Technical documentation plays a pivotal role in the realm of software development, contributing significantly to product development and team collaboration. Despite its importance, the reality of technical documentation often falls short of the ideal. It may sometimes fail to cover all possible scenarios or even describe the exact opposite of what developers require.
Discover the significance of various types of technical documentation in fostering product growth and scalability, as well as their value for developers in software development.
Deciphering API Contracts
API documentation is usually the first thing that comes to mind when developers think of documentation. It is an integral part of their daily work, offering crucial descriptions of classes and methods in frameworks and libraries, with the REST API serving as a prime example.
As a software developer, it is important to ask: How often do you document the classes you create? Do you note what each class accomplishes within your comments? Have you documented all your REST methods with their possible responses?
To address these questions, one must consider the end-user of the product. If the product is a framework, then engineers are the end-users. To enable them to effectively utilize the product, comprehensive documentation of all public classes and methods is essential.
However, what if the product is not a technical tool for others, such as an application for ordering taxis, where there are no public classes or APIs to share? Should documentation be deemed necessary in this context? While there is a consensus that well-written code should be self-explanatory and not require documentation, the reality is often different. Code and APIs, particularly in such products, are in a constant state of flux as the product evolves to meet market needs.
In these cases, documentation serves as a knowledge repository that reminds the team how the API works, aids other teams in contributing, and helps new members get up to speed more quickly.
Mastering the Documentation of Approaches and Flows
Beyond API documentation, another critical type of documentation describes how various components are interconnected and communicate with each other. This involves creating a comprehensive picture of the product, often using API documentation of third-party services and adapting it to the product's needs.
A classic example of this is the documentation of the flow of initiating a payment request from the client to the backend, integrated with a payment provider. Each component — the client, backend, and payment provider — is independent, yet they cannot function effectively without integration.
The creation of this type of documentation is more challenging, requiring both business and technical knowledge. It necessitates the ability to analyze and decompose pieces and present everything clearly and understandably. Even if the documentation is intended for a small team, it should be crafted as if it will be read by thousands. This type of documentation often outlasts the APIs of some classes and covers all areas of the final solution, demonstrating the architectural vision. It serves as a valuable reference point at any time and can be instrumental in career growth.
The Crucial Takeaway
While writing documentation may not be as exciting as writing code, it is an essential aspect of collaboration. As solutions scale, they involve more engineers, leading to increased communication. For a software developer, the most efficient communication tool is well-crafted technical documentation. With a wide array of tools available for implementing and maintaining documentation, the primary goal remains clear: ensure the presence of comprehensive documentation. Embarking on this journey now will yield benefits that will be appreciated in the long run.