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

Bob DuCharme, an skilled technical author and creator talks about writing documentation for software program merchandise. On this episode we talk about the varied forms 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 need to learn; different types of documentation (photographs, video and audio); challenges of sustaining and updating documentation; holding documentation in sync with merchandise; toolchains for constructing documentation; historical past of software program documentation tooling and requirements.
This episode sponsored by OpenZiti.

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Nikhil Krishna 00:01:05 Hiya 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 an information architect who has been concerned with the semantic net since 2002. Bob is an creator 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, XML.com, Dr. Dobbs channel, and even IBM technical books. He’s at present 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 received the important thing issues. I imply, I’ve type of gone backwards and forwards between software program improvement — resolution architect is at all times such a imprecise time period, however you recognize, serving to prospects work out what they’re going to do — and writing it up. So typically extra coding, however proper now I’m blissful to be ready 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 summary on what they’re going to do on this specific episode, we’re speaking about creating technical documentation. So, clearly there are numerous forms 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 want this function? Why is the technical author mandatory for a software program group?

Bob Ducharme 00:03:06 Usually, when folks get a product, they need 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 consumer utilization of these merchandise to people who find themselves new to it. So, explaining to folks, determining what they’re going to need to search for and do these items, that’s actually the tech author’s job: you recognize, to put in writing the consumer guide, mainly, the consumer guide or/and reference information and different issues like that, which we will speak about have overlapping duties. However folks will get a software program product, they need to know use it, so the tech author is the one who explains 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 convey to the job that possibly a software program engineer with an English talking background can not do?

Bob Ducharme 00:04:03 Nicely, sometimes to get pleasure from writing. I imply, lots of people simply don’t prefer it; they view it as an terrible chore. Perhaps anyone 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 alternatively with software program builders to grasp the technical elements. If a developer has a brand new function and says, right here’s what it does, and that’s not clear, the technical author has to have the ability to ask the fitting 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 mandatory, to then clarify it to people who find themselves new to the product who don’t have that technical background. So, the communication talent 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 you could 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 lots to grasp the technical discuss and likewise to assist type out precise technical phrases from buzzwords, which is one other factor, as a result of, you recognize, 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, nevertheless 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 observe one thing, however some merchandise can have technical finish customers, particularly when you’re going to be writing about, an API or one thing like that. The power to speak with the builders turns into an increasing number of vital 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 suppose a operate of what sort of software program mission you’re writing documentation for? Or is that this one thing that as a typical is at all times going to be written by a technical author?

Bob Ducharme 00:06:38 I might 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 growing. But when an organization goes to finances 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 forms of consumer 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 mainly every thing anyone sees within the product, each icon, each menu selection. In the event that they take 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 aside from the reference information, the opposite large one can be the consumer information. A consumer information is organized extra by way of the duties that the tip consumer desires to do. The consumer information is actually 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 knowledge 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 mainly 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 consumer information define as a result of I knew what the duties folks needed to do had 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 essential duties had been, in order that I might create a top level view that mentioned issues like, The best way to Create Components, The best way to Delete Components, The best way to Rename Attributes, and so forth. So, when somebody’s taking a look at a consumer information, they need to see the names of the duties. The consumer information shouldn’t be speaking within the technical language, or a minimum of 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 need to get completed. And that’s not at all times straightforward as a result of you need to, possibly work with advertising and marketing and work with a few of the UI builders to search out out, to grasp the customers, what are they attempting to do with this product? What are the varied issues? How do these issues match collectively? You actually need to get contained in the consumer’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 consumer 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 properly, however a tutorial for somebody who’s by no means used the product, which I contemplate virtually like a demo, like giving a demo to your self, you recognize: the first step, click on right here, step two, click on right here on this comes up. That’s for this nice purpose, as a result of to type of showcase the cool elements of the product, possibly even it’s in a approach, much 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 essential issues. So these, I suppose, can be the three classes, reference information, consumer 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 tips that as builders, we will comply with to enhance our documentation for possibly our facet mission? Or possibly even when it’s not our mission and we’ve been requested to do some documentation, what are some easy tips or issues that we will do to guarantee that we’re writing good technical documentation?

Bob Ducharme 00:10:23 And right here’s one thing I’m most likely going to say lots: there are a number 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 understand, there’s this record 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, if in case you have some well-written necessities, that’s an awesome place to begin. Right here’s how to do that, right here’s how to do that. Different issues embrace, I at all times like to think about two lessons of reviewers. Once you write, explaining one thing, you need to present it to, in fact, a developer or somebody to just remember to defined it appropriately, that you simply didn’t get something improper. However you additionally need 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 comply with alongside? Did your rationalization work for them? And if not, the place? So these two sorts of reviewers I feel, are vital to bear in mind whenever you’re growing 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, it is 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 high quality, it’s not that robust. What do you assume?

