By Sarah R. Rodlund, Senior Technical Writer and Andre Klapper, Staff Developer Advocate, Technical Engagement
To keep track of the progress of ongoing technical projects and bug fixes, Wikimedia’s volunteer and staff developers use a task tracking software called Phabricator (sometimes called Phab). Phabricator is an invaluable tool that makes it possible for people around the globe to collaborate on, plan, and track technical projects of any size. It has many features and can be used in many different ways. The flexibility is a feature, but it can be intimidating for newer users.
This last year, Andre Klapper, a Developer Advocate at the Wikimedia Foundation created a set of Phabricator video tutorials to help new users learn how to use Phabricator effectively.
The tutorials, five in all, cover the basics of navigating Phabricator, improving personal productivity, working with projects and workboards, searching and listing, and creating tasks.
Are the Phabricator tutorial videos for you?
“The videos are mainly for people who have not used Phabricator before (or who are new to technical projects in Wikimedia in general) and who want or need to get an overview of its basics – what does Phabricator offer, how can I create a task, how can I use it effectively for planning and collaborating on technical work in the Wikimedia movement,” Andre says.
He explains further, “Our technical tools in the Wikimedia movement are quite powerful. That often comes with some complexity. When people want to get a specific task done, then our written documentation helps them.”
But newcomers don’t always know what tasks they want to perform because they don’t have an understanding of what Phabricator is.
“When you want to get an introduction to a tool and what’s possible, then task-oriented documentation doesn’t provide you an overview.”
The video tutorials complement the written documentation and provide an additional format for individuals who learn in different ways, “Reading isn’t everyone’s favorite style of learning – some prefer visual learning. Grabbing some popcorn and a drink to watch a video in which you learn something for life is a viable alternative.”
What are the most common issues you see for folks who are new to Phabricator?
One advantage of the video tutorials is that they cover common issues and make it possible for contributors to support themselves when they run into issues.
“Every new tool at first is confusing – what is this good for, how does this work, does it fit my needs, where can I find what I’m looking for? There are differences between wikis and other project management tools; that can create a barrier to contribution,” Andre says.
No matter your level of ease with Phabricator, it’s helpful to know some tips and tricks that make using it easier. For instance, it isn’t obvious to everyone how to ‘filter down’ for certain tasks on a workboard, or that there is an advanced search with more granular results than the global search. The type of markup used in Phabricator is different than the type of markup used in MediaWiki, so it’s a good idea to look at the preview when you are writing something.
The tutorials also can help users to improve the quality of their tasks and make collaboration easier for everyone, from sharing the best ways to structure tasks, to what kinds of information to provide to avoid misunderstandings, allow reproducing, and save developers’ time.
Some advice for newcomers to Phabricator
Everyone makes mistakes. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: we all learn together,” Andre says.
If you have a question you can ask on the Phabricator Help Talk page. Someone will reach out to help you.
Did you learn any lessons from making the tutorials?
Creating videos requires quite some planning – deciding what you’d like to cover, where to make the cut, creating a coherent story, and of course the technical aspects of recording and cutting screencasts.
In the spirit of knowledge sharing, Andre documented his technical process of creating the tutorials for others to read and potentially learn from.
A piece of software can never suit everybody’s needs and personal preferences. However, we should strive to make software more inclusive by helping everyone to understand how to use it effectively. The new video tutorials are another step in the direction of making Wikimedia’s technical projects more accessible to everyone.
About this post
If you want to know more about how Andre created the video tutorials, you can learn more in this blog post.
Featured image credit: Light painting screw – backwards, Karsten Knöfler, GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.