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

Bob DuCharme, an skilled technical author and writer talks about writing documentation for software program merchandise. On this episode we focus on the varied sorts of documentation that one creates for software program merchandise. Host Nikhil Krishna spoke with Bob in depth in regards to the distinction between a lot of 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 (pictures, video and audio); challenges of sustaining and updating documentation; retaining 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.
This transcript was mechanically generated. To recommend enhancements within the textual content, please contact content material@pc.org and embody the episode quantity and URL.

Nikhil Krishna 00:01:05 Hi there 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 completed author, software program engineer, and a knowledge 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 Rapidly, 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, XML.com, 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 is predicated 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’d’ve missed or that you just want to add?

Bob Ducharme 00:02:16 I believe you’ve obtained the important thing issues. I imply, I’ve kind of gone backwards and forwards between software program growth — resolution architect is all the time such a obscure time period, however you realize, serving to prospects work out what they’re going to do — and writing it up. So typically extra coding, however proper now I’m pleased to be able the place I’m just about a full-time author.

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

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

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

Bob Ducharme 00:04:03 Effectively, sometimes to get pleasure from writing. I imply, lots of people simply don’t prefer it; they view it as an terrible chore. Perhaps someone writes on the facet or has a weblog or one thing like that, however you want to have the ability to discuss and talk with on one hand the tip customers and then again with software program builders to grasp 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 appropriate inquiries to say, ‘I get this half and this half, however this half right here, how does that work?’ They should kind of interview them to search out out the data obligatory, 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 folks, 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 subjects, does that imply that that you must 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 quite a bit to grasp the technical discuss and in addition to assist type out precise technical phrases from buzzwords, which is one other factor, as a result of, you realize, you hear these phrases getting thrown spherical. A few of them have particular meanings, a few of them get misused. So, I’ve usually 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 folks. So it helps, however it’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 should you’re going to be writing about, an API or one thing like that. The flexibility to speak with the builders turns into an increasing number of 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 sometimes concentrate on? Do they really create design or structure paperwork? Or is it extra like user-facing documentation, like manuals and installations? Is that, I assume a perform of what sort of software program undertaking you’re writing documentation for? Or is that this one thing that as a typical is all the time going to be written by a technical author?

Bob Ducharme 00:06:38 I’d say that you just’re, if somebody has a technical author position there, their major job is to put in writing user-facing documentation. These kind of structure diagrams and stuff, it’s fascinating to see these, and people are good background once they’re creating. But when an organization goes to funds 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 rise up and working. And there’s three primary sorts of person documentation. And once 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 selection. In the event that they have a look at one thing and assume, what good is that?