Bob Ducharme 00:11:57 Nicely, I imply grammar it’s not like, whenever you’re writing code and when 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 most likely going to be tougher to grasp. You understand, if in case you have a plural topic with a singular verb, folks studying it, aren’t going to cease and return and it’s going to be tougher to comply with. So, I feel grammatical accuracy, easy issues like that and punctuation, these items I feel are vital. It’s going to be tougher for the technical elements to be put throughout if it’s completed with errors within the grammar. I do know one other once we had been in secondary college and we wrote these papers and handed them in and our lecturers gave them again with a lot of pink markings saying you utilize the passive voice right here.

Bob Ducharme 00:12:42 You must have used the energetic voice. There are causes for these items and just like the well-known Strunk and White e-book on Components of Fashion, it makes your writing simpler to learn. To do issues like that, it’s to mimic good writers. I imply, to differ 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, properly, why do I like this individual’s writing? Have a look at the construction of the sentences, into the combination up lengthy ones and quick ones and issues like that. If it’s simpler to learn, individuals 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 convey 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 understand, it’s not a novel. They picked up that documentation as a result of they need to look one thing up. They need to see 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 lots tougher to search out. I imply, you’ll be able to put a number of subheads in, I suppose, and with on-line documentation too, it’s simpler to look, which was not the case with laborious copy paper. I’ll throw in earlier than I overlook about with lists, bulleted record versus numbered lists. I’ve seen folks will usually use numbered lists when they need to have used a bulleted record. If I say, there are three issues to recollect whenever you’re going to do that one, growth, two, growth, three, growth.

Bob Ducharme 00:14:13 Nicely, 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 atmosphere variables, run this script, obtain this, in fact these steps definitely should be a numbered record. But when I say, you recognize, there are three issues to recollect. I discover that folks usually are very fast to make one thing, a numbered record when it doesn’t actually must be one, it ought to be a bulleted record. So issues like that, over the lists, nested bulleted lists, listed numbered lists, these items 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 pondering of, what do you concentrate on a few 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 photographs. There’s a number of wealthy media that may be leveraged. So, what do you assume generally of that development? Do you assume 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 Certain. I feel, once we say technical author, I do not forget that there was a corporation, I feel I could 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 properly. I feel whenever you get into different media moreover textual content, once more like with software program, whenever you’re creating one thing, you need 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, when you wrote a collection of bulleted numbered lists and you could add one record merchandise to one of many lists within the textual content, that’s straightforward sufficient. When you spent seven hours making a half hour video and, and a few of the issues midway by means of it now 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 emblem of the product that was within the higher left. So, every thing nonetheless labored the identical, however now all these screenshots, they appeared outdated. And there are methods to take care of it however pondering forward about maintainability like that, is vital. And getting again to movies, think about a 20-minute video that explains do 10 issues. And now the fourth factor is finished otherwise. So, you’re going to remake the entire video and that may be an actual ache. So, one strategy is to have a collection of 2-minute movies that specify do a selected 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 harder.

