Back in 1974, Brian Kernighan wrote the first documented “Hello World” example. It was an introductory exercise for the C Programming Language, distributed as an internal memo for other engineers in Bell Labs. This allowed his colleagues to get their feet wet with writing their first C Program back when computers were room-sized, and they limited time working on these machines.
A few years later in 1978, he published a book with Dennis Ritchie titled, “The C Programming Language,” which began with the Hello World example. This illustrated the minimal working program one could write to understand the workflow and syntax to get started in C. Hello World then became the de facto standard as an introduction to any computer language.
Today, if you want to introduce a programing language, scripting language, API, or library, you will need a rock-solid Hello World example for prospective users to gain confidence with your product. Hello World has become the trivial exercise to quickly show basic syntax and workflow for a new programming language, tool, or API.
Unfortunately, when it comes to writing a Hello World example, programmers mistake how long you spend doing the exercise with how long they should spend writing it.
Creating A Compelling Hello World Example
The most important thing needed for a good Hello World example is to not forget it.
Programmers read and use Hello World examples often as they learn new skills. When it’s our turn to write documentation, it’s easy to assume that we write this example once and leave it behind as we dive into more interesting details to write about, a set it and forget it attitude.
I would suggest that you should revisit your Hello World example regularly, testing with a fresh audience to see their interpretation of the example. Look for opportunities to watch a brand new user try your example. As you watch their efforts trying your Hello World example, you need to ask yourself questions like:
- Can they navigate the example without outside prompting?
- Do they have to Google something in order to make it work?
- Do you find it necessary to explain your intention once they have completed the example?
- Are they excited to try more?
Watching a variety of users with different skill sets navigate your Hello World example (without hovering and interfering) will tell you so much about how successful that example is, provided you put in the time observing their reactions. Be sure to have a constructive conversation once they finish to find out what worked for them, and where they felt stuck.
Return to your work with fresh eyes
Self-editing your own written work has the best results when you can view it with detachment. Time away from your creative efforts is one of the best tools to view it with fresh eyes, and only then are you able to make the edits necessary to take your work from good to great.
Returning to try your own Hello World example a week or a month later (after watching other users try it out) will allow you the perspective to remove verbose passages and add in necessary information to help future users get through this first important step. This time away from your work will allow you to more quickly decide what should remain, and what needs enhancement.
Hello World can help you convert more sales leads
A welcoming Hello World example will take a cold sales lead and warm them up giving you the opportunity to turn them into a customer.
Having information readily available that make users feel empowered to dive in deeper to whatever your technology is will warm them up to your product by the time they talk to you. Saying you have the best in class API documentation will really only be useful if you can prove it, and Hello World can help build that trust.
Give your potential user a taste of what’s to come.
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