The person information is basically geared toward somebody who doesn’t know the product. So, for instance, if it’s a database program, it will say create a brand new database, put information in there, edit it. You’d talked about, I wrote a e book known as “XSLT Shortly” for Manning, which was concerning the XSLT language for manipulating XML. And I had come from a background with SGML earlier than that; XML is principally a less complicated model of SGML. And my work with SGML enabled me to, after I wrote the define for the XSLT e book, earlier than I even knew write any XSLT, I used to be nonetheless in a position to write a person information define as a result of I knew what the duties individuals needed to do have been: Create new components, rename components, convert components to attributes and backwards and forwards, delete, rename.

Bob Ducharme 00:08:17 I knew what the fundamental duties have been, in order that I might create an overview that stated issues like, Create Parts, Delete Parts, Rename Attributes, and so forth. So, when somebody’s taking a look at a person information, they wish to see the names of the duties. The person information shouldn’t be speaking within the technical language, or at the least the Desk of Contents shouldn’t be speaking within the technical language of the product. It ought to be speaking by way of the duties that customers wish to get finished. And that’s not at all times straightforward as a result of it’s a must to, possibly work with advertising and work with among the UI builders to search out out, to know the customers, what are they making an attempt to do with this product? What are the varied issues? How do these issues match collectively? You actually need to get contained in the person’s head, so you possibly can then clarify right here’s how to do that. Right here’s how to do that. And that brings me to the third class of documentation together with reference information and person guides can be, I would name it a fast begin or getting began, however a tutorial. Generally I’ve seen getting began to cowl set up as effectively, however a tutorial for somebody who’s by no means used the product, which I contemplate nearly like a demo, like giving a demo to your self, : the first step, click on right here, step two, click on right here on this comes up. That’s for this nice motive, as a result of to type of showcase the cool elements of the product, possibly even it’s in a manner, just like what somebody giving a demo in entrance of a convention may do. To undergo 10 or 15 steps to indicate the cool elements of the product. The tutorial, I feel, is one thing the place a script somebody can provide that demo to themselves and see how cool the product is and do the fundamental issues. So these, I suppose, can be the three classes, reference information, person information, and a fast begin tutorial.

Nikhil Krishna 00:09:50 In order a software program developer, if I’m on this discipline, what are the abilities I must domesticate? Possibly are there some easy tips that as builders, we will observe to enhance our documentation for possibly our facet venture? Or possibly even when it’s not our venture and we’ve been requested to do some documentation, what are some easy tips or issues that we will do to ensure that we’re writing good technical documentation?

Bob Ducharme 00:10:23 And right here’s one thing I’m in all probability going to say so much: there are lots of analogies to writing the software program itself. So, for instance, with documentation, if the software program was developed from a well-organized set of necessities, these necessities are going to be very helpful to you. You recognize, there’s this checklist saying clients ought to be capable of do that, clients ought to be capable of do that, buyer ought to be capable of do that. So, when you have some well-written necessities, that’s a fantastic place to start out. Right here’s how to do that, right here’s how to do that. Different issues embody, I at all times like to consider two lessons of reviewers. If you write, explaining one thing, you wish to present it to, after all, a developer or somebody to just be sure you defined it accurately, that you simply didn’t get something mistaken. However you additionally wish to, what I name a audience reviewer — somebody who doesn’t know the product however has some curiosity in studying the product; have them learn what you wrote and see, might they observe alongside? Did your clarification work for them? And if not, the place? So these two sorts of reviewers I feel, are necessary to remember whenever you’re creating one thing.

Nikhil Krishna 00:11:26 Okay. So, are there any easy issues that we will do by way of the language itself? So possibly, this can be a great way of placing, so is grammatical accuracy completely write to? Or is it okay to say, okay so long as I’m technically correct some grammatical problem are nice, it’s not that sturdy. What do you suppose?

Bob Ducharme 00:11:57 Effectively, I imply grammar it’s not like, whenever you’re writing code and in the event you forgot a semi-colon the entire thing’s not going to compile, proper? It’ll nonetheless be there. But when the grammar is dangerous, it’s in all probability going to be more durable to know. You recognize, when you have a plural topic with a singular verb, individuals studying it, aren’t going to cease and return and it’s going to be more durable to observe. So, I feel grammatical accuracy, easy issues like that and punctuation, this stuff I feel are necessary. It’s going to be more durable for the technical elements to be put throughout if it’s finished with errors within the grammar. I do know one other after we have been in secondary faculty and we wrote these papers and handed them in and our academics gave them again with plenty of pink markings saying you utilize the passive voice right here.