Bob Ducharme 00:17:31 I feel movies are particularly helpful if it’s a graphical consumer interface and for demos. We click on right here after which right here after which this pops up and look, there’s our knowledge. And look it received 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 could be, audio high quality. Generally folks assume, properly, my coworkers can hear me together with his headset I’m sporting 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 at present, simply to speak about mics and the rooms we’d be in and recording. So, podcasters in fact care extra about, assume tougher 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 will help. I imply, I suppose I’m sort of rambling right here, however I want to point out moreover totally different sorts of applied sciences for creating documentation, together with video and pictures and audio, one other one which’s I feel getting used an increasing number of lately 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 reasonably thrilling improvement in documentation of code. It doesn’t assist a lot with graphical consumer 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 properly. So clearly we now have touched upon a few of 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 are usually 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 will have 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 guide may very well be up to date, for instance. So clearly this has penalties. In order folks want used paperwork which are now not right, get pissed off. So from a consumer perspective positively, old-fashioned documentation is an issue. However how do you really see, do we now have 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 Nicely, two issues right here. One, I suppose, can be the creation, upkeep, and one other can be distribution. For creation and upkeep, it’s an increasing number of mainly, you examine 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 approach they’ll, they keep in sync. For distribution, what I’ve seen a number of corporations do, I imply Katana Graph does as properly, is after they’re publishing the documentation, as a result of most documentation, lately it’s going to be HTML, proper? You’re going to have mainly an internet site exhibiting the books and the subsections and you’ll navigate by means of there. So that you may need, the HTML would usually embrace, or fairly the URLs would usually embrace 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 go away all of them up there. After which what a number of corporations will do is that they’ll have your organization title.com/documentation/newest, which is about to redirect to the newest one. In order that approach 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 few of the options over there. So, you talked about versioning techniques. So do you assume, is that sort of like versioning techniques the best way we take into consideration software program versioning techniques? Perhaps get a sub-version, do you assume that versioning which are 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 remember that, okay, like we had mentioned earlier. A few of that documentation is perhaps binary, so we don’t actually have a approach of holding 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 whole picture once more, attempt to permit a brand new copy of the picture portion of the picture. So what do you assume is appropriate? Is it high quality 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 a number of documentation now, I imply, I might talk about this extra later, however individuals are creating recordsdata. You’re writing recordsdata which are 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 want a much bigger margin right here. They’re going to vary some CSS and like with any web site then regenerate every thing. In order that era is a part of it’s, it’s a constructed similar to with software program. In actual fact, some corporations 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’ll be able to actually make the most of 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 inner documentation, however I at all times thought the worst case with documentation. Some little corporations 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. They usually’ll put, I hate after they put the Phrase last within the file title. Perhaps generate a PDF from that, or possibly even give folks the Phrase file, which is a reasonably amateurish strategy 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 significantly 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 observe 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 could be irritating, nevertheless it’s not such as you’re doing a number 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 an awesome 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 they usually even have, issues like looking your documentation throughout numerous variations, et cetera. So, from that perspective, do you will have 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’ll be able to discuss just a little bit about your expertise with older instruments and stuff like that. However sometimes what’s the device 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 feel a few of the hottest instruments now are mainly instruments for era of static web sites which are usually 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’ll be able to nonetheless have your CSS and have the construction to indicate that these six pages right here, I need 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 will 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 will be when you had been like revising Phrase recordsdata time 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 need to ensure you’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 suppose within the Eighties, there have been when computerized typesetting was changing into an enormous factor. These corporations 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 place in these codes, would you need to have these codes whenever you desire a subhead and these codes for bullets and so forth, however totally different competing corporations doing that. That they had their very own units of codes and a few folks, I feel some at IBM particularly, I do know for certain, however another locations as properly, they mentioned, wait a minute, we don’t need to tie up all of our, have all of our documentation written utilizing your proprietary codes. We need to have extra flexibility. So, they got here up with a, what grew to become an ISO normal. SGML a strategy to outline the construction of a doc after which to make use of that construction definition to say, you recognize, let’s say you’re going to have a cookbook. I need 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 elements 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 comply with the construction that I outlined? And when you, when you notice it follows a construction, you may 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 received concerned in HTML and I might go to the conferences and I received to know a few of the individuals who did it.

Bob Ducharme 00:29:35 And a few of them realized SGML and a few of the software program was very costly doing this. Among the SGML was very difficult. So, a few of these folks received 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 may very well be parsed with a program that’s you’ll be able to 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 had been engaged on the simplified model of SGML. They first, the primary unique working title for it was Net 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, a number 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 had been pondering again then, that documentation, we should always deal with it like software program by way of breaking it down into elements.

Bob Ducharme 00:30:36 If this subsystem of this engine can also be used on different engines as properly, we should always have the ability to write up clear, restore this sub system after which take that write up and add it to the documentation for the opposite engines as properly. So these had been a few of the early strikes towards making documentation componentize, similar to software program in order that it may very well be combined 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 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 might nonetheless output the suitable XML, however typically these may very well 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 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 growth. And with the.com growth, early 2000’s. There have been folks, you recognize, we’re going to have seamless e-commerce and have this pc talk with that different one throughout the online to ship the orders and reply to the orders, however sending and responding to those orders, they needed to ship these batches of knowledge that didn’t essentially match into CSV. They’d have extra difficult constructions than that. In order that they noticed this XML factor from the W3C. We are able to outline our personal constructions. You understand, right here’s the start of a order, right here’s the tip, right here’s the tackle, right here’s the record of things being ordered and so forth. In order that they began utilizing XML for that, to do that E-commerce. Principally the sort of issues individuals 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 info typing system is bizarre and whoever designed it did a horrible job. Nicely, they didn’t understand that whoever designed XML was not designing it for the makes use of they had been placing it for. For dealing with arbitrary handfuls of knowledge 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 entire path with XML concerning the net 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 will have 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 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 collection 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 just isn’t good for that. Our RDF is about decreasing knowledge 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 offers you over one thing like a relational database allows a a lot of new issues, together with the power to combination knowledge from totally 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 attempting to purpose to be that what the web site was maybe a greater approach of doing it.

