Ignorance is Strength: Writing Documentation by Learning as You Go


When your company’s codebase is large, complicated, and mostly undocumented, there is a huge burden to bring new hires up to speed — not to mention facilitate communication between distributed teams. How can you leverage the knowledge of experienced engineers — and the ignorance of new engineers — to guide your efforts and create a valuable resource?

At MongoDB, we now have the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Codebase, an internal documentation resource covering everything from an introduction to our build tool to detailed explanations of internal server mechanisms. Content is contributed by engineers across the company, based on their frustrations and requests from other engineers, and edited by volunteers. The most valuable content is often written by engineers who had to struggle through learning about those topics on their own.

I’ll talk about how I started this initiative without any knowledge or power, how I recruited volunteers, and the impact this has had on productivity at our company.