Bob Ducharme 00:12:42 You need to have used the lively voice. There are causes for this stuff and just like the well-known Strunk and White e book on Parts of Model, it makes your writing simpler to learn. To do issues like that, it’s to mimic good writers. I imply, to range the construction of your sentences. I imply whenever you’re studying somebody whose studying you want, typically it’s good to cease and step by and suppose, effectively, why do I like this individual’s writing? Have a look at the construction of the sentences, into the combo up lengthy ones and brief ones and issues like that. If it’s simpler to learn, persons are going to have extra motivation to learn it and also you need individuals to learn it. However one other level I used to be going to carry up, an enormous distinction from technical writing from different typical prose writing is that folks aren’t going to learn what you wrote from starting to finish.

Bob Ducharme 00:13:27 You recognize, it’s not a novel. They picked up that documentation as a result of they wish to look one thing up. They wish to see do one thing. And in order that’s with technical writing, we usually encourage extra use, making it simpler to skim by doing issues like bulleted lists, numbered lists, tables. If it’s simply grey paragraphs on a white web page, it’s so much more durable to search out. I imply, you possibly can put lots of subheads in, I suppose, and with on-line documentation too, it’s simpler to look, which was not the case with exhausting copy paper. I’ll throw in earlier than I overlook about with lists, bulleted checklist versus numbered lists. I’ve seen individuals will typically use numbered lists when they need to have used a bulleted checklist. If I say, there are three issues to recollect whenever you’re going to do that one, increase, two, increase, three, increase.

Bob Ducharme 00:14:13 Effectively, are these three issues, is that order actually important for that? In fact, it’s important whenever you’re writing an set up information. To do that, set these surroundings variables, run this script, obtain this, after all these steps actually should be a numbered checklist. But when I say, , there are three issues to recollect. I discover that folks typically are very fast to make one thing, a numbered checklist when it doesn’t actually have to be one, it ought to be a bulleted checklist. So issues like that, over the lists, nested bulleted lists, listed numbered lists, this stuff are how we break down the knowledge that we’re presenting so that folks can skim and discover the solutions to the questions they’ve, about do issues along with your product.

Nikhil Krishna 00:14:54 That’s very attention-grabbing. And I discover it attention-grabbing that you simply talked about that giant blobs of grey textual content on a web page don’t sort of encourage you to learn it. So, I used to be considering of, what do you consider among the newer methods I’ve seen documentation sort of get created, proper? So now it’s not simply textual content, it’s additionally video or photographs. There’s lots of wealthy media that may be leveraged. So, what do you suppose typically of that pattern? Do you suppose it’s one thing that may be thought of technical writing so as of the significance of an excellent doc? I imply, do we have to have the identical sort of consideration whenever you’re creating your tutorial video as you do whenever you create an FAQ or a tutorial doc?

Bob Ducharme 00:15:47 Positive. I feel, after we say technical author, I do not forget that there was a corporation, I feel I’ll have been a member years in the past, known as the Society of Technical Communicators (STC). The individuals who take into consideration these different media as effectively. I feel whenever you get into different media apart from textual content, once more like with software program, whenever you’re creating one thing, it’s a must to take into consideration how maintainable is that this factor I’m creating? Six months from now, if the product modifications and that is out of date, do I’ve to redo the entire thing? Can I am going in and repair one little bit? I imply, in the event you wrote a sequence of bulleted numbered lists and it is advisable add one checklist merchandise to one of many lists within the textual content, that’s straightforward sufficient. If you happen to spent seven hours making a half hour video and, and among the issues midway via it not apply, then that’s a much bigger deal.

Bob Ducharme 00:16:37 I imply, even with screenshots, even with photographs, typically, I used to be working someplace as soon as the place they modified the brand of the product that was within the higher left. So, the whole lot nonetheless labored the identical, however now all these screenshots, they seemed outdated. And there are methods to take care of it however considering forward about maintainability like that, is necessary. And getting again to movies, think about a 20-minute video that explains do 10 issues. And now the fourth factor is completed in a different way. So, you’re going to remake the entire video and that may be an actual ache. So, one strategy is to have a sequence of 2-minute movies that designate do a particular factor. That’s not at all times as straightforward because it sounds as a result of a few of these issues is perhaps constructing on one another and likewise managing a bunch of 2-minute movies and their relationships and making it clear to the viewers, which one goes with which, there’s the upkeep is tougher.

Bob Ducharme 00:17:31 I feel movies are particularly helpful if it’s a graphical person interface and for demos. We click on right here after which right here after which this pops up and look, there’s our information. And look it bought processed and now we will see the outcomes of the question or the evaluation. I feel that’s very helpful to indicate how some issues, though one other factor about creating movies is that folks will be, audio high quality. Generally individuals suppose, effectively, my coworkers can hear me along with his headset I’m carrying on a zoom name. So, my audio high quality is okay. Whereas, I imply, you and I, we had a separate assembly earlier than our dialogue as we speak, simply to speak about mics and the rooms we’d be in and recording. So, podcasters after all care extra about, suppose more durable about, having good audio high quality. Generally when individuals make movies to demo software program, they’ll simply use the identical mic and so forth. They do it within the assembly and don’t notice that may actually diminish the product.