Bob Ducharme 00:35:21 You understand for one thing like Json, you’re higher off, I feel. With RDF, the metadata, when you will have particularly a number of, within the area of digital humanities and a number of publishers, they’ve content material from a lot of totally different locations they usually need to maintain observe of the content material and that content material, in these various things can have totally different bits of metadata, however typically they’re associated, regardless that they’re totally 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 entire solid 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 device chains like that. And we additionally mentioned a few of the older instruments like SGML and XML, nevertheless it 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 folks. However on the similar time, if in case you have one thing like a Jess on API or HPP API, we even have instruments that like Swagger, which you’ll be able to 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 virtually like you’ll be able to take a look at the forms of the varied response requests and that sort of create a doc that lets you, in some instances, 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 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 mission could be generated like that? And the way a lot of it’s nonetheless one thing that you simply need to just remember to 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 need to think twice concerning the order you’re going to elucidate issues in what you will have the individual do of the three buckets. I discussed of tutorials, reference guides and consumer 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 mainly a part of the open MPI. I feel it’s known as the Json API documentation tooling and what it does is it appears 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 forms of it. Which isÖ

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

Nikhil Krishna 00:38:50 Yeah, it pulls out a few of the feedback as properly from the entrance, from the operate. So you will get a excessive stage, two line description of what the API does, however then that depends upon how properly, 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 purported to be of those varieties. 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 usually have we seen doc strings? So simply clarify what we wished 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. Certainly 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 pondering, okay, however what’s Fu? What function does Fu play on this utility? And how much 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 every thing 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 will help level to which elements must 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 holding and utilizing the identical Git tooling and the movement tooling and attempting 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 mainly we might, if we sort of, from a course of perspective, say being self-aware as a software program engineer, we mainly approached doc strings or feedback. And we sort of write a correct rationalization for each operate. And mainly attempt to use that as documentation. Do you assume 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 mission inside your Git repository that you must maintain 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 consumer guides. Reference guides that’s all reference information stuff. You understand, you need to record every thing. I imply, I feel when somebody appears at a product they usually see some unusual icon or menu selection and assume, properly, what’s that for? The reference information is the place they’d look it as much as discover it out. In actual fact, with a graphical consumer interface, and this may be tough, however I feel it’s vital. 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 consumer 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 device suggestions received 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 folks to search out out what the icon is for. So a number of the reference guides for not just for technical issues like APIs, however even for the gooey, as a result of for the graphical consumer interface to elucidate every thing they see, they need to have the ability to search for what that’s. Then again, some extent I wished to convey up about consumer guides is that properly, 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 consumer 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 need to see titles like Making a New Schema, Revising an Outdated Schema, Deleting Schemas. Naming the duties that must be completed versus utilizing the phrases you made up to your product as a part of the motive force of the consumer information. So I suppose to get again to your query about a spot for one thing separate from the, the record of issues, that’s the place the consumer guides go. To one thing organized by the duties they need to do, versus one thing that’s organized by the product itself, being organized by the product itself remains to be vital 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 consumer guides.

Nikhil Krishna 00:43:48 Proper. So once more, these days mainly there’s this concept of an X Esco philosophy, proper? So, you will have dev sec ops documented. So, we now have safety as code configuration, Esco X, one thing else. That is philosophy that every thing sort of begins changing 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 assessment course of. We now have like, we now have documentation evaluations. What do you concentrate on 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 make the most of all these instruments that you’ve that you have already got to work along with your code. So, for instance with evaluations, assessment of documentation, like code evaluations, a number of corporations, I write one thing I would like it reviewed. I created a journal ticket, to assign somebody to assessment it. After which we are saying this, this function 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 make the most of all these instruments. We simply, why the old school approach of making a WORD file to have the documentation there. It doesn’t allow you to make the most of 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 a number 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 corporations, it’s also usually the function of whoever’s doing the software program documentation to additionally develop issues for advertising and marketing, proper? And for Gross sales. So, then you will have like in startup, you may need the identical technical author and even software program developer, for instance, being approached by the advertising and marketing division and saying, Hey, okay, we want you to write-up one thing about this specific function that we will submit or share with the e-mail e-newsletter, for instance. Do you assume the abilities required for this sort of writing, writing advertising and marketing content material and writing gross sales content material, how related is that? Or how totally 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 and marketing 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 and marketing documentation. Advertising communications is a strategy to promote issues. To say, what are the nice issues concerning the product and why folks ought to be fascinated with utilizing it. Inside a corporation you’re typically working with the advertising and marketing folks. You change into 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 widespread. So making that technical documentation extra, making the advertising and marketing communications extra technically correct, I feel is an enormous a part of that. They usually’re normally blissful 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 you then, 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 possibly shopping for the product in order that the technical author is type of coordinating between builders and advertising and marketing folks to assist create new weblog entries.

