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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 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 need to learn; different types of documentation (photos, video and audio); challenges of sustaining and updating documentation; conserving documentation in sync with merchandise; toolchains for constructing documentation; historical past of software program documentation tooling and requirements.
This episode sponsored by OpenZiti.

Transcript delivered to you by IEEE Software program journal.
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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 achieved author, software program engineer, and a knowledge architect who has been concerned with the semantic internet 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,, 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 almost 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 simply wish to add?

Bob Ducharme 00:02:16 I believe you’ve bought the important thing issues. I imply, I’ve form of gone backwards and forwards between software program growth — answer architect is all the time such a obscure time period, however you recognize, serving to prospects determine what they’re going to do — and writing it up. So generally extra coding, however proper now I’m glad to be ready the place I’m just about a full-time author.

Nikhil Krishna 00:02:35 Superior. To offer listeners just a little little bit of an outline on what they’re going to do on this specific episode, we’re speaking about creating technical documentation. So, clearly there are numerous forms of documentation and you’ve got a job 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 could be, why do we’d like this position? Why is the technical author essential for a software program group?

Bob Ducharme 00:03:06 Usually, when individuals 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 top consumer utilization of these merchandise to people who find themselves new to it. So, explaining to individuals, 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 handbook, mainly, the consumer handbook or/and reference information and different issues like that, which we will speak about have overlapping obligations. However individuals 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 abilities? So, what does the technical author deliver to the job that perhaps a software program engineer with an English talking background can not do?

Bob Ducharme 00:04:03 Effectively, usually to get pleasure from writing. I imply, lots of people simply don’t prefer it; they view it as an terrible chore. Perhaps any person writes on the facet or has a weblog or one thing like that, however you want to have the ability to speak and talk with on one hand the top customers and alternatively with software program builders to know 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 best inquiries to say, ‘I get this half and this half, however this half right here, how does that work?’ They should form of interview them to seek out out the knowledge essential, to then clarify it to people who find themselves new to the product who don’t have that technical background. So, the communication ability goes in two instructions. One, to the end-user and two to the extra technical individuals, the builders.

Nikhil Krishna 00:04:50 So, does that imply that the technical author must have a software program engineering background as a result of if he’s speaking to software program builders about technical matters, does that imply that you could have that very same language of identical 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 know the technical speak and likewise to assist type out precise technical phrases from buzzwords, which is one other factor, as a result of, you recognize, you hear these phrases getting thrown spherical. A few of them have particular meanings, a few of them get misused. So, I’ve typically joked in some locations that I’ve labored at having a grasp’s in pc science helps me to speak to the PhDs. After which translate what they’re saying to common individuals. So it helps, nevertheless it’s not essentially, particularly if the product is — some merchandise may have finish customers who’re non-technical. If it’s a telephone app to assist observe one thing, however some merchandise may 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 increasingly vital then the extra technical viewers is.

Nikhil Krishna 00:06:05 Superior. So once more, simply to type of elaborate just a little bit on that. So what sort of documentation, technical author usually deal with? Do they really create design or structure paperwork? Or is it extra like user-facing documentation, like manuals and installations? Is that, I suppose a perform of what sort of software program venture you’re writing documentation for? Or is that this one thing that as a normal is all the time 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 position there, their main job is to put in writing user-facing documentation. These form of structure diagrams and stuff, it’s attention-grabbing to see these, and people are good background once they’re creating. 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 stand up and operating. And there’s three fundamental forms of consumer 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 could be a reference information. A reference information ought to clarify mainly all the pieces any person sees within the product, each icon, each menu alternative. 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 be capable of shortly discover it and look it up and see what it does. After which other than the reference information, the opposite huge one could be the consumer information. A consumer information is organized extra when it comes to the duties that the top consumer needs to do. The consumer information is absolutely aimed toward somebody who doesn’t know the product. So, for instance, if it’s a database program, it will say create a brand new database, put information in there, edit it. You’d talked about, I wrote a e-book known as “XSLT Shortly” for Manning, which was in regards to the XSLT language for manipulating XML. And I had come from a background with SGML earlier than that; XML is mainly an easier model of SGML. And my work with SGML enabled me to, once I wrote the define for the XSLT e-book, earlier than I even knew write any XSLT, I used to be nonetheless capable of write a consumer information define as a result of I knew what the duties individuals needed to do have been: Create new components, rename components, convert components to attributes and backwards and forwards, delete, rename.