Bob Ducharme 00:18:26 So simply going out and shopping for a $20 Microsoft mic may help. I imply, I suppose I’m sort of rambling right here, however I want to point out apart from completely different sorts of applied sciences for creating documentation, together with video and pictures and audio, one other one which’s I feel getting used increasingly today of particularly the merchandise that contain code, are notebooks like Jupiter notebooks, Zeppelin notebooks. These are nice as a result of they allow you to format issues, have your bulleted numbered lists and all that, and blend them with code that folks can then see, execute themselves. Or I put in a pattern, somebody studying it might probably modify the pattern and see that. So, I feel that’s been a fairly thrilling growth in documentation of code. It doesn’t assist a lot with graphical person interfaces. In order that was sort of rambling. I hope I addressed, if there’s something I missed, let me know.

Nikhil Krishna 00:19:20 No, I feel you probably did fairly effectively. So clearly we’ve touched upon among the challenges of sustaining video versus textual content. And that I feel can also be sort of brings out an underlying level, which is that software program merchandise should not a snapshots that by no means modified, proper? Software program merchandise evolve over time. Documentation must be up to date. And the extra documentation you’ve got of various ranges of depth, there’s at all times one thing that must be modified, proper? So even when it’s a minor model improve, and possibly there’s an API change that wants the reference handbook could possibly be up to date, for instance. So clearly this has penalties. In order individuals want used paperwork which can be not appropriate, get pissed off. So from a person perspective undoubtedly, outdated documentation is an issue. However how do you really see, do we’ve an answer from a course of perspective or a tooling perspective, how do you really work with, how do you evolve the documentation together with software program? Let’s say.

Bob Ducharme 00:20:29 Effectively, two issues right here. One, I suppose, can be the creation, upkeep, and one other can be distribution. For creation and upkeep, it’s increasingly principally, you test it into the model management system. Right here’s the brand new options for launch 4.2. Right here’s the write-up of launch 4.2. And that manner they’ll, they keep in sync. For distribution, what I’ve seen lots of firms do, I imply Katana Graph does as effectively, is after they’re publishing the documentation, as a result of most documentation, today it’s going to be HTML, proper? You’re going to have principally an internet site displaying the books and the subsections and you may navigate via there. So that you might need, the HTML would typically embody, or quite the URLs would typically embody the discharge quantity proper in it. So, it’s like your organization 4.2 slash index HTML, after which slash 4.3 and you may go away all of them up there. After which what lots of firms will do is that they’ll have your organization, which is about to redirect to the newest one. In order that manner you’re leaving all of the documentation up from a number of releases concurrently a distribution factor, however there’s nonetheless a single URL, the most recent one. So that folks can see what’s the present state of the documentation and what’s the documentation for the present state of the product.

Nikhil Krishna 00:21:51 So simply to sort of additionally take into consideration out loud of among the options over there. So, you talked about versioning methods. So do you suppose, is that sort of like versioning methods the best way we take into consideration software program versioning methods? Possibly get a sub-version, do you suppose that versioning which can be instruments like Google docs which have variations in it and even Dropbox, for instance. Issues like fundamental versioning of paperwork now, do you suppose that’s, which to you suppose you favor sustaining, documentation. And in addition needless to say, okay, like we had mentioned earlier. A few of that documentation is perhaps binary, so we don’t actually have a manner of preserving parts of the doc ID. If it’s like a picture you logged and that you simply up to date your picture, you’re going to have the complete picture once more, attempt to enable a brand new copy of the picture portion of the picture. So what do you suppose is appropriate? Is it nice to make use of Google docs or do you suppose that technical writers want to make use of the identical throughout that point?

Bob Ducharme 00:23:01 They should use the identical tooling as builders. However I imply, the truth that the versioning can sync proper in with the software program itself, as a result of lots of documentation now, I imply, I might talk about this extra later, however persons are creating recordsdata. You’re writing recordsdata which can be then going to be a part of a construct for documentation in order that, like this HTML based mostly distribution, I discussed, if a designer on the firm decides, oh, I don’t like this font, or we’d like a much bigger margin right here. They’re going to alter some CSS and like with any web site then regenerate the whole lot. In order that era is a part of it’s, it’s a constructed similar to with software program. In reality, some firms it’s a part of the identical constructed like constructing the software program. So working with that system of the construct, using the checking within the instruments and tagging and Git, you possibly can actually benefit from all the identical issues you are able to do with code to do this. With one thing like Google docs,

Bob Ducharme 00:23:55 I imply, I feel it’s nice for inside documentation, however I at all times thought the worst case with documentation. Some little firms will do is that they create a Phrase file, proper? Right here’s a 5-page Phrase file about use the product. After which when a brand new launch comes, they’ll pull up their Phrase file and revise, a few of it. And so they’ll put, I hate after they put the Phrase remaining within the file title. Possibly generate a PDF from that, or possibly even give individuals the Phrase file, which is a fairly amateurish solution to do it. And Google docs is nice for therefore many issues, however the versioning of it in tying that to launch variations of the software program, I feel you’re a lot better off utilizing the instruments {that a} software program firm already has in place to do this. To do Git or Bitbucket or no matter, to maintain monitor of the items and the connection of the items and the connection of these items to the releases. So it’s typically for a tech author to be taught the archana of Git will be irritating, but it surely’s not such as you’re doing lots of rebasing and so forth with the documentation. So that you don’t need to get that far into the tough Git weeds, in my expertise to this point.

