Should Documentation Writers Be Paid Better Than Developers?

Comment: Given the importance of documentation in making software usable, should documentary filmmakers earn more than developers?

Image: SIphotography, Getty Images / iStockphoto

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Without good documentation, good code … isn’t. Great documentation, after all, makes code more accessible, more useful. Wrong code? Well like Taproom CEO Kelly Vaughn tweeted, “Please, please, PLEASE – I’m begging you – invest time and resources in your documentation. I’ve been going around in circles for 3 days now trying to fix the same problem. because the documentation is terribly lacking. ”

In fact, if you ask developers what support they most want to be productive with software, like SlashData has done, that’s the documentation. Nothing else comes close.

And yet, it’s not clear that companies value their documentation writers accordingly. Or maybe the problem is, docs writers don’t value themselves as much as they should. RedMonk’s KellyAnn Fitzpatrick Has Great Analysis of Write the Docs 2020 Salary Survey. But for me, the biggest takeaway that is implied but never stated: Few, including the document writers themselves, can give enough importance to documentation.

“Docs or you don’t ship it”

When I led the Adobe Developer Ecosystem team, we tried to institute a few fundamentals. One was that product teams should invest more in the open source communities they increasingly depended on. A second was that product teams should by default use public APIs, not private ones. Implicit in this second principle was the belief that if a team knew their API would be public, they would do a better job creating and documenting the API.

SEE: How to Build a Successful Developer Career (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

I believed then, as I believe now, that documents are essential to the adoption of software (and APIs). Therefore, I agree with former Twitter documentary filmmaker Troy Howard who said: “Docs or you don’t ship it.” Documentation, in other words, is not incidental to the product: it is an integral part of the product.

So it’s no surprise that developers cite documentation as the most important thing a software vendor can offer them, far above other important options like training, developer tools, etc. (Figure A).

Figure A


Image: SlashData

Great technical writers don’t just write, important as that is. According to Fitzpatrick, “[T]The skill of being able to string words together is not sufficient to ensure the production of excellent technical documentation. how to write it down and how to explain it, is just as important.

SEE: Recruitment kit: Technical writer (TechRepublic Premium)

Sounds difficult, right? It also seems important. Given the importance of software to the running of business and society, one would think that we would be paying a high price for the people who can make software useful to a wider audience than it otherwise would.

Well, maybe we do.

Get paid

If you look Indeed salary data, the average base salary for a US-based software engineer is approximately $ 104,100, plus a cash bonus of $ 4,000 per year. If this is correct, it is roughly in line with what a US-based documentation writer does, according to the Write the salary survey Docs 2020 The data (Number B).

Number B


Image: Write the Docs 2020 salary survey

(A quick spot check against Glassdoor and other data sources for software engineers suggests the same rough parity exists for other countries.)

I would call it a victory. Law? If a software developer is to earn $ 100,000, shouldn’t the documentary maker earn about as much, given that he will be just as important to the success of the software?

Most Write the Docs salary survey respondents (72%) seem to think so, saying they are “satisfied” with their pay. But should they be? For the 10.7% of respondents who say they are “dissatisfied” with their salary, the main reason is “the salary is too low”. And for the few people who are “dissatisfied” with their job, the main reason (cited by 46%) is “the role is undervalued or underfunded”.

Maybe it’s the writer in me, Oliver Twist style, asking, “Please sir, I want more. And maybe we don’t need more. Maybe documentary filmmakers are earning enough. Yet software engineers continue to be paid more and more, and the top 25% of developers earn much more than that $ 104,000 average. I don’t have the data, but I risk assuming that the best documentary filmmakers fall far short of the salaries of the best engineers, despite a significant or even equivalent impact.

I would love to hear your point of view. Do you think good documentation writers should be paid as much or more than good software engineers? Why or why not? Talk to me on Twitter or in the comments below.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

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Sam D. Gomez