Nikhil Krishna 00:48:09 So we also needs to embrace this class into our concept 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 tough to do whenever you begin involving third events like gross sales and advertising and marketing and all of these individuals who might not be accustomed to it?

Bob Ducharme 00:48:36 Yeah, most likely not the identical processes as a result of, you recognize, gross sales and advertising and marketing folks it’s, you recognize, assigning them tickets and having them examine 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 guarantee that it’s technically correct, however well-written, that each one is, I feel very helpful they usually’re most likely going to have their very own instruments. You understand, they is perhaps creating PowerPoint shows they usually need your assist with that or Phrase recordsdata that they’re going to 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 recognize, you’re the liaison between them, between the advertising and marketing 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 attention-grabbing place to assist apply that. To serving to with the advertising and marketing.

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 consumer manuals and guides and issues like that. There’s additionally, particularly when you’re writing, when you’re a part of a software program mission, that’s a reasonably substantial shock software program product you is perhaps requested, properly, 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 mission. Is that the identical as, or much like, by way of course of, to creating technical documentation? Do you assume a e-book is an effective approach of writing a few software program product that retains altering and retains evolving, simply a few questions?

Bob Ducharme 00:50:27 Nicely, you may, I imply the consumer information materials you will have, that that may very well be an output format. There are methods to only flip that into a tough copy e-book, however I feel a associated problem a few e-book is that some folks will we’ll see, okay, O’Reilly has a bunch of books about Oracle merchandise. You understand, that might be cool if there was an O’Reilly e-book 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 e-book to go along with a writer. I imply, some publishers will work with you to do a brief e-book that you may then give away, however you recognize, that’s going to price you cash, however to put in writing an entire e-book about one thing that could be a type of separate entity from a separate writer, it’s enjoyable when it’s completed, nevertheless it’s much more work than folks understand.

Bob Ducharme 00:51:13 And you recognize, we had been speaking earlier about one of many points of creating movies is you place an enormous quantity of labor in one thing that may very well be out of date six months later. When you’re going to place 5 or 600 hours into writing a e-book that’s going to be, that would doubtlessly be out of date a 12 months later, a 12 months and a half later. And that’s an vital factor to consider the sources 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 corporations. So, when you’re writing about launch 3.2, when 3.5 is out, folks aren’t going to look too laborious at your e-book and it may be much more, some folks will they’ll assume like, properly 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 might take me 150 hours and that’s not the way it works. You understand, one of many causes you may write that web page in half an hour is since you already had that web page’s price 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 when you might write 300 pages in 150 hours, that’s simply your first draft. It’s received to undergo further drafts simply to enhance the writing to ensure it’s technically right. Plus, you’re going to have a number of analysis to do. Some folks assume, oh, properly, we might do it in half the time if two folks wrote it collectively, nevertheless it’s going to be extra like 70% of the time as a result of you need to coordinate what you’re doing. After which as soon as the factor will get upgraded your e-book goes to look old-fashioned. 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 folks can purchase the e-book, however it may be much more work and you need to contemplate how shortly it can change into 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 had been asking? I used to be sort of rambling there.

Nikhil Krishna 00:53:07 I feel that’s an awesome overview of a few of the challenges of e-book writing, and I’m certain not the least of it’s also the totally different course of that the e-book publishers may need. Proper? It may not be the identical factor that you simply’re used to following along with your technical articles the place you most likely editorial oversight as properly. However yeah, I feel that’s, that’s an awesome level to sort of finish this podcast. I simply wished to ask if listeners would be taught to comply with or contact you, if there are, possibly you’d like to speak about a few of the issues that you simply’re engaged on proper now, that is your likelihood.

Bob Ducharme 00:53:50 If folks need 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 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 collection 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 suppose all meaning is thanks. Thanks, Bob. This has been a reasonably partaking dialog. I feel this it’ll be very worthwhile to our listeners. Thanks for spending the time with us.

Bob Ducharme 00:54:33 Nicely 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 certain you’re used to that by now, nevertheless it’s been a number of enjoyable. And I really like speaking about these items.

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

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