Nikhil Krishna 00:25:00 Yeah. That’s a fantastic level. And simply, so that you talked about additionally earlier about publishing the doc as a HTML web site. So, one of many issues I’ve observed, particularly within the open-source world is the rise of those particular issues like learn the tops or a particular sort of web site software program as a service platforms, proper? The place Git books, learn the docs, et cetera, the place they really deal with the internet hosting and publication they usually even have, issues like looking out your documentation throughout varied variations, et cetera. So, from that perspective, do you’ve got a course of on a device chain from constructing documentation from the purpose of, okay, I’ve now entered the content material. So, I do know that is the content material that I want to publish. After which sort of like, is that like an excellent device chain that you simply’ve used, or possibly you possibly can speak just a little bit about your expertise with older instruments and stuff like that. However usually what’s the device chain that one usually makes use of these days to generate these web sites and the CSS and HTML and all that?

Bob Ducharme 00:26:23 I feel among the hottest instruments now are principally instruments for era of static web sites which can be typically specialised for documentation. So, for instance, the place I’m now, and it’d in my final place that I held earlier than we use Sphinx. With Sphinx you’re creating the precise content material in restructured texts. It’s a kind of markdown descendants. So Astros on both facet, to daring or italics and so forth, however then you possibly can nonetheless have your CSS and have the construction to indicate that these six pages right here, I wish to create a Desk of Contents right here that has these six on this order. And that each one will get automated the era of all that HTML. And when you’ve got these recordsdata like this, the RST and the CSS and different issues like that, it makes it simpler to include it right into a model management, into Git or one thing like that.

Bob Ducharme 00:27:18 Then it will be in the event you have been like revising Phrase recordsdata again and again. So it may be a part of the software program documentation device chain. After which they’ll have a go course of and a few locations will combine it extra deeply or not into the software program construct course of. However as a part of a launch you wish to be sure you’re getting the three factors stuff. 3.2 stuff, 3.2 product and three.2 code all in the identical place. So it typically is tightly built-in there. So I’ve discovered that very helpful. And it’s additionally due to its relation to markdown. It’s simpler for builders are used to that. So that they don’t thoughts writing in that if I might again off and go into just a little historical past again within the, I suppose within the Nineteen Eighties, there have been when computerized typesetting was turning into an enormous factor. These firms would say, yeah, you possibly can ship recordsdata with codes of the way you need your books laid out and the place you need the fonts and all that.

Bob Ducharme 00:28:13 And in these days it might have been delivered on tape for all I do know. So you place in these codes, would you wish to have these codes whenever you need a subhead and these codes for bullets and so forth, however completely different competing firms doing that. That they had their very own units of codes and a few individuals, I feel some at IBM particularly, I do know for positive, however another locations as effectively, they stated, wait a minute, we don’t wish to tie up all of our, have all of our documentation written utilizing your proprietary codes. We wish to have extra flexibility. So, they got here up with a, what grew to become an ISO customary. SGML a solution to outline the construction of a doc after which to make use of that construction definition to say, , let’s say you’re going to have a cookbook. I wish to create one thing it’s going to be a number of recipes.

Bob Ducharme 00:28:57 And a recipe’s title, after which it’s a listing of substances and a listing of steps. After which there’s going to be a component what number of it serves. So with this SGML you may outline a construction like this after which create the paperwork on this case, recipes, after which automate the checking of those who construction confined to, does it observe the construction that I outlined? And in the event you, in the event you word it follows a construction, you may automate much more. You may then flip, and that is within the early days of multimedia getting past paper. I’m going to show it into on-line, assist. I’m going to show into CD ROMs. I’m going to show into HTML. And so I bought concerned in HTML and I’d go to the conferences and I bought to know among the individuals who did it.

Bob Ducharme 00:29:35 And a few of them realized SGML and among the software program was very costly doing this. Among the SGML was very sophisticated. So, a few of these individuals bought collectively and thought we have to create a less complicated, simpler model of SGML. One thing that wouldn’t take a lot computing energy, one thing that could possibly be parsed with a program that’s you possibly can simply obtain over the web with this new language, Solar Microsystems has known as Java. In order that was 90’s, I suppose? So, they have been engaged on the simplified model of SGML. They first, the primary unique working title for it was Internet SGML, not as catchy. After which somebody considered a catchier title, XML. And that’s the place XML comes from. It was a simplified model of SGML. So, lots of the device chains SGML when it was invented for this, that’s what locations like Boeing and enormous protection contractors to doc the engine elements they have been considering again then, that documentation, we should always deal with it like software program by way of breaking it down into parts.