Bob Ducharme 00:07:20 What’s that for? They need to have the ability to shortly discover it and look it up and see what it does. After which other than the reference information, the opposite large one can be the person information. A person information is organized extra when it comes to the duties that the tip person needs to do. The person information is de facto aimed toward somebody who doesn’t know the product. So, for instance, if it’s a database program, it could say the way to create a brand new database, the way to put information in there, the way to edit it. You’d talked about, I wrote a ebook referred to as “XSLT Rapidly” for Manning, which was in regards to the XSLT language for manipulating XML. And I had come from a background with SGML earlier than that; XML is principally an easier model of SGML. And my work with SGML enabled me to, once I wrote the define for the XSLT ebook, earlier than I even knew the way to 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 folks 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 a top level view that mentioned issues like, The way to Create Parts, The way to Delete Parts, The way to Rename Attributes, and so forth. So, when somebody’s 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 when it comes to the duties that customers wish to get performed. And that’s not all the time simple as a result of it’s a must to, perhaps work with advertising and work with a number of the UI builders to search out out, to grasp 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’ll be able to 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’d name it a fast begin or getting began, however a tutorial. Generally I’ve seen getting began to cowl set up as nicely, however a tutorial for somebody who’s by no means used the product, which I take into account nearly like a demo, like giving a demo to your self, you realize: the 1st step, click on right here, step two, click on right here on this comes up. That’s for this nice cause, as a result of to kind of exhibit the cool elements of the product, perhaps even it’s in a means, just like what somebody giving a demo in entrance of a convention would possibly do. To undergo 10 or 15 steps to indicate the cool elements of the product. The tutorial, I believe, is one thing the place a script somebody can provide that demo to themselves and see how cool the product is and the way to do the fundamental issues. So these, I assume, 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 area, what are the abilities I have to domesticate? Perhaps are there some easy pointers that as builders, we will observe to enhance our documentation for perhaps our facet undertaking? Or perhaps even when it’s not our undertaking and we’ve been requested to do some documentation, what are some easy pointers or issues that we will do to make it possible for 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 quite a bit: there are loads 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 realize, there’s this listing saying prospects ought to have the ability to do that, prospects ought to have the ability to do that, buyer ought to have the ability to do that. So, when you’ve got some well-written necessities, that’s an important place to begin. Right here’s how to do that, right here’s how to do that. Different issues embody, I all the time like to consider two courses of reviewers. Once you write, explaining one thing, you wish to present it to, in fact, a developer or somebody to just remember to defined it appropriately, that you just didn’t get something unsuitable. However you additionally wish to, what I name a target market 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 rationalization work for them? And if not, the place? So these two sorts of reviewers I believe, are necessary to bear in mind whenever you’re creating one thing.

Nikhil Krishna 00:11:26 Okay. So, are there any easy issues that we will do when it comes to the language itself? So perhaps, 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 positive, it’s not that robust. What do you assume?

Bob Ducharme 00:11:57 Effectively, I imply grammar it’s not like, whenever you’re writing code and should you forgot a semi-colon the entire thing’s not going to compile, proper? It’ll nonetheless be there. But when the grammar is unhealthy, it’s in all probability going to be more durable to grasp. You realize, when you’ve got a plural topic with a singular verb, folks studying it, aren’t going to cease and return and it’s going to be more durable to observe. So, I believe grammatical accuracy, easy issues like that and punctuation, this stuff I believe are necessary. It’s going to be more durable for the technical elements to be put throughout if it’s performed 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 lecturers gave them again with a number of purple 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 ebook on Parts of Type, 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 assume, nicely, why do I like this particular person’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 folks to learn it. However one other level I used to be going to carry up, a giant 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 realize, 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 the way to do one thing. And in order that’s with technical writing, we sometimes 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 quite a bit more durable to search out. I imply, you’ll be able to put loads of subheads in, I assume, 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 neglect about with lists, bulleted listing versus numbered lists. I’ve seen folks will usually use numbered lists when they need to have used a bulleted listing. 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? After all, it’s important whenever you’re writing an set up information. To do that, set these atmosphere variables, run this script, obtain this, in fact these steps definitely should be a numbered listing. But when I say, you realize, there are three issues to recollect. I discover that folks usually are very fast to make one thing, a numbered listing when it doesn’t actually should be one, it ought to be a bulleted listing. So issues like that, over the lists, nested bulleted lists, listed numbered lists, this stuff are how we break down the data that we’re presenting so that folks can skim and discover the solutions to the questions they’ve, about the way to do issues along with your product.

Nikhil Krishna 00:14:54 That’s very fascinating. And I discover it fascinating that you just talked about that enormous 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 a number of 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 pictures. There’s loads of wealthy media that may be leveraged. So, what do you assume on the whole of that development? Do you assume it’s one thing that may be thought of technical writing so as of the significance of a superb 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 believe, after we say technical author, I do not forget that there was a company, I believe I could have been a member years in the past, referred to as the Society of Technical Communicators (STC). The individuals who take into consideration these different media as nicely. I believe whenever you get into different media in addition to 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’m going in and repair one little bit? I imply, should you wrote a sequence of bulleted numbered lists and that you must add one listing merchandise to one of many lists within the textual content, that’s simple sufficient. In case you spent seven hours making a half hour video and, and a number of the issues midway by it not apply, then that’s an even bigger deal.

