DVC project ideas for Google Season of Docs 2019

DVC.org is applying for Google Season of Docs — a new and unique program sponsored by Google that pairs technical writers with open source projects to collaborate on the open source project documentation. It’s happening for the first time in 2019 and we are excited about the opportunity to be a part of it!
  • Svetlana Grinchenko
  • April 23, 20198 min. read

We strongly believe that well-shaped documentation is key for making the product truly open. We have been investing lots of time and energy in improving our docs lately. Being a team of 90% engineers we are eager to welcome the writers into our team and our community. We are happy to share our experience, introduce them to the world of open source and machine learning best practices, guide through the OS contribution process and work together on improving our documentation.

DVC was started in late 2017 by a data scientist and an engineer. It is now growing pretty fast and though our in-house team is quite small, we have to thank our contributors (more than 80 in both code and docs) for developing DVC with us. When working with DVC the technical writer will not only get lots of hands-on experience in writing technical docs, but will also immerse into DVC community — a warm and welcoming gathering of ML and DS enthusiasts and an invaluable source of inspiration and expertise in ML engineering.

About DVC

DVC is a brainchild of a data scientist and an engineer, that was created to fill in the gaps in the ML processes tooling and evolved into a successful open source project.

ML brings changes in development and research processes. These ML processes require new tools for data versioning, ML pipeline versioning, resource management for model training and others that haven’t been formalized. The traditional software development tools do not fully cover ML team’s needs but there are no good alternatives. It makes engineers to custom develop a new toolset to manage data files, keep track of ML experiments and connect data and source code together. The ML process becomes very fragile and requires tons of tribal knowledge.

We have been working on DVC by adopting best ML practices and turning them into Git-like command line tool. DVC versions multi-gigabyte datasets and ML models, make them shareable and reproducible. The tool helps to organize a more rigorous process around datasets and the data derivatives. Your favorite cloud storage (S3, GCS, or bare metal SSH server) could be used with DVC as a data file backend.

If you are interested in learning a little bit more about DVC and its journey, here is a great interview with DVC creator in the Episode 206 of Podcast.init. Listen to it HERE or read the transcript HERE.

The state of DVC documentation

DVC is a pretty young project, developed and maintained solely by engineers. As many OS projects we started from the bottom and for a long time our documentation was a bunch of bits and pieces. Nowadays improving documentation is one of our top priorities. We moved to the new in-house built documentation engine and started working with several technical writers. Certain parts have been tremendously improved recently, e.g. Get Started and certain parts of Commands Reference . So far most of our documentation has been written majorly by the engineering team and there is need for improving the overall structure and making some parts more friendly from a new user perspective. We have mostly complete reference documentation for each command, although some functions are missing good actionable examples. We also have a User Guide, however it is not in very good shape. We strive for making our documentation clear and comprehensive for users of various backgrounds and proficiency levels and this is where we do need some fresh perspective.

How DVC documentation is built

We have an open Github Apache-2 licensed repository for the DVC website, the documentation engine and the documentation files. The website is built with Node.js + React, including the documentation engine (built in-house).

Each documentation page is a static Markdown file in the repository, e.g. example here. It is rendered dynamically in the browser, no preprocessing is required. It means that tech writers or contributors need to write/edit a Markdown file, create a pull request and merge it into the master branch of the repository. The complete documentation contributing guide describes the directory structure and locations for the different documentation parts.

DVC’s approach to documentation work

Documentation tasks and issues are maintained on our doc’s GitHub issue tracker. Changes to the documentation are made via pull requests on GitHub, and go through our standard review process which is the same for documentation and code. A technical writer would be trained in working with our current development process. It generally means that tech writers or contributors need to write/edit a Markdown file, use git and Github to create a pull request and publish it. The documentation contributing guide includes style conventions and other details. Documentation is considered of the same importance as code. Engineering team has a policy to write or update the relevant sections if something new is released. If it’s something too involved engineers may create a ticket and ask for help. There is one maintainer who is responsible for doing final reviews and merging the changes. In this sense, our documentation is very similar to any other open source project.

Project ideas for GSoD’19

We identified a number of ideas to work on and there are two major topics these ideas fall into. Both topics are pretty broad and we don’t expect we can completely cover them during this GSoD but hopefully we can make certain progress.

First of all, we want to bring more structure and logic to our documentation to improve user onboarding experience. The goal is for a new user to have a clear path they can follow and understand what takeaways each part of the documentation provides. In particular, improving how Get Started, Tutorials and Examples relate to each other, restructuring the existing User Guide to explain basic concepts, and writing more use cases that resonate with ML engineers and data scientists.

The other issue we would like to tackle is improving and expanding the existing reference docs — commands descriptions, examples, etc. It involves filling in the gaps and developing new sections, similar to this one. We would also love to see more illustrative materials.

Project 1: Improving and expanding User Guide

Description and details: Reviewing, restructuring and filling major gaps in the User Guide (introductory parts of the basic concepts of DVC), e.g. have a look at this ticket or this one.

Mentors: @shcheklein and @dmpetrov

Project 2: Expanding and developing new tutorials and use cases.

Description and details: We already have some requests for more tutorials, e.g. this ticket. Here is another good use case request . If you are going to work on this project you would need some domain knowledge, preferably some basic ML or data science experience.

Mentors: @shcheklein and @dmpetrov

Project 3: Improving new user onboarding

Description and details: Analyze and restructure user walkthrough across Get started, Tutorials and Examples. These three have one thing in common — hands-on experience with DVC. If you choose this project, we will work together to come up with a better location for the Examples (to move them out of the Get Started shadow), and a better location for the Tutorials (to reference external tutorials that were developed by our community members and published on different platforms).

Mentors: @shcheklein and @dmpetrov

Project 4: Improving commands reference

Description and details: We will work on improving our Commands reference section. This includes expanding and filling in the gaps. One of the biggest pain points right now are Examples. Users want them to be easy to run and try and here is a lot to be done in terms of improvement. We have a good example of how is should be done here.

Mentors: @shcheklein and @dmpetrov

Project 5: Describe and integrate “DVC packages”

Description and details: Describe the brand new feature “DVC packages” and integrate it with the rest of the documentation. We have been working hard to release a few new commands to help with datasets management (have a look at this ticket). It’s a major feature that deserves its place in the Get Started, Use cases, Commands Reference, etc.

Mentors: @shcheklein and @dmpetrov

The ideas we outline above are just an example of what we can work on. We are open for any other suggestions and would like to work together with the technical writer to make the contribution experience both useful and enjoyable for all parties involved. If you have any suggestions or questions we would love to hear from you => DVC.org/support and our DMs on Twitter are always open!


Special thanks to the NumFOCUS for the ideas list inspiration.

If you are a tech writer — check the Technical writer guide. From April 30, 2019 you can see the list of participating open source organizations on the Season of Docs website. The application period for technical writers opens on May 29, 2019 and ends on June 28, 2019.

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