Bob Ducharme 00:30:36 If this subsystem of this engine can also be used on different engines as effectively, we should always be capable of write up clear, restore this sub system after which take that write up and add it to the documentation for the opposite engines as effectively. So these have been among the early strikes towards making documentation componentize, similar to software program in order that it could possibly be blended and matched and used for various merchandise. And there can be the device chains for SGML and later XML to do what I used to be saying about syncs now that you’d have your CSS right here you’d have instruments for producing the HTML from there, or the net assist or the CD rom. Builders didn’t like dealing instantly with the XML as a lot, markdowns are just a little less complicated. And there have been instruments to be just a little extra gooey-ish, just a little look, just a little extra like WORD that will nonetheless output the suitable XML, however typically these could possibly be costly.

Bob Ducharme 00:31:30 In order that’s one other type of lineage of the device chain for creating software program documentation, {hardware}, documentation is XML and associated instruments. Folks don’t notice that that’s what XML was for as a result of when it was XML was first invented, it was across the time of increase. And with increase, early 2000’s. There have been individuals, , we’re going to have seamless e-commerce and have this pc talk with that different one throughout the net to ship the orders and reply to the orders, however sending and responding to those orders, they needed to ship these batches of information that didn’t essentially match into CSV. They’d have extra sophisticated buildings than that. So that they noticed this XML factor from the W3C. We will outline our personal buildings. You recognize, right here’s the start of a order, right here’s the tip, right here’s the tackle, right here’s the checklist of things being ordered and so forth. So that they began utilizing XML for that, to do that E-commerce. Mainly the sort of issues persons are utilizing Jason for now. They began utilizing it and thought, that is excellent. After which they determined, no, this isn’t excellent in any respect. That the information typing system is bizarre and whoever designed it did a horrible job. Effectively, they didn’t notice that whoever designed XML was not designing it for the makes use of they have been placing it for. For dealing with arbitrary handfuls of information about transactions backwards and forwards.

Nikhil Krishna 00:33:28 Simply to shortly simply bounce in on over there. So, I do not forget that we went down this complete path with XML concerning the internet standing, the Ws star, and the entire set of VEP service X quantity of requirements. I feel one of many, possibly the issues that sort of led to the adoption of Json and the requirements like that was the truth that you’ve got all the sediment right here how, what the doc ought to be like. However I additionally bear in mind at the moment, there was this competing, talking for documentation, there was this different factor known as RDF, proper? And I used to be simply questioning, was that truly one thing that would have, if appropriately championed being one thing that sort of to go over the documentation facet of issues that XML sort of was meant to have, or meant to be for?

Bob Ducharme 00:34:25 No RDF is nice at metadata paperwork, however to have a sequence of paragraphs with sentences the place there’s inline factor in the midst of a sentence, I’ve a hyperlink, I’ve a bolded time period, RDF just isn’t good for that. Our RDF is about lowering information down to those three elements statements known as triples. So I can say worker 38 has a rent date of January 1st, worker 38 has the final title of Smith. After which the pliability that RDF provides you over one thing like a relational database allows a plenty of new issues, together with the power to mixture information from completely different sources and issues like that. And I imply, I might go on and on about RDF, however for linear

Nikhil Krishna 00:35:07 So it does extra of that one thing that XML was making an attempt to intention to be that what the web site was maybe a greater manner of doing it.

Bob Ducharme 00:35:21 You recognize for one thing like Json, you’re higher off, I feel. With RDF, the metadata, when you’ve got particularly lots of, within the discipline of digital humanities and lots of publishers, they’ve content material from plenty of completely different locations they usually wish to hold monitor of the content material and that content material, in these various things can have completely different bits of metadata, however typically they’re associated, though they’re completely different as a result of from this requirements, physique or that one, and so mapping between the requirements of the dig after which question throughout all their metadata for a spread of thess, RDS actually good for that. However not for the content material itself, the type of narrative content material of paragraphs and bulleted and numbered lists. We might do complete forged on RDF.

Nikhil Krishna 00:36:00 Yeah. So to return again just a little bit on again to our technical documentation matter, one of many issues that I’ve seen, you talked about utilizing swings and the device chains like that. And we additionally mentioned among the older instruments like SGML and XML, but it surely gave the impression to be typically that relying on the kind of documentation, a few of these is extra automatable and others are much less, proper? So, for instance, we talked about earlier in what sort of technical documentation ought to be generated. We talked about FAQ’s tutorials, high-level technical paperwork, which clarify issues to non-technical individuals. However on the similar time, when you have one thing like a Jess on API or HPP API, we even have instruments that like Swagger, which you’ll simply discover that the, the specs or the API itself, in some instances sort of generates the documentation out of it, proper?

