too many words by laura lemay

source code control (and tech writing)

Eric Sink writes a really fabulous weblog about software development and the business of running a small software company. His articles are always well-written, well-through-out, well-argued. I look forward to them and I almost always send them to other people or quote them in conversations (“yes, but Eric SInk says…”). That’s rare. He runs a Windows shop so his point of view is kind of Microsoft-centric, but the quality of his writing is so good I think that can be forgiven. 🙂

The most recent set of articles on his Weblog are about source code control. This isn’t a tool-specific how to check files in and out using CVS or VSS or Subversion kind of thing, its a more general tool-neutral philosophy and overview of why source code control is important and the concepts that source code control systems share. Its really well done.

This is particularly interesting to me from a technical writer point of view. Documentation used to provide these sorts of conceptual overviews (not just for source code control, for any kind of tool). It was one of the tech writer’s most interesting jobs — learning about the concepts behind the tools, and writing about WHY things were the way they were in addition to just the basic task-oriented procedures (HOW to do X). As documentation got smaller and smaller and now has mostly moved into online help, and more people use documentation just to get problem X solved as fast as possible, conceptual overviews really got lost. Now mostly it seems like its passed down through word of mouth or via blog posts like this one. If we’re fortunate it turns up in commercial books, although even a lot of books these days are also focused specifically on tasks and tutorials and hands-on procedures. “Don’t waste the reader’s time with all this background.”

I wonder how much of a market there is for this kind of information. Software companies have obviously decided it isn’t cost-effective so they don’t do it anymore. For commercial books it might be if there’s enough other information there to sell the book. Obviously there’s a market online if its free. 🙂

It’d be interesting to find readership numbers for Eric’s SCM articles after a month or two. Hm.