Bob Ducharme 00:08:17 I knew what the essential duties have been, in order that I may create a top level view that mentioned issues like, How you can Create Parts, How you can Delete Parts, How you can Rename Attributes, and so forth. So, when somebody’s a consumer information, they need to see the names of the duties. The consumer information shouldn’t be speaking within the technical language, or no less than the Desk of Contents shouldn’t be speaking within the technical language of the product. It needs to be speaking when it comes to the duties that customers need to get accomplished. 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 seek out out, to know the customers, what are they making an attempt to do with this product? What are the varied issues? How do these issues match collectively? You actually should get contained in the consumer’s head, so you may 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 could be, I’d name it a fast begin or getting began, however a tutorial. Typically 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 form of showcase the cool elements of the product, perhaps even it’s in a method, much like what somebody giving a demo in entrance of a convention may do. To undergo 10 or 15 steps to point out 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 do the essential issues. So these, I suppose, could 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 discipline, what are the abilities I must domesticate? Perhaps are there some easy pointers that as builders, we will observe to enhance our documentation for perhaps our facet venture? Or perhaps even when it’s not our venture 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 a whole lot of analogies to writing the software program itself. So, for instance, with documentation, if the software program was developed from a well-organized set of necessities, these necessities are going to be very helpful to you. You recognize, there’s this checklist saying prospects ought to be capable of do that, prospects ought to be capable of do that, buyer ought to be capable of do that. So, when you have some well-written necessities, that’s an awesome place to begin. Right here’s how to do that, right here’s how to do that. Different issues embrace, I all the time like to consider two lessons of reviewers. Whenever you write, explaining one thing, you need to present it to, in fact, a developer or somebody to just remember to defined it accurately, that you simply didn’t get something mistaken. 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, may they observe alongside? Did your clarification work for them? And if not, the place? So these two sorts of reviewers I believe, are vital 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 wonderful, it’s not that sturdy. What do you assume?

Bob Ducharme 00:11:57 Effectively, 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 dangerous, it’s in all probability going to be tougher to know. You recognize, when you have a plural topic with a singular verb, individuals studying it, aren’t going to cease and return and it’s going to be tougher to observe. So, I believe grammatical accuracy, easy issues like that and punctuation, these items I believe are vital. It’s going to be tougher for the technical elements to be put throughout if it’s accomplished with errors within the grammar. I do know one other once we have been in secondary college and we wrote these papers and handed them in and our lecturers gave them again with a lot of crimson markings saying you utilize the passive voice right here.

Bob Ducharme 00:12:42 You need to have used the energetic voice. There are causes for these items and just like the well-known Strunk and White e-book on Parts of Model, it makes your writing simpler to learn. To do issues like that, it’s to mimic good writers. I imply, to range the construction of your sentences. I imply whenever you’re studying somebody whose studying you want, generally it’s good to cease and step by and assume, properly, why do I like this particular person’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 individuals to learn it. However one other level I used to be going to deliver up, an enormous distinction from technical writing from different typical prose writing is that folks aren’t going to learn what you wrote from starting to finish.

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

Bob Ducharme 00:14:13 Effectively, are these three issues, is that order actually important for that? In fact, it’s important whenever you’re writing an set up information. To do that, set these atmosphere variables, run this script, obtain this, in fact these steps actually need to be a numbered checklist. But when I say, you recognize, there are three issues to recollect. I discover that folks typically are very fast to make one thing, a numbered checklist when it doesn’t actually have to be one, it needs to be a bulleted checklist. 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 together 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 type of encourage you to learn it. So, I used to be pondering of, what do you concentrate on a number of the newer methods I’ve seen documentation type of get created, proper? So now it’s not simply textual content, it’s additionally video or photos. There’s a whole lot of wealthy media that may be leveraged. So, what do you assume normally of that pattern? Do you assume it’s one thing that may be thought of technical writing so as of the significance of doc? I imply, do we have to have the identical type 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, once we say technical author, I do not forget that there was a company, I believe I’ll have been a member years in the past, known as the Society of Technical Communicators (STC). The individuals who take into consideration these different media as properly. I believe whenever you get into different media moreover textual content, once more like with software program, whenever you’re creating one thing, it’s a must to take into consideration how maintainable is that this factor I’m creating? Six months from now, if the product modifications and that is out of date, do I’ve to redo the entire thing? Can I am going in and repair one little bit? I imply, when you wrote a collection of bulleted numbered lists and you could add one checklist 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 means of it now not apply, then that’s an even bigger deal.