Bob Ducharme 00:16:37 I imply, even with screenshots, even with pictures, typically, I used to be working someplace as soon as the place they modified the emblem of the product that was within the higher left. So, the whole lot nonetheless labored the identical, however now all these screenshots, they appeared 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 the way to do 10 issues. And now the fourth factor is completed in another way. So, you’re going to remake the entire video and that may be an actual ache. So, one method is to have a sequence of 2-minute movies that specify the way to do a selected factor. That’s not all the time as simple because it sounds as a result of a few of these issues is perhaps constructing on one another and in addition 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 believe 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 obtained processed and now we will see the outcomes of the question or the evaluation. I believe that’s very helpful to indicate how some issues, though one other factor about creating movies is that folks may be, audio high quality. Generally folks assume, nicely, my coworkers can hear me along with his headset I’m carrying on a zoom name. So, my audio high quality is ok. Whereas, I imply, you and I, we had a separate assembly earlier than our dialogue at the moment, simply to speak about mics and the rooms we’d be in and recording. So, podcasters in fact care extra about, assume more durable about, having good audio high quality. Generally when folks 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 understand 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 assume I’m sort of rambling right here, however I want to point out in addition to completely different sorts of applied sciences for creating documentation, together with video and pictures and audio, one other one which’s I believe getting used an increasing number of nowadays 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 may possibly modify the pattern and see that. So, I believe 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 believe you probably did fairly nicely. So clearly we have now touched upon a number of the challenges of sustaining video versus textual content. And that I believe can also be sort of brings out an underlying level, which is that software program merchandise usually are 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 might have of various ranges of depth, there’s all the time one thing that must be modified, proper? So even when it’s a minor model improve, and perhaps there’s an API change that wants the reference guide might be up to date, for instance. So clearly this has penalties. In order folks want used paperwork which can be not appropriate, get annoyed. So from a person perspective positively, outdated documentation is an issue. However how do you really see, do we have now 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 assume, can be the creation, upkeep, and one other can be distribution. For creation and upkeep, it’s an increasing number of principally, you verify 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 means they’ll, they keep in sync. For distribution, what I’ve seen loads of firms do, I imply Katana Graph does as nicely, is once they’re publishing the documentation, as a result of most documentation, nowadays it’s going to be HTML, proper? You’re going to have principally an internet site displaying the books and the subsections and you’ll navigate by there. So that you may need, the HTML would usually embody, or somewhat the URLs would usually embody the discharge quantity proper in it. So, it’s like your organization title.com/documentation/ 4.2 slash index HTML, after which slash 4.3 and you’ll depart all of them up there. After which what loads of firms will do is that they’ll have your organization title.com/documentation/newest, which is about to redirect to the latest one. In order that means you’re leaving all of the documentation up from a number of releases similtaneously 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 a number of the options over there. So, you talked about versioning methods. So do you assume, is that sort of like versioning methods the best way we take into consideration software program versioning methods? Perhaps get a sub-version, do you assume that versioning which can be instruments like Google docs which have variations in it and even Dropbox, for instance. Issues like primary versioning of paperwork now, do you assume that’s, which to you assume 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 means of retaining parts of the doc ID. If it’s like a picture you logged and that you just up to date your picture, you’re going to have your complete picture once more, attempt to enable a brand new copy of the picture portion of the picture. So what do you assume is appropriate? Is it positive to make use of Google docs or do you assume 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 loads of documentation now, I imply, I might focus on 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 primarily based distribution, I discussed, if a designer on the firm decides, oh, I don’t like this font, or we’d like an even bigger margin right here. They’re going to vary some CSS and like with any web site then regenerate the whole lot. In order that technology 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, the usage of the checking within the instruments and tagging and Git, you’ll be able to 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 believe it’s nice for inside documentation, however I all the time 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 the way to use the product. After which when a brand new launch comes, they’ll pull up their Phrase file and revise, a few of it. They usually’ll put, I hate once they put the Phrase last within the file title. Perhaps generate a PDF from that, or perhaps even give folks 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 believe 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 may be irritating, however it’s not such as you’re doing loads of rebasing and so forth with the documentation. So that you don’t need to get that far into the troublesome Git weeds, in my expertise thus far.

