Content, Community and Conferences – My techcomm journey 2019

Compared to my last such blog post in 2017, here is how my techcomm journey went this year.

It has been a tough year, professionally and personally.

Professionally, I’ve had the opportunity to work on 2 projects that will shape Australia’s energy landscape in terms of distributed energy resources. While the projects have had huge learning opportunities for me as a Technical Writer, they have also caused stress (unlike known before) and a lot of work grief and health issues.

Personally, I lost family members (yes, multiple unfortunately, including our pet Labrador, Benji) to that inevitable transition at the end of life. I don’t feel I’ve had enough time to grieve these losses and something has to give.

I digress.

API Documentation

One of my aims at the start of this year was to try and get exposure to API documentation. With the proliferation of APIs across industries and projects, chances are a tech writer will be expected to document API contextual information at some point.

While my previous interaction to API documentation was via a guide that was handed to me for updates, over the year, I found myself increasingly involved in reading API designs, documenting technical specifications around APIs and writing API contextual content. Working on a project, the technical specifications set the cadence for API development and became the resource for future development work around user APIs.

I also got an opportunity to test API calls using Postman and write content for API developer portal, which I rather enjoyed. From a personal viewpoint, it would be awesome if we can somehow involve more diagrams or visuals in API docs.

As a side hustle, I got a chance to work on restructuring and creating some API docs for a fintech product, adding to my knowledge of documenting use cases and installation material.

All of this is thanks to Tom Johnson’s fantastic API material and Peter Gruenbaum’s courses on Udemy.

Working on agile teams

For the latter half of the year, I worked on 2 agile teams simultaneously and let me tell you first up – it is not fun.

While the projects were related to each other, it was still a challenge to keep up with multiple teams, stand ups and issue tracking via different mechanisms. Prioritising, scheduling and planning deliverables around conflicting deadlines -ain’t that the tech writing dream? Happy to report that the documentation was delivered within expected timeframes, though we had to lower the quality expectation (I know, not ideal) and use alternative communication to address concerns and meet our commitments.

Here’s what I learned working on these projects:

  • Set up expectations early, even if you have to make some hard decisions and displease some people along the way.
  • Be open to anything. I certainly wasn’t and I think that may have contributed to the unnecessary stress.
  • Always advocate for the user (the people you are designing the system for). In the short term, it may rub off the project teams the wrong way, but in the long term, it helps deliver a successful project/product.
  • There is still a long way to go when it comes to treating the technical writer on par with other project members. (Maybe this is specific to some projects or industries, but it does happen)
  • Never stop the conversations – they are the fuel in the project management engine.

Presenting and networking at conferences

This year, I got an opportunity to present at 2 conferences: STC Summit in Denver and TechCommNZ in Tauranga. I spoke about the importance of Release Notes at the STC Summit and Sustainable Content at the TechCommNZ conference. I also chaired and was part of the 3rd Write the Docs Australia conference in Sydney.

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Presenting at conferences with varying levels of audience numbers (roughly 60 attended my talk at STC – it was a multi-track event, and 80 at TechCommNZ) has greatly added to my confidence in public speaking.

I also enjoyed the networking and social aspect of the conferences – particularly the Hot Dogs dinner in Denver and the awesome trivia night hosted by 2 tremendous trivia masters in Tauranga (Tony Self and Dave Gash). The Write The Docs AU social night at the Harts Pub at The Rocks was equally fantastic.