Bob Ducharme 00:16:37 I imply, even with screenshots, even with photos, generally, 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, all the pieces nonetheless labored the identical, however now all these screenshots, they appeared outdated. And there are methods to cope with 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 completed otherwise. So, you’re going to remake the entire video and that may be an actual ache. So, one method is to have a collection of 2-minute movies that specify do a particular 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 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 believe 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 information. And look it bought processed and now we will see the outcomes of the question or the evaluation. I believe that’s very helpful to point out how some issues, though one other factor about creating movies is that folks could be, audio high quality. Typically individuals assume, properly, my coworkers can hear me together with his headset I’m carrying on a zoom name. So, my audio high quality is okay. Whereas, I imply, you and I, we had a separate assembly earlier than our dialogue 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. Typically when individuals make movies to demo software program, they’ll simply use the identical mic and so forth. They do it within the assembly and don’t 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 suppose I’m type of rambling right here, however I wish 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 believe getting used increasingly 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 may modify the pattern and see that. So, I believe that’s been a reasonably thrilling growth in documentation of code. It doesn’t assist a lot with graphical consumer interfaces. In order that was type 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 properly. So clearly we’ve got touched upon a number of the challenges of sustaining video versus textual content. And that I believe can also be type 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 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 handbook could possibly be up to date, for instance. So clearly this has penalties. In order individuals want used paperwork which are now not appropriate, get pissed off. So from a consumer perspective positively, old-fashioned documentation is an issue. However how do you truly see, do we’ve got an answer from a course of perspective or a tooling perspective, how do you truly work with, how do you evolve the documentation together with software program? Let’s say.

Bob Ducharme 00:20:29 Effectively, two issues right here. One, I suppose, could be the creation, upkeep, and one other could be distribution. For creation and upkeep, it’s increasingly mainly, you test it into the model management system. Right here’s the brand new options for launch 4.2. Right here’s the write-up of launch 4.2. And that method they will, they keep in sync. For distribution, what I’ve seen a whole lot of corporations do, I imply Katana Graph does as properly, is once 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 may navigate by means of there. So that you may need, the HTML would typically embrace, or somewhat the URLs would typically embrace the discharge quantity proper in it. So, it’s like your organization 4.2 slash index HTML, after which slash 4.3 and you may go away all of them up there. After which what a whole lot of corporations will do is that they’ll have your organization, which is ready to redirect to the latest one. In order that method you’re leaving all of the documentation up from a number of releases concurrently a distribution factor, however there’s nonetheless a single URL, the most recent one. So that folks can see what’s the present state of the documentation and what’s the documentation for the present state of the product.

Nikhil Krishna 00:21:51 So simply to type of additionally take into consideration out loud of a number of the options over there. So, you talked about versioning techniques. So do you assume, is that type 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 fundamental versioning of paperwork now, do you assume that’s, which to you assume you like sustaining, documentation. And likewise needless to say, okay, like we had mentioned earlier. A few of that documentation is perhaps binary, so we don’t actually have a method of conserving parts of the doc ID. If it’s like a picture you logged and that you simply up to date your picture, you’re going to have the complete picture once more, attempt to enable a brand new copy of the picture portion of the picture. So what do you assume is appropriate? Is it wonderful 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 whole lot of documentation now, I imply, I may 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’d like an even bigger margin right here. They’re going to vary some CSS and like with any web site then regenerate all the pieces. In order that era is a part of it’s, it’s a constructed similar to with software program. Actually, 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 may actually reap the benefits 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 believe it’s nice for inside documentation, however I all the time 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 once they put the Phrase remaining within the file title. Perhaps generate a PDF from that, or perhaps even give individuals 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 believe 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 generally for a tech author to be taught the archana of Git could be irritating, nevertheless it’s not such as you’re doing a whole lot of rebasing and so forth with the documentation. So that you don’t should get that far into the tough Git weeds, in my expertise thus far.