Nikhil Krishna 00:25:00 Yeah. That’s an important 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 seen, particularly within the open-source world is the rise of those particular issues like learn the tops or a selected 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 and so they even have, issues like looking your documentation throughout varied variations, et cetera. So, from that perspective, do you might have a course of on a instrument 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 a superb instrument chain that you just’ve used, or perhaps you’ll be able to discuss just a little bit about your expertise with older instruments and stuff like that. However sometimes what’s the instrument chain that one sometimes makes use of these days to generate these web sites and the CSS and HTML and all that?

Bob Ducharme 00:26:23 I believe a number of the hottest instruments now are principally instruments for technology of static web sites which can be usually specialised for documentation. So, for instance, the place I’m now, and it would 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’ll be able to 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 every one will get automated the technology of all that HTML. And when you might have 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 could be should you have been like revising Phrase recordsdata again and again. So it may be a part of the software program documentation instrument 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 to’re getting the three factors stuff. 3.2 stuff, 3.2 product and three.2 code all in the identical place. So it usually 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. In order 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 assume within the Nineteen Eighties, there have been when computerized typesetting was turning into a giant factor. These firms would say, yeah, you’ll be able to 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 set in these codes, would you wish to have these codes whenever you desire a subhead and these codes for bullets and so forth, however completely different competing firms doing that. They’d their very own units of codes and a few folks, I believe some at IBM specifically, I do know for positive, however another locations as nicely, they mentioned, 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, you realize, 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 an inventory of components and an inventory of steps. After which there’s going to be an element what number of it serves. So with this SGML you could possibly outline a construction like this after which create the paperwork on this case, recipes, after which automate the checking of people who construction confined to, does it observe the construction that I outlined? And should you, should you notice it follows a construction, you could possibly automate much more. You possibly can 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 obtained concerned in HTML and I’d go to the conferences and I obtained to know a number of the individuals who did it.

Bob Ducharme 00:29:35 And a few of them realized SGML and a number of the software program was very costly doing this. A few of the SGML was very difficult. So, a few of these folks obtained collectively and thought we have to create an easier, simpler model of SGML. One thing that wouldn’t take a lot computing energy, one thing that might be parsed with a program that’s you’ll be able to simply obtain over the web with this new language, Solar Microsystems has referred to as Java. In order that was 90’s, I assume? So, they have been engaged on the simplified model of SGML. They first, the primary authentic 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, loads of the instrument chains SGML when it was invented for this, that’s what locations like Boeing and huge protection contractors to doc the engine elements they have been considering again then, that documentation, we must always deal with it like software program when it comes to breaking it down into parts.

Bob Ducharme 00:30:36 If this subsystem of this engine can also be used on different engines as nicely, we must always have the ability to write up the way to clear, the way to restore this sub system after which take that write up and add it to the documentation for the opposite engines as nicely. So these have been a number of the early strikes towards making documentation componentize, similar to software program in order that it might be combined and matched and used for various merchandise. And there can be the instrument 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 web assist or the CD rom. Builders didn’t like dealing instantly with the XML as a lot, markdowns are just a little easier. And there have been instruments to be just a little extra gooey-ish, just a little look, just a little extra like WORD that may nonetheless output the suitable XML, however typically these might be costly.