Nikhil Krishna 00:37:10 It’s nearly like you possibly can take a look at the varieties of the varied response requests and that sort of create a doc that permits you to, in some instances, even create pattern instance requests and responses that you should use for testing. However I typically get the sensation that, okay, that’s once more, too low stage. The place do you see the steadiness between the 2 ought to be? And the way a lot of the documentation that’s generated for a software program venture will be generated like that? And the way a lot of it’s nonetheless one thing that you simply wish to just be sure you write within the correct method?

Bob Ducharme 00:37:52 That’s an excellent query. I feel, like I discussed one thing like a tutorial, you actually wish to think twice concerning the order you’re going to elucidate issues in what you’ve got the individual do of the three buckets. I discussed of tutorials, reference guides and person guides. With reference guides, it may be just a little extra automated like with Swagger, I’ve used it however I can’t bear in mind the title. Is that, was that the device you talked about that may pull issues out of APIs and generator?

Nikhil Krishna 00:38:20 Yeah. So spider is principally a part of the open MPI. I feel it’s known as the Json API documentation tooling and what it does is it appears to be like at Json’s paperwork and sort of generates the request agenda web-based documentation, which has which particulars on all of the lists of all of the attributes properties after which the varieties of it. Which isÖ

Bob Ducharme 00:38:47 And I consider it is going to pull out

Nikhil Krishna 00:38:50 Yeah, it pulls out among the feedback as effectively from the entrance, from the operate. So you will get a excessive stage, two line description of what the API does, however then that relies on how effectively, if

Bob Ducharme 00:39:02 Precisely, and, and that’s rubbish in rubbish out. I imply, that’s a device that may undergo and pull out and see, oh, this operate takes three parameters and the parameters are alleged to be of those sorts. And it returns one thing of this sort. That’s good to automate the pulling of all that and the enumeration of it, however this, the doc strings, how typically have we seen doc strings? So simply clarify what we needed to elucidate. So, and that may be a tech author operate to, to assessment that documentation after which possibly create some tickets and say, hey, you return and revise that doc string to elucidate that higher. Considered one of my pet peeves is whether or not it’s explaining the fields on a dialog field or parameter being handed to a operate. If we are saying right here’s a parameter known as Fu and the documentation says, enter the Fu worth there. And I’m considering, okay, however what’s Fu? What function does Fu play on this utility? And what sort of issues may I put there? So the reason that goes in there, instruments like that, they’re like bare instruments. It’s nice how they’ll pull the whole lot collectively after which create the factor you’re in search of. However the issues they’re pulling collectively need to have some high quality in them and typically they may help level to which elements have to be up to date, however nonetheless it’s rubbish in rubbish out.

Nikhil Krishna 00:40:22 Proper. So now that you simply talked about that he had talked about preserving and utilizing the identical Git tooling and the movement tooling and making an attempt to maintain the documentation variations the identical because the software program. In order each portion of software program, you additionally purchased the model of documentation that sort of preserve that. So principally we might, if we sort of, from a course of perspective, say being self-aware as a software program engineer, we principally approached doc strings or feedback. And we sort of write a correct clarification for each operate. And principally attempt to use that as documentation. Do you suppose that theoretically, it’s doable to sort of combine that in. Do you continue to really feel that there’s a separate place, require a separate folder or possibly a separate venture inside your Git repository that it’s best to hold a separate viewpoint, separate perspective, or a separate sort of documentation?

Bob Ducharme 00:41:29 This actually will get again, I feel, to the excellence between reference guides and person guides. Reference guides that’s all reference information stuff. You recognize, you wish to checklist the whole lot. I imply, I feel when somebody appears to be like at a product they usually see some unusual icon or menu alternative and suppose, effectively, what’s that for? The reference information is the place they might look it as much as discover it out. In reality, with a graphical person interface, and this may be tough, however I feel it’s necessary. Each device tip ought to be, if there’s some unusual icon, you don’t know what it means, however you mouse over it and also you see some device tip. That device tip ought to be one thing that the person can search on within the reference information. And, I’ve labored locations the place I needed to inform the shopper builders earlier than every new launch, which device suggestions bought modified?

Bob Ducharme 00:42:11 I would like to have the ability to title all of the device suggestions within the documentation, as a result of that’s the hook for individuals to search out out what the icon is for. So lots of the reference guides for not just for technical issues like APIs, however even for the gooey, as a result of for the graphical person interface to elucidate the whole lot they see, they need to be capable of search for what that’s. However, some extent I needed to carry up about person guides is that effectively, I discussed how, after I wrote up Desk of Contents for an XSLT e book, I didn’t use any XSLT phrases. I talked concerning the duties to do. If let’s say, for instance, your product has a part to develop a schema and it’s known as Schema Wiz, okay? And also you’re going to doc that, to me if the person information has a header known as Getting Began with Schema Wiz, that’s not an excellent title.