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 observed, particularly within the open-source world is the rise of those particular issues like learn the tops or a particular type 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 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 wish to publish. After which type of like, is that like instrument chain that you simply’ve used, or perhaps you may speak just a little bit about your expertise with older instruments and stuff like that. However usually what’s the instrument chain that one usually makes use of these days to generate these web sites and the CSS and HTML and all that?

Bob Ducharme 00:26:23 I believe a number of the hottest instruments now are mainly instruments for era of static web sites which are typically 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 may nonetheless have your CSS and have the construction to point out 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 every one will get automated the era 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 will be when you have been like revising Phrase recordsdata time 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 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 typically is tightly built-in there. So I’ve discovered that very helpful. And it’s additionally due to its relation to markdown. It’s simpler for builders are used to that. In order that they don’t thoughts writing in that if I may 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 turning into an enormous factor. These corporations would say, yeah, you may 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 may have been delivered on tape for all I do know. So you set 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 individuals, I believe some at IBM specifically, I do know for positive, 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 commonplace. 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 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 can 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 when you, when you be aware it follows a construction, you can automate much more. You may then flip, and that is within the early days of multimedia getting past paper. I’m going to show it into on-line, assist. I’m going to show into CD ROMs. I’m going to show into HTML. And so I bought concerned in HTML and I might go to the conferences and I bought 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. Among the SGML was very difficult. So, a few of these individuals bought 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 could possibly be parsed with a program that’s you may simply obtain over the web with this new language, Solar Microsystems has known as Java. In order that was 90’s, I suppose? So, they have been engaged on the simplified model of SGML. They first, the primary unique working title for it was 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 whole lot of the instrument chains SGML when it was invented for this, that’s what locations like Boeing and enormous protection contractors to doc the engine elements they have been pondering again then, that documentation, we must always deal with it like software program when it comes to 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 must always be capable of write up clear, restore this sub system after which take that write up and add it to the documentation for the opposite engines as properly. So these have been a number of the early strikes towards making documentation componentize, similar to software program in order that it could possibly be combined and matched and used for various merchandise. And there could 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 net assist or the CD rom. Builders didn’t like dealing instantly with the XML as a lot, markdowns are just a little less complicated. And there have been instruments to be just a little extra gooey-ish, just a little look, just a little extra like WORD that will nonetheless output the suitable XML, however generally these could possibly be costly.

Bob Ducharme 00:31:30 In order that’s one other form 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 growth. And with growth, early 2000’s. There have been individuals, you recognize, 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 might have extra difficult constructions than that. In order that they noticed this XML factor from the W3C. We will outline our personal constructions. You recognize, right here’s the start of a order, right here’s the top, right here’s the handle, right here’s the checklist of things being ordered and so forth. In order that they began utilizing XML for that, to do that E-commerce. Mainly the type of issues individuals 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 information 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 leap 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 type 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 needs 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 type of to go over the documentation facet of issues that XML type 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 shouldn’t be good for that. Our RDF is about lowering information down to those three elements statements known as triples. So I can say worker 38 has a rent date of January 1st, worker 38 has the final title of Smith. After which the pliability that RDF offers you over one thing like a relational database allows a a lot of new issues, together with the power to combination information from totally different sources and issues like that. And I imply, I may 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 purpose to be that what the web site was maybe a greater method of doing it.

Bob Ducharme 00:35:21 You recognize for one thing like Json, you’re higher off, I believe. With RDF, the metadata, when you might have particularly a whole lot of, within the discipline of digital humanities and a whole lot of publishers, they’ve content material from a lot of totally different locations they usually need to preserve observe of the content material and that content material, in these various things may have totally different bits of metadata, however generally they’re associated, though 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 variety of thess, RDS actually good for that. However not for the content material itself, the form of narrative content material of paragraphs and bulleted and numbered lists. We may do complete forged on RDF.