Bob Ducharme 00:31:30 In order that’s one other kind of lineage of the instrument chain for creating software program documentation, {hardware}, documentation is XML and associated instruments. Individuals don’t understand that that’s what XML was for as a result of when it was XML was first invented, it was across the time of the.com increase. And with the.com increase, early 2000’s. There have been folks, you realize, 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 difficult buildings than that. In order that they noticed this XML factor from the W3C. We are able to outline our personal buildings. You realize, right here’s the start of a order, right here’s the tip, right here’s the handle, right here’s the listing of things being ordered and so forth. In order 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 good. After which they determined, no, this isn’t good in any respect. That the info typing system is bizarre and whoever designed it did a horrible job. Effectively, they didn’t understand 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 soar in on over there. So, I do not forget that we went down this complete path with XML in regards to the internet standing, the Ws star, and the entire set of VEP service X quantity of requirements. I believe one of many, perhaps the issues that sort of led to the adoption of Json and the requirements like that was the truth that you might have all the sediment right here how, what the doc ought to be like. However I additionally keep in mind at the moment, there was this competing, talking for documentation, there was this different factor referred to as RDF, proper? And I used to be simply questioning, was that really 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 course of a sentence, I’ve a hyperlink, I’ve a bolded time period, RDF will not be good for that. Our RDF is about lowering information down to those three elements statements referred to 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 flexibleness that RDF offers you over one thing like a relational database allows a a number 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 goal to be that what the web site was maybe a greater means of doing it.

Bob Ducharme 00:35:21 You realize for one thing like Json, you’re higher off, I believe. With RDF, the metadata, when you might have particularly loads of, within the area of digital humanities and loads of publishers, they’ve content material from a number of completely different locations and so they 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 kind 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 come back again just a little bit on again to our technical documentation subject, one of many issues that I’ve seen, you talked about utilizing swings and the instrument chains like that. And we additionally mentioned a number of the older instruments like SGML and XML, however it appeared 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 folks. However on the similar time, when you’ve got 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 circumstances sort of generates the documentation out of it, proper?

Nikhil Krishna 00:37:10 It’s nearly like you’ll be able to have a look at the sorts of the varied response requests and that sort of create a doc that lets you, in some circumstances, even create pattern instance requests and responses that you should utilize for testing. However I typically get the sensation that, okay, that’s once more, too low degree. The place do you see the stability between the 2 ought to be? And the way a lot of the documentation that’s generated for a software program undertaking may be generated like that? And the way a lot of it’s nonetheless one thing that you just wish to just remember to write within the correct method?

Bob Ducharme 00:37:52 That’s a superb query. I believe, like I discussed one thing like a tutorial, you actually wish to think twice in regards to the order you’re going to clarify issues in what you might have the particular person 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 keep in mind the title. Is that, was that the instrument 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 believe it’s referred to as the Json API documentation tooling and what it does is it seems 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 sorts of it. Which isÖ

Bob Ducharme 00:38:47 And I imagine it can pull out

Nikhil Krishna 00:38:50 Yeah, it pulls out a number of the feedback as nicely from the entrance, from the perform. So you will get a excessive degree, two line description of what the API does, however then that will depend on how nicely, if

Bob Ducharme 00:39:02 Precisely, and, and that’s rubbish in rubbish out. I imply, that’s a instrument that may undergo and pull out and see, oh, this perform takes three parameters and the parameters are presupposed to be of those sorts. And it returns one thing of this kind. That’s good to automate the pulling of all that and the enumeration of it, however this, the doc strings, how usually have we seen doc strings? So simply clarify what we wished to clarify. So, and that may be a tech author perform to, to evaluation that documentation after which perhaps create some tickets and say, hey, you return and revise that doc string to clarify 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 perform. If we are saying right here’s a parameter referred to as Fu and the documentation says, enter the Fu worth there. And I’m considering, okay, however what’s Fu? What position does Fu play on this utility? And how much issues would possibly 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 searching for. However the issues they’re pulling collectively need to have some high quality in them and typically they may help level to which elements should be up to date, however nonetheless it’s rubbish in rubbish out.