Bob Ducharme 00:43:00 I imply, I wish to see titles like Making a New Schema, Revising an Outdated Schema, Deleting Schemas. Naming the duties that have to be finished versus utilizing the phrases you made up on your product as a part of the motive force of the person information. So I suppose to get again to your query about a spot for one thing separate from the, the checklist of issues, that’s the place the person guides go. To one thing organized by the duties they wish to do, versus one thing that’s organized by the product itself, being organized by the product itself remains to be necessary as a result of that’s the place they see one thing on the product that, that’s the place they go the reference information to see what is that this factor for? What good will this do for me? So, I suppose to simplify, to getting again to your unique query, that’s the distinction to me between reference guides and person guides.

Nikhil Krishna 00:43:48 Proper. So once more, these days principally there may be this concept of an X Esco philosophy, proper? So, you’ve got dev sec ops documented. So, we’ve safety as code configuration, Esco X, one thing else. That is philosophy that the whole lot sort of begins turning into encode. We sort of been discussing how shut documentation is and our how they’re with code, so ought to we be treating, approaching our documentation as code and sort of utterly have, not simply the portion management, have software program processes for it. So, we will have like who to request for documentation, the ICD for different documentation. We’ve like a assessment course of. We’ve like, we’ve documentation evaluations. What do you consider this specific? What’s your opinion on this?

Bob Ducharme 00:44:51 I imply, I agree with it. I feel that treating it as code, permits you to benefit from all these instruments that you’ve got that you have already got to work along with your code. So, for instance with evaluations, assessment of documentation, like code evaluations, lots of firms, I write one thing I want it reviewed. I created a journal ticket, to assign somebody to assessment it. After which we are saying this, this characteristic is held up till somebody does the assessment, similar to when somebody’s reviewing some C code that was written. So, I feel that treating it as code has the benefit of letting you benefit from all these instruments. We simply, why the old school manner of making a WORD file to have the documentation there. It doesn’t allow you to benefit from these instruments and issues. So, utilizing the device set is the benefit you get from treating it as code. So, I feel that’s been inspired in lots of locations proper right down to using JIRA tickets to assign documentation duties.

Nikhil Krishna 00:45:46 Okay. So then if provided that proper, that in smaller firms, it is usually typically the function of whoever’s doing the software program documentation to additionally develop issues for advertising, proper? And for Gross sales. So, then you’ve got like in startup, you might need the identical technical author and even software program developer, for instance, being approached by the advertising division and saying, Hey, okay, we want you to write-up one thing about this specific characteristic that we will submit or share with the e-mail publication, for instance. Do you suppose the abilities required for this type of writing, writing advertising content material and writing gross sales content material, how related is that? Or how completely different is it from writing technical documentation?

Bob Ducharme 00:46:42 I feel it’s very related as a result of, particularly whenever you’re writing technical documentation, issues like tutorials, as I discussed, and even launch notes, I thought of to primarily be advertising paperwork as a result of with each the tutorial and launch notes, what you’re seeing is take a look at this cool stuff. Isn’t this nice? Right here’s this factor so that you can use. So I consider them as, as advertising documentation. Advertising and marketing communications is a solution to promote issues. To say, what are the nice issues concerning the product and why individuals ought to be interested by utilizing it. Inside a corporation you’re typically working with the advertising individuals. You turn out to be the tech editor, they may begin throwing the issues that make your product cool, possibly related to buzzwords that they wish to throw round, however don’t perceive, that’s fairly frequent. So making that technical documentation extra, making the advertising communications extra technically correct, I feel is an enormous a part of that. And so they’re normally completely satisfied to have you ever proper? Or a few locations I’ve labored the place they’ll have a software program developer write a weblog entry. And then you definitely, because the tech author, rearrange it a bit to make it extra, user-friendly not solely to clients, however to potential clients. I imply, individuals who simply got here throughout your weblog and are much more on technical, however they’ll get possibly shopping for the product in order that the technical author is type of coordinating between builders and advertising individuals to assist create new weblog entries.

Nikhil Krishna 00:48:09 So we must also embody this class into our thought of documentation as code and sort of subjected to the identical sort of processes. Do you suppose that that’s to work? So, is that one thing that’s tough to do whenever you begin involving third events like gross sales and advertising and all of these individuals who might not be accustomed to it?

Bob Ducharme 00:48:36 Yeah, in all probability not the identical processes as a result of, , gross sales and advertising individuals it’s, , assigning them tickets and having them test issues into Git, it is perhaps a bit an excessive amount of to ask for. However I feel serving to them to coordinate the content material itself to ensure that it’s technically correct, however well-written, that each one is, I feel very helpful they usually’re in all probability going to have their very own instruments. You recognize, they is perhaps creating PowerPoint shows they usually need your assist with that or Phrase recordsdata that they will flip into PDF. So, they’re going to have their very own processes and the developer processes of utilizing Git and so forth might be going to be over their heads. However, , you’re the liaison between them, between the advertising individuals and the builders. It’s your job as a tech author to translate the technical stuff to the non-technical individuals. So that’s an attention-grabbing place to assist apply that. To serving to with the advertising.