Nikhil Krishna 00:36:00 Yeah. So to return again just a little bit on again to our technical documentation 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, nevertheless it gave the impression to be generally 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 needs to be generated. We talked about FAQ’s tutorials, high-level technical paperwork, which clarify issues to non-technical individuals. However on the identical time, when 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 type of generates the documentation out of it, proper?

Nikhil Krishna 00:37:10 It’s virtually like you may take a look at the forms of the varied response requests and that type of create a doc that means that you can, in some instances, even create pattern instance requests and responses that you should use for testing. However I generally get the sensation that, okay, that’s once more, too low stage. The place do you see the stability between the 2 needs to be? And the way a lot of the documentation that’s generated for a software program venture 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 query. I believe, like I discussed one thing like a tutorial, you actually need 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 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 instrument 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 believe it’s known as the Json API documentation tooling and what it does is it seems at Json’s paperwork and type 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’ll pull out

Nikhil Krishna 00:38:50 Yeah, it pulls out a number of the feedback as properly from the entrance, from the perform. So you may get a excessive stage, two line description of what the API does, however then that is determined by how properly, 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 speculated to be of those sorts. And it returns one thing of this sort. That’s good to automate the pulling of all that and the enumeration of it, however this, the doc strings, how typically have we seen doc strings? So simply clarify what we needed to clarify. So, and that may be a tech author perform to, to assessment that documentation after which perhaps create some tickets and say, hey, you return and revise that doc string to clarify that higher. One in every 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 known as Fu and the documentation says, enter the Fu worth there. And I’m pondering, okay, however what’s Fu? What position does Fu play on this software? 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 will pull all the pieces collectively after which create the factor you’re in search of. However the issues they’re pulling collectively should have some high quality in them and generally they may help level to which elements have to be up to date, however nonetheless it’s rubbish in rubbish out.

Nikhil Krishna 00:40:22 Proper. So now that you simply talked about that he had talked about conserving 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 type of keep that. So mainly we could, if we type of, from a course of perspective, say being self-aware as a software program engineer, we mainly approached doc strings or feedback. And we type of write a correct clarification for each perform. And mainly attempt to use that as documentation. Do you assume that theoretically, it’s attainable to type of combine that in. Do you continue to really feel that there’s a separate place, require a separate folder or perhaps a separate venture inside your Git repository that you need to preserve a separate viewpoint, separate perspective, or a separate kind of documentation?

Bob Ducharme 00:41:29 This actually will get again, I believe, to the excellence between reference guides and consumer guides. Reference guides that’s all reference information stuff. You recognize, you need to checklist all the pieces. I imply, I believe when somebody seems at a product they usually see some unusual icon or menu alternative and assume, properly, what’s that for? The reference information is the place they’d look it as much as discover it out. Actually, with a graphical consumer interface, and this may be tough, however I believe it’s vital. Each instrument tip needs 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 needs 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 shopper builders earlier than every new launch, which instrument suggestions bought modified?

Bob Ducharme 00:42:11 I need to have the ability to title all of the instrument suggestions within the documentation, as a result of that’s the hook for individuals to seek out out what the icon is for. So a whole lot 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 clarify all the pieces they see, they need to be capable of search for what that’s. However, a degree I needed to deliver up about consumer guides is that properly, I discussed how, once I wrote up Desk of Contents for an XSLT e-book, 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 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 have to be accomplished versus utilizing the phrases you made up in 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 checklist 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 might have dev sec ops documented. So, we’ve got safety as code configuration, Esco X, one thing else. That is philosophy that all the pieces type of begins turning into encode. We type 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 type of utterly have, not simply the portion management, have software program processes for it. So, we will have like who to request for documentation, the ICD for different documentation. We have now like a assessment course of. We have now like, we’ve got documentation opinions. 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 believe that treating it as code, permits you to reap the benefits of all these instruments that you’ve that you have already got to work together with your code. So, for instance with opinions, assessment of documentation, like code opinions, a whole lot 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 believe that treating it as code has the benefit of letting you reap the benefits of all these instruments. We simply, why the old school method of making a WORD file to have the documentation there. It doesn’t allow you to reap the benefits of 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 a whole lot 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 typically 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 specific function that we will publish or share with the e-mail publication, for instance. Do you assume the abilities required for this sort of writing, writing advertising content material and writing gross sales content material, how comparable is that? Or how totally different is it from writing technical documentation?