Nikhil Krishna 00:40:22 Proper. So now that you just talked about that he had talked about retaining 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 keep 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 rationalization for each perform. And principally attempt to use that as documentation. Do you assume that theoretically, it’s potential to sort of combine that in. Do you continue to really feel that there’s a separate place, require a separate folder or perhaps a separate undertaking inside your Git repository that you need to hold a separate viewpoint, separate perspective, or a separate sort of documentation?

Bob Ducharme 00:41:29 This actually will get again, I believe, to the excellence between reference guides and person guides. Reference guides that’s all reference information stuff. You realize, you wish to listing the whole lot. I imply, I believe when somebody seems at a product and so they see some unusual icon or menu selection and assume, nicely, what’s that for? The reference information is the place they’d look it as much as discover it out. In reality, with a graphical person interface, and this may be troublesome, however I believe it’s necessary. Each instrument 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 instrument tip. That instrument 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 client builders earlier than every new launch, which instrument ideas obtained modified?

Bob Ducharme 00:42:11 I would like to have the ability to title all of the instrument ideas within the documentation, as a result of that’s the hook for folks to search out out what the icon is for. So loads 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 clarify the whole lot they see, they need to have the ability to lookup what that’s. However, a degree I wished to carry up about person guides is that nicely, I discussed how, once I wrote up Desk of Contents for an XSLT ebook, I didn’t use any XSLT phrases. I talked in regards to the duties to do. If let’s say, for instance, your product has a part to develop a schema and it’s referred to as Schema Wiz, okay? And also you’re going to doc that, to me if the person information has a header referred to 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 Previous Schema, Deleting Schemas. Naming the duties that should be performed versus utilizing the phrases you made up on your product as a part of the driving force of the person information. So I assume to get again to your query about a spot for one thing separate from the, the listing 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 assume to simplify, to getting again to your authentic 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 might have dev sec ops documented. So, we have now 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 fully 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 now have like a evaluation course of. We now have like, we have now documentation critiques. What do you consider this explicit? What’s your opinion on this?

Bob Ducharme 00:44:51 I imply, I agree with it. I believe that treating it as code, allows 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 critiques, evaluation of documentation, like code critiques, loads of firms, I write one thing I would like it reviewed. I created a journal ticket, to assign somebody to evaluation it. After which we are saying this, this characteristic is held up till somebody does the evaluation, similar to when somebody’s reviewing some C code that was written. So, I believe that treating it as code has the benefit of letting you benefit from all these instruments. We simply, why the old school means 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 instrument set is the benefit you get from treating it as code. So, I believe that’s been inspired in loads of locations proper right down to the usage of 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 usually the position of whoever’s doing the software program documentation to additionally develop issues for advertising, proper? And for Gross sales. So, then you might have like in startup, you may need the identical technical author and even software program developer, for instance, being approached by the advertising division and saying, Hey, okay, we wish you to write-up one thing about this explicit characteristic that we will publish or share with the e-mail e-newsletter, for instance. Do you assume 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 believe 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 have 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 good issues in regards to the product and why folks ought to be interested by utilizing it. Inside a company you’re typically working with the advertising folks. You turn out to be the tech editor, they could begin throwing the issues that make your product cool, perhaps 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 believe is a giant a part of that. They usually’re often pleased 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 definately, because the tech author, rearrange it a bit to make it extra, user-friendly not solely to prospects, however to potential prospects. I imply, individuals who simply got here throughout your weblog and are much more on technical, however they’ll get perhaps shopping for the product in order that the technical author is kind of coordinating between builders and advertising folks 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 assume that that’s to work? So, is that one thing that’s troublesome to do whenever you begin involving third events like gross sales and advertising and all of these individuals who is probably not aware of it?

