In today’s world, which is very reliant on technology, it’s hard to imagine a software product without any technical documentation that goes with it.
No matter how simple or intuitive the software is, customers still need and want information about it.
However, customers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from technical documentation—it’s important for software developers too.
If you’re wondering what experts like developers can get out of technical documentation, keep reading. By the end of this article, it will be very clear.
Breaks Down Information Silos
Like every other, your company has different departments with different tasks and responsibilities. And those departments deal with different sets of information daily.
That’s completely understandable. For example, the marketing department will focus on one set of information, while the software developers will have other data in front of them.
Their jobs are different, and so is the information they use every day.
However, that could lead to information silos, also known as knowledge or data silos.
They form when every department has its own data set, without communicating or sharing it with others.
Information silos can be a significant problem for any organization. If the departments don’t share the same knowledge, that can impact efficiency.
The same applies to software developers. In fact, according to a StackOverflow survey, 68% of them often deal with information silos at least once a week.
Breaking down information silos is vital for their daily work.
Because if they have all the information available at their fingertips and work within the same context as the rest of the company, they can be more productive, and the company can reap the benefits.
For that to happen, developers need to have all the technical documentation available in one place, the same as other departments.
In other words, there needs to exist a single source of truth.
You can provide that by using a documentation platform like Archbee.
With Archbee, you can create, maintain and keep all of your technical documentation in one place.
That way, everyone can access all the relevant information about a project, including developers.
They can work on projects together, communicate within the documents and create a resource that can help them and the other departments in the company as well.
Having all the information in one place will undoubtedly break the information silos.
And when that happens, the developers can have every piece of knowledge they need to produce their best work.
Promotes Work Consistency
When you offer great services, produce excellent products, and achieve the business goals you’ve set, you want that to be a regular occurrence.
That’s why you need to facilitate consistency.
A consistent approach will also produce dependable results, and that is vital for any business.
If we apply that to the daily work of your software developers, consistency can ensure that they always know why and how to execute a particular task to achieve what they want.
But how can they know that at any given moment? With the help of technical documentation, of course. Here is why should developers know how to write technical content!
Let’s look at coding, the central part of your developers’ jobs.
By keeping the coding style consistent, you ensure that developers can understand each other’s code, saving time and preventing errors.
If your developers have access to technical documentation like that, that will lead to consistently reliable results.
Joseph Gefroh, a software engineering expert, puts it like this:
In other words, as the code becomes more consistent, the software development process itself can produce better results.
Why? Because developers can focus on new ideas and exercise their creativity instead of trying to remember what syntax to use for array creation.
It’s all well-documented, as any repeatable process should be.
To sum up, when everyone has to rely exclusively on their own memory to retrieve important information, that is far from an efficient method of facilitating consistent output from the developers.
On the other hand, putting that information into clear technical documentation provides conditions for great results on a regular basis.
Helps Onboard New Developers
Onboarding can be a stressful period, both for the team and for the newcomer.
The team knows they have to introduce the new hire to their practices and help them become a productive part of the collective.
On the other hand, the new developer wants to fit in as soon as possible and learn to do things the way other developers do them.
And when new developers come in, you should be prepared to provide them with the resources they need for successful onboarding.
So, what should you include in the onboarding documentation? Geoffroy Couprie, an experienced developer himself, started a debate about it on Twitter.
His question provoked many responses with advice on what is most helpful for new developers coming into a team.
For example, below you can see a response which refers to the documentation mentioned by a lot of other Twitter users in that thread:
This list above is a good starting point if you want to build technical documentation helpful for new developers.
That documentation allows them to learn at their own pace about the best practices of their team.
At the same time, more experienced developers can focus on their tasks knowing that the newcomer won’t have to tap on their shoulders for every question they might have.
When it comes to onboarding documentation, few companies can compete with Zapier.
As they say, they document everything so that the new developers and engineers have a wealth of knowledge to draw from.
Their technical documentation covers deploying, performing code reviews, overviews of the system architecture—in short, everything a developer needs to start working.
As we mentioned, the onboarding process can be stressful, but it doesn’t need to be. With detailed technical documentation, it can instead be an exciting learning experience.
Keeps Developers Focused on the Big Picture
Despite what many people imagine when they think about what developers do day to day, it isn’t all about coding. Coding is only one of the responsibilities they have.
For example, this Quora user below points out that coding is the smaller part of his workday.
Claims like that might seem like anecdotal evidence. However, there is data to support it.
For instance, according to the Global Time Code Report, only about 10% of developers code more than two hours a day.
About 40% of them spend more than one hour writing code.
So, what do they do the rest of the time?
That, of course, depends on the developer, but among their usual responsibilities are handling pull requests, fixing bugs, attending meetings, testing features, and writing documentation.
Writing technical documentation is important for developers because it encourages them to zoom out of their work and look at the big picture.
What do we mean by that? For instance, the actual code is only a part of the software product.
If developers focus only on that, they can’t see how their coding impacts the product, how the individual features depend on each other—in short, how the pieces fit together, as Eric Goebelbecker puts it.
That leads to another benefit of focusing on the big picture; it helps developers step out of their comfort zone and puts them in the reader’s shoes.
And when they see things from the readers’ perspective, they can answer questions such as: What are the potential pain points for users? What could make their experience better?
For example, TensorFlow documentation has a feature for running code in Google’s collaborative notebook.
When the user clicks on the button, it takes them to Google’s interactive notebook, which lets them run the code in the browser, as you can see below.
That way, the user can get an interactive experience inside the technical documentation.
Features like that can result from focusing on the big picture while writing technical documentation.
Developers already have the expertise to know what could make helpful documentation, and observing things from different perspectives can increase the quality of their work.
Documentation Writing Improves Developers’ Communication Skills
Software development isn’t a solitary activity.
Today, most tech companies have teams of developers, and each developer interacts daily with other departments, shareholders, users, and other profiles of people.
That’s why communication skills are one of the most important in their arsenal of soft skills.
The job market is already well aware of that.
For instance, below, you can see a job ad where communication skills are on the same list as skills more frequently associated with a developer’s job.
Whether it’s educating the customers who bought the product or service through user manuals or instructing the managers on software features that might be unfamiliar to them, writing documentation is an excellent way to brush up on communication skills.
If you think about it, developers who write documentation need to take complex and highly technical information and mold it into digestible text for a wider audience.
That’s also how Larry Alton, writer and digital marketing specialist, puts it.
That requires some real skill, but the more you work at it, the better you will become.
And over time, writing documentation will make developers even more valuable as employees.
With excellent communication skills, they can write clear documentation about virtually any topic related to your product.
Take a look at the part of the Slack API documentation below:
Now, API, or Application Programming Interface, is a highly technical topic—you’re unlikely to find someone casually reading API guides to relax on the beach.
However, a developer who is also a great communicator can write about it clearly and concisely, like in the example above.
In only a few sentences, the writer has explained what Bolt is, which programming languages it’s available for, its purpose, and what it includes out of the box.
Whether you’re an experienced programmer or a junior developer, you’ll be able to understand everything in that document.
And if your developers practice writing documentation, they’ll get to that level, providing even more value to the whole company.
We hope that we’ve delivered on the promise we made in the introduction of this article and that you now know why technical documentation is important for developers.
Even experts in their fields, like software developers, can benefit from technical documentation, regardless if it’s available to them or if they create it themselves.
From being more efficient and consistent in their work to producing quality materials for customers, teammates, or managers, there’s a lot to gain from technical documentation.
Learn why is technical documentation important for developers and make sure that developers don’t miss out on those opportunities.