Bob Ducharme 00:46:42 I believe it’s very comparable 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 basically be advertising paperwork as a result of with each the tutorial and launch notes, what you’re seeing is take a look at this cool stuff. Isn’t this nice? Right here’s this factor so that you can use. So I consider them as, as advertising documentation. Advertising and marketing communications is a strategy to promote issues. To say, what are the nice issues in regards to the product and why individuals needs to be concerned about utilizing it. Inside a company you’re generally working with the advertising individuals. You develop into the tech editor, they may 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 an enormous a part of that. They usually’re often glad 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 will get perhaps shopping for the product in order that the technical author is form of coordinating between builders and advertising individuals to assist create new weblog entries.

Nikhil Krishna 00:48:09 So we also needs to embrace this class into our thought of documentation as code and type of subjected to the identical type 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 all of these individuals who might not be accustomed to it?

Bob Ducharme 00:48:36 Yeah, in all probability not the identical processes as a result of, you recognize, gross sales and advertising individuals it’s, you recognize, assigning them tickets and having them test 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 they usually’re in all probability going to have their very own instruments. You recognize, they is perhaps creating PowerPoint shows they usually need your assist with that or Phrase recordsdata that they’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 individuals and the builders. It’s your job as a tech author to translate the technical stuff to the non-technical individuals. So that’s an attention-grabbing place to assist apply that. To serving to with the advertising.

Nikhil Krishna 00:49:27 Superior. So, Bob I believe we’ve type of reached the top 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 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 venture, 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 type of substantial artifact out of it? Proper? So perhaps we publish a e-book in regards to the venture. Is that the identical as, or much like, when it comes to course of, to creating technical documentation? Do you assume a e-book is an efficient method of writing a couple of software program product that retains altering and retains evolving, simply a few questions?

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

Bob Ducharme 00:51:13 And you recognize, 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 could possibly be out of date six months later. In case 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 yr later, a yr and a half later. And that’s an vital factor to consider the sources that go into the creation of the e-book. 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 corporations. So, when you’re writing about launch 3.2, when 3.5 is out, individuals aren’t going to look too laborious at your e-book and it may be much more, some individuals 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 will take me 150 hours and that’s not the way it works. You recognize, one of many causes you can 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 prepare the content material for 300 pages. Secondly, even when you may write 300 pages in 150 hours, that’s simply your first draft. It’s bought to undergo extra drafts simply to enhance the writing to verify it’s technically appropriate. Plus, you’re going to have a whole lot of analysis to do. Some individuals assume, oh, properly, we may do it in half the time if two individuals wrote it collectively, nevertheless 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 e-book goes to look old-fashioned. So there are some highlights to writing a e-book about your software program to be printed by a writer that — I used to be going to say places issues in bookstores. We don’t see that a lot, however — places issues on Amazon the place individuals should buy the e-book, however it may be much more work and it’s a must to contemplate how shortly it’ll develop 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 handle what you have been asking? I used to be type of rambling there.

Nikhil Krishna 00:53:07 I believe that’s an awesome overview of a number of the challenges of e-book writing, and I’m positive 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 together with your technical articles the place you in all probability editorial oversight as properly. However yeah, I believe that’s, that’s an awesome level to type of finish this podcast. I simply needed 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 simply’re engaged on proper now, that is your probability.

Bob Ducharme 00:53:50 If individuals need to contact me on Twitter, I’m @Bob DC, B O B D C. And likewise I did handle to get a few years in the past, the area title, So, yow 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 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 which means is thanks. Thanks, Bob. This has been a reasonably participating dialog. I believe this it’ll be very worthwhile to our listeners. Thanks for spending the time with us.

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

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



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