Bob Ducharme 00:48:36 Yeah, in all probability not the identical processes as a result of, you realize, gross sales and advertising folks it’s, you realize, assigning them tickets and having them verify issues into Git, it is perhaps a bit an excessive amount of to ask for. However I believe serving to them to coordinate the content material itself to make it possible for it’s technically correct, however well-written, that every one is, I believe very helpful and so they’re in all probability going to have their very own instruments. You realize, they is perhaps creating PowerPoint shows and so they 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 realize, you’re the liaison between them, between the advertising folks and the builders. It’s your job as a tech author to translate the technical stuff to the non-technical folks. So that’s an fascinating place to assist apply that. To serving to with the advertising.

Nikhil Krishna 00:49:27 Superior. So, Bob I believe we’ve sort of reached the tip of what I had in thoughts. In our dialog thus far, we’ve talked about software program documentation from the attitude of a reference manuals and person manuals and guides and issues like that. There’s additionally, particularly should you’re writing, should you’re a part of a software program undertaking, that’s a fairly substantial shock software program product you is perhaps requested, nicely, can we create a ebook grant? Can we create some sort of substantial artifact out of it? Proper? So perhaps we publish a ebook in regards to the undertaking. Is that the identical as, or just like, when it comes to course of, to creating technical documentation? Do you assume a ebook is an efficient means of writing a few software program product that retains altering and retains evolving, simply a few questions?

Bob Ducharme 00:50:27 Effectively, you could possibly, I imply the person information materials you might have, that that might be an output format. There are methods to simply flip that into a tough copy ebook, however I believe a associated problem a few ebook is that some folks will we’ll see, okay, O’Reilly has a bunch of books about Oracle merchandise. You realize, that may be cool if there was an O’Reilly ebook about our product or Manning or one of many large pc publishers, some workplaces the place folks thought, oh, wouldn’t that be cool? And writing a separate ebook to go along with a writer. I imply, some publishers will work with you to do a brief ebook which you can then give away, however you realize, that’s going to price you cash, however to put in writing a whole ebook about one thing that could be a kind of separate entity from a separate writer, it’s enjoyable when it’s performed, however it’s much more work than folks understand.

Bob Ducharme 00:51:13 And you realize, we have been speaking earlier about one of many points of constructing movies is you set an enormous quantity of labor in one thing that might be out of date six months later. In case you’re going to place 5 or 600 hours into writing a ebook that’s going to be, that would probably be out of date a 12 months later, a 12 months and a half later. And that’s an necessary factor to consider the assets that go into the creation of the ebook. And once I’ve written books, they’ve often been about requirements as a result of requirements transfer extra slowly of their upgrades than merchandise from firms. So, should you’re writing about launch 3.2, when 3.5 is out, folks aren’t going to look too exhausting at your ebook and it may be much more, some folks will they’ll assume like, nicely it takes me half an hour to put in writing a web page.

Bob Ducharme 00:51:59 So a 300-page ebook that may take me 150 hours and that’s not the way it works. You realize, one of many causes you could possibly 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 prepare the content material for 300 pages. Secondly, even should you might write 300 pages in 150 hours, that’s simply your first draft. It’s obtained to undergo extra drafts simply to enhance the writing to ensure it’s technically appropriate. Plus, you’re going to have loads of analysis to do. Some folks assume, oh, nicely, we might do it in half the time if two folks wrote it collectively, however it’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 ebook goes to look outdated. So there are some highlights to writing a ebook 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 folks should buy the ebook, however it may be much more work and it’s a must to take into account how shortly it can turn out to be out of date. Upon getting an improve or two, it’s all this work you probably did as already historical past. Does that handle what you have been asking? I used to be sort of rambling there.

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

Bob Ducharme 00:53:50 If folks 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, BobDC.com. So, you will discover out extra in regards to 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 bear in mind.

Nikhil Krishna 00:54:15 Superior. We will certainly add that to the present notes, and I assume all which means is thanks. Thanks, Bob. This has been a fairly partaking dialog. I believe this it’ll be very priceless 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 automotive, listening to a podcast the place I’m the one speaking. I’m positive you’re used to that by now, however it’s been loads of enjoyable. And I like speaking about these items.

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

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