Pantheon Community

WebOps Wednesday AMA: Alex Fornuto

Hi! I’m Alex Fornuto, and I’m a Senior Technical Writer at Pantheon. I help maintain our documentation, and build the automation processes that test and deploy the docs from our GitHub repository to the site.

I’ve been a technical writer for about 7 years, and did all manner of tech support before that. My passion for good documentation stems from my passion for open-source software, where documentation is often overlooked, underserved, or ill-maintained.

I’m also an organizer for the WriteTheDocs NA conference, an avid Linux user, musician (when I find the time), and the household chef.

I’m interested in making sure Pantheon’s documentation is as good as it can be. That’s why we practice Docs As Code philosophy, and encourage our users to be subject matter experts, helping us iteratively improve our docs. It’s my goal that our project README is enough to enable anyone who wants to contribute, and if it’s not, it’s free to edit as well!

Ask me anything! I’m happy to talk about documentation, continuous integration, automated testing, Linux, heavy metal, and your favorite recipes.

It seems as though metal has so many sub-genres now; do you have favorites? Finland recently held the heavy metal knitting world championship - that was fun. Did you catch any of it?

How did you get started working with open-source software, and why have you stayed?

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Defining metal is tough. I can’t say what I like falls into specific sub-genres. My dream band would be Mastodon with Bruce Dickinson on vocals. Super heavy (but not sludgey) guitar, complex drums, bass lines that add to the composition instead of following the guitar, and strong clean vocals.

Musicians / groups to check out:

Not listing the obvious greats like Tool, Iron Maiden, etc.

P.S.: Yes, I had seen the Heavy Metal Knitting performance. I can’t speak to the quality of the knitting, but I expect better metal performances out of that part of the world.

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Thanks for sharing @alex :raised_hands:

In the spirit of the holidays, I just wanted to let you know how thankful for our Docs team. The work you guys do everyday is so impactful! As someone fairly new to Pantheon, I have found Docs extremely helpful.

You shared that you are a “household chef,” what is your favorite thing to make? Speaking of cooking, are you planning on whipping up a Thanksgiving feast tomorrow!? I know I could use the help if you have any interest in flying to sunny, Phoenix, AZ! :upside_down_face:

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@McKennaR Thanks! It’s always nice to know your work is appreciated.

This year I’m following Bon Apetit’s Spiced and Glazed Turkey recipe (I love watching Brad in the kitchen). I’m pairing it with garlic and butter fried brussels sprouts with a maple & chili glaze, and my partner is making sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce from scratch, and pumpkin cheesecake.

Otherwise, I enjoy using the sous vide method for as many things as I can. I also experiment with an Italian style chicken tikka masala (based on this recipe). I always add more garlic than a recipe calls for, and adhere to a principle best summed up in the meme:

Italians don’t measure seasonings. We just sprinkle and shake until the spirits of our ancestors whisper, “enough my child.”

Another great recipe is this Greek style ground beef skillet - Remember when you buy ingredients that there are two different veggies named “endive”.

P.S. If you wanna fly me to AZ from MN during the winter, I’ll cook anything ya want!

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One thing I’ve noticed a lot in the tech sphere is that many of us started our adult lives with a completely different career in mind. Did you plan on going into software/open source/tech when you graduated from high school or did you have alternative plans?

I, for one, did not plan to do anything with software or the internet. I graduated from college with a BA in Spanish and dual minors in non-profit administration and Latin American studies. My first full-time job out of school was for our local community mental health agency!

@katie.richards I’ve been into computers all my life. It was apparent I’d have a career in IT in middle school, when I started getting pulled out of class to troubleshoot other teacher’s computers/printers/projectors. I went to an IT academy for high school, and majored in CS at college.

I’ve been interested in writing since college, but didn’t have much planned beyond that. I enjoyed creative writing, but found my work to be dry, overly descriptive, and a bit verbose. Not great qualities for fiction, but it came in handy later!

I discovered that I liked writing documentation by accident. I was leaving a job at a school that was entirely Windows based, where I had set up a Linux server to deploy disk images to computer labs en mass (they were previously going to computer to computer with a boot disk and external hard drive).

Knowing that they weren’t prepared to administer any Linux system, let alone one designed to push 20GB images over bonded network interfaces, I ended up writing a small booklet covering everything they would need to know to maintain the system. I enjoyed the entire process to much, that I immediately started planning a transition from tech support to tech documentation at my next job.

I’m in tech because I love it, but not because I’m inherently good at it. I love open-source systems because they give me the freedom of endless customization, but I dislike having to read source code to know how to use what’s already built into a system. Documentation is crucial for people like me, who want to be power-users but not developers.

Like I said above, overly descriptive and verbose :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

“Documentation is crucial for people like me, who want to be power-users but not developers.”

So much this! I’m not a developer and am so reliant upon documentation to get my job done (thank you!)

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Woo! Thanks for participating, @alex!

I’m curious; What makes documentation “good”? I know good documentation when I see it, but I suspect there’s a better answer out there?

@sparklingrobots How Stewartian of you.

The key to good documentation is empathy. A good doc is written not from a place of the writer’s understanding of a subject, but the reader’s. We must define the audience we’re writing to, and try out best to put ourselves in their shoes.

At Pantheon we usually make content in two main types: docs and guides. A doc is geared more as reference material, whereas a guide begins from an assumed start state and ends at a goal state. In both cases, it’s important to think about who needs this content, and what knowledge we can and can’t assume they already have.

Assumed knowledge should still be listed in a “Before You Begin” section and, whenever possible, linked to a doc for those who don’t already know it.

But one of the best ways to get good documentation is to make the reader involved in the process. That’s why our docs are on GitHub, and we encourage our users to participate, which can range anywhere from reporting an issue to writing a new doc.

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