Learning to code on the cheap

Subject: Learning to code on the cheap
From: Karen Casemier <karen -dot- casemier -at- provia -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2003 13:18:45 -0400

To make a long story short, I'm getting involved with more under-the-hood
type of documentation at my company (software). I'm currently working on a
System Architecture guide, and now realize there are several other manuals
that could use some more technical detail as well. Some of these documents
are for internal use only, so they are specifically geared to a developer
audience, while others are geared at a system admin-type user audience.

I've been doing a pretty decent job of using some source material written by
the developers, using my knowledge of the database, and reading the code.
I've been doing such a passable job that one of my managers has joked about
having me start coding. However, I don't feel the same way. I'm having to
rely too much on the developers - a lot of the time, I'm better off just
scrapping their source documents completely and starting from scratch. I'm
the type of person who hates a lot of dependencies on a project. I have no
problem going to the developers (or any SME) with specific questions, but I
don't want to rely on them to actually write the material. That's my job.
And this is the first time I've not been able to just figure it out on my

I don't want to become a coder, but I'd like to build up my technical
knowledge so I can become more self-sufficient. I would do a google search,
but I'm not quite sure where to start: do I start by trying to build a
general understanding of programming, or do I just jump and try and learn a
language (currently I'm working in C++, but that will be changing - and
other products are written in other languages). I'd like to hear from other
technical writers who work at this level about how they gained the knowledge
they needed. Online resources, books, specific training - whatever. Cheap or
free is best, but if there is a great course out there that can really get
me well started, I might be able to get it approved.

And this is not a thread about technical vs. non-technical writers. I feel
this is a skill I did not need for my past projects, but I do need it now -
and it could lead to some other exciting projects.

Karen Casemier


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