Last week, I wrote a book!

Three of them, actually :-) And, of course, in the finest traditions of Open Source, it was a (very!) collaborative effort.

Back in July, only a week or two after I’d given notice at Google, the Open Source Programs Office there published a Call for Proposals for a Doc Camp to be held in association with the Google Summer of Code program. I applied, with very little real idea of what was involved. We’d write a book in a week. Freely licensed, on some aspect of Open Source… stuff.

I misread the application form, and thought that proposals would be selected by August 5th. So, when I hadn’t heard anything by the second week of August, I assumed I was out. Not so! A week or two later, I got an email to say I’d been accepted! Google organised the hotel for me, and I booked my travel (train down from Portland, a whole new adventure, and flights back up). I knew that four projects had been accepted, and that there’d be a handful of individual contributors, but not a whole lot else.

I arrived in Mountain View on Sunday night, and met up with some of the other contributors. It was a quiet night, with an early start the next morning. Monday was spent in an unconference’y format, although we explicitly didn’t take notes during our sessions (preferring to focus on the moment than to document for posterity), and there was more structure than a typical unconference (including two pre-scheduled presentations, and some planned exercises to get us ready to create our masterpieces!) The “free agents” rotated among the various teams, and I spent some time working with the Sahana and OpenStreetMap contributors.

Tuesday morning started bright and early, with a meeting to assign the free agents to teams that they would stick with for the day. I’d been wanting to give OpenMRS some love for quite a while, and was very grateful to Anne Gentle, who let me swap with her in order to do that!

The first hour of work was focused on creating a table of contents. We based ours heavily on that of the CiviCRM book created over (several) previous Book Sprints, and were pretty much finished within the hour. Some of the other teams had a harder time, but like many of the deadlines over the course of the week, this one was set more to focus us than to limit our collaboration.

Once we had a table of contents, we split the chapters up based on interest and knowledge, and started writing. I was a bit terrified at first, knowing essentially nothing about the product, but I started out with the “Installation” chapter, and with only a small amount of TIAS, managed to build a reasonably coherent narrative. The rest of the people in the room were all heads-down in their own writing, and I am deeply indebted to the folk in the IRC channel for their help and reviews!

The book sprint took three days, and I’ll freely admit that my recollection of exactly what happened when is hazy at best. We were doing 13+hr days at Google, plus extra work in the evenings when we got back to the hotel. Everything was, of course, catered for us, and mealtimes were a welcome break but we were always keen to get just a bit more work done! It was intense, and exhausting, and exhilarating.

But by Thursday night, each group had written a book. I had worked with three teams (OpenMRS, OpenStreetMap, and KDE), both writing and editing. Every single chapter of each of those three books, I’d done at least one editing pass over.

Friday was a short day for the Doc Sprint, but I’d gotten talking to the OpenStreetMap crowd about helping out during the Grace Hopper Celebration, so I joined some of them on a trip up to San Francisco. We had a fabulous time visiting Langton Labs, and catching the opening of an exhibition at The Intersection (Here Be Dragons–get to it if you can!), but by the time we got back to Mountain View, the Mentor Summit had clearly descended :-) That was, of course, a fabulous event in its own right, but one of the highlights was definitely getting the printed & bound copies of the books we’d worked on.

I’m exhausted, as I said, but also inspired. The Doc Sprint is clearly a well thought-out and thoroughly refined process (even if it feels very experimental as a first-timer!), and I’m incredibly proud of what we produced. It would be a respectable outcome from several weeks of work, and we managed it in barely three days. I’m looking forward to talking to other communities about the idea, and already hoping that Google will run it again next year–I know I could pull a team together to write a book about The Apache Way, and based on the requests we already get for resources on the topic, I’m confident it would be well-read!

All in all, the Doc Sprint was an amazing event. Huge thanks go to all involved: Google’s OSPO, the project teams, Adam Hyde of FLOSSmanuals and Gunner of Aspiration Tech, as well as all the other facilitators and free agents.

5 comments to Last week, I wrote a book!

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