Nikhil Krishna 00:49:27 Superior. So, Bob I feel we’ve sort of reached the tip of what I had in thoughts. In our dialog to this point, we’ve talked about software program documentation from the angle of a reference manuals and person manuals and guides and issues like that. There’s additionally, particularly in the event you’re writing, in the event you’re a part of a software program venture, that’s a fairly substantial shock software program product you is perhaps requested, effectively, can we create a e book grant? Can we create some sort of substantial artifact out of it? Proper? So possibly we publish a e book concerning the venture. Is that the identical as, or just like, by way of course of, to creating technical documentation? Do you suppose a e book is an effective manner of writing a couple of software program product that retains altering and retains evolving, simply a few questions?

Bob Ducharme 00:50:27 Effectively, you may, I imply the person information materials you’ve got, that that could possibly be an output format. There are methods to simply flip that into a tough copy e book, however I feel a associated problem a couple of e book is that some individuals will we’ll see, okay, O’Reilly has a bunch of books about Oracle merchandise. You recognize, that will be cool if there was an O’Reilly e book about our product or Manning or one of many huge pc publishers, some workplaces the place individuals thought, oh, wouldn’t that be cool? And writing a separate e book to go along with a writer. I imply, some publishers will work with you to do a brief e book which you could then give away, however , that’s going to value you cash, however to put in writing an entire e book about one thing that may be a type of separate entity from a separate writer, it’s enjoyable when it’s finished, but it surely’s much more work than individuals notice.

Bob Ducharme 00:51:13 And , we have been speaking earlier about one of many points of constructing movies is you place an enormous quantity of labor in one thing that could possibly be out of date six months later. If you happen to’re going to place 5 or 600 hours into writing a e book that’s going to be, that would probably be out of date a yr later, a yr and a half later. And that’s an necessary factor to consider the assets that go into the creation of the e book. And after I’ve written books, they’ve normally been about requirements as a result of requirements transfer extra slowly of their upgrades than merchandise from firms. So, in the event you’re writing about launch 3.2, when 3.5 is out, individuals aren’t going to look too exhausting at your e book and it may be much more, some individuals will they’ll suppose like, effectively it takes me half an hour to put in writing a web page.

Bob Ducharme 00:51:59 So a 300-page e book that will take me 150 hours and that’s not the way it works. You recognize, one of many causes you may write that web page in half an hour is since you already had that web page’s value of content material in your head, all organized. There’s much more work to do to arrange the content material for 300 pages. Secondly, even in the event you might write 300 pages in 150 hours, that’s simply your first draft. It’s bought to undergo further drafts simply to enhance the writing to ensure it’s technically appropriate. Plus, you’re going to have lots of analysis to do. Some individuals suppose, oh, effectively, we might do it in half the time if two individuals wrote it collectively, but it surely’s going to be extra like 70% of the time as a result of it’s a must to coordinate what you’re doing. After which as soon as the factor will get upgraded your e book goes to look outdated. So there are some highlights to writing a e book about your software program to be revealed by a writer that — I used to be going to say places issues in bookstores. We don’t see that a lot, however — places issues on Amazon the place individuals can purchase the e book, however it may be much more work and it’s a must to contemplate how shortly it is going to turn out to be out of date. After you have an improve or two, it’s all this work you probably did as already historical past. Does that tackle what you have been asking? I used to be sort of rambling there.

Nikhil Krishna 00:53:07 I feel that’s a fantastic overview of among the challenges of e book writing, and I’m positive not the least of it is usually the completely different course of that the e book publishers might need. Proper? It may not be the identical factor that you simply’re used to following along with your technical articles the place you in all probability editorial oversight as effectively. However yeah, I feel that’s, that’s a fantastic level to sort of finish this podcast. I simply needed to ask if listeners would be taught to observe or contact you, if there are, possibly you’d like to speak about among the issues that you simply’re engaged on proper now, that is your likelihood.

Bob Ducharme 00:53:50 If individuals wish to contact me on Twitter, I’m @Bob DC, B O B D C. And in addition I did handle to get a few years in the past, the area title, So, yow will discover out extra concerning the books I’ve written and that’s additionally the place I’ve my weblog. So there are a number of, I can ship you a hyperlink to place within the present notes of a sequence of weblog posts. I did a number of years in the past, actually about writing documentation, about a few of these points we’ve coated and another issues to remember.

Nikhil Krishna 00:54:15 Superior. We will certainly add that to the present notes, and I suppose all which means is thanks. Thanks, Bob. This has been a fairly participating dialog. I feel this it’ll be very precious to our listeners. Thanks for spending the time with us.

Bob Ducharme 00:54:33 Effectively thanks for having me. It’s going to be enjoyable driving round in my automobile, listening to a podcast the place I’m the one speaking. I’m positive you’re used to that by now, but it surely’s been lots of enjoyable. And I really like speaking about these items.

Nikhil Krishna 00:54:43 Thanks Bob. [End of Audio]



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