Write the docs first!

February 15, 2023

If you’re working on a new infrastructure project (i.e. your customers are other developers), then my strong recommendation is write the user documentation for it first in your design doc.

Consider CLI tooling, library interfaces, config file formats etc - anything the user will interact with or depend on. Try sketching out what this looks like in a design doc up front - before spending weeks implementing it.

If appropriate, consider showing both:

  • a “usage” section the shows a sample callsite or config file that implements the new thing; and
  • a “specification” section that shows all the possible options/arguments/values of the new thing

(Don’t spend too much time getting this perfect - an informal Google doc to show the most important bits will usually suffice at this stage.)

Even if you don’t know the implementation details of how the thing will be implemented, we can still decide the look and feel of the public interface first. I usually find it helpful to start here and write out a skeleton version of the thing without any actual implementation.

By doing this:

  • Your reviewers can more easily understand what the new thing is and how it will work.
  • You can receive feedback earlier in the iteration cycle if the implementation needs to be changed based on changes to the interface. (I’ve seen a few projects where code needs to be scrapped and reworked as a result of this.)

The best part is, you’d (ideally) end up writing documentation for this anyway, so this just front-loads that work :)

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