Here are some personal observations and notes:

  • Personally, I prefer the theatre style seating when presenting, as I feel the cabaret style seems more closed and non-inclusive.
  • While I am not a big mover while presenting, I don’t mind using the space around the lectern for effect and also aerate a bit (Confession: I tend to sweat a lot, and I think that’s more due to the fact that I like dressing up a bit than stress!)
  • Always carry lip balm!
  • Big conferences (STC with 500+ attendees) can be intimidating, but breakfasts (if included) are a great way to interact with as many people as possible. Tea/coffee breaks and lunches can get chaotic, but with sit-down breakfast, you can learn a lot about what people are up to, in a relaxed manner. I sat with a group of tech writers from at least 5 different states (US) and we spoke about so many interesting things, including places with no natural water bodies, best hiking routes, and of course, Nebraska.
  • The 2-3 days after a conference are always the best and the worst. Best because I have learnt so much over the conference, and worst because the brain and the body really feels drained (like hit with a mac truck) after the conference.
    I found it best to de-stress by going on long walks/hikes to recharge. I climbed the awesome Mt Manganui mountain and was treated to this splendid site.

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  • Unplanned lunches are the best. I had a chance to finally meet the legendary Tom Johnson (after having followed his blog since 2007). What an amazingly cool person!

Google Season of Docs

This year, I was selected to work on a long term project for GeoNetwork, as part of the Google Season of Docs 2019. My role on the project is to help create templates and set up a documentation strategy for the project, in addition to addressing some immediate content gaps. The project finishes in Feb 2020 and I will be submitting a report as part of this experience.

Write the Docs Australia

We have had a great 3.5 years of building a strong community Down Under. The Write the Docs Australia meetups now run regularly every couple of months across Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. In the last 3 years, we have had close to 40 events, including remote meetups and webinars from speakers from US and Singapore.

We organised our 3rd Write the Docs Australia conference in Sydney this year and it was sold out! I’ve greatly enjoyed organising and managing the community and hope to continue contributing to this.

Self-learning

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying out the Hugo+Git+Netlfiy toolchain to build a portfolio as a side project and have been having fun working in Markdown and the Command Line Interface.

I’ve also had some interesting train commutes, learning about Python, Git and some of its applications.

Wishlist for 2020

  • I’d like to challenge myself by presenting at events, be they meetups or conferences, outside my immediate comfort zone (tech writing). In 2020, I will be actively pursuing Call for Papers for non tech writing events.
  • I’ve always been in awe of sketchnotes and wouldn’t mind learning some of this form of penmanship!
  • Over the last few years, I feel I have contributed a lot to overall product docs strategy and managing writing teams and hope to continue adding to this experience.
  • Lastly, I hope I’ll get a chance to work on more open source documentation.

Three years of Write the Docs Australia!

Write the Docs Australia turns three on 20th July 2019!

Looking back at my post from 2018, Write the Docs Australia – 2 years and counting, we have had quite a thrilling ride (and guess what, it ain’t over yet). In fact, going by the growing trend of people getting involved in documentation and a broader understanding of this skill, this community can only go upwards from here. The community continues to provide friendships, knowledge sharing and opportunities to a very diverse group of people who care about and are passionate about documentation.

Challenges and Opportunities

Starting off with a few people across this land, the community has blossomed out to hundreds of members who have attended, volunteered or presented at, and continue to support our events. While managing events around the physical location of members is a challenge, we have had a few remote events that have helped documentarians participate and share their stories.

One of the better opportunities that have come about is engagement with other similar groups to collaborate on popular topics and sharing presenters for joint events. Write the Docs Australia and Write the Docs India organised a joint meetup around open-source documentation in May 2019 and it was well attended and received. Thanks to Rajakavitha Kodhandapani, Sarah Maddox, Damini Satya and Jared Morgan for making this happen.

Documentation is critical to any role, product, system, process and this community provides a good environment to nurture this passion and add to your skills and professional networks. One of the most common feedback from our events is how this community provides a safe space for us to demonstrate our knowledge, showcase our skills and share this with a diverse group.

Personally, I continue to learn a lot about building and growing a community, connecting with potential speakers and convincing them to speak, promoting the community, and organising the logistics and liaising with volunteers for various events and the conference. Speaking at these events has given me a lot of confidence in public speaking which has, in turn, helped me present at other technical writing conferences.

Membership stats

The Write the Docs Australia meetup membership now stands at over 648 and while not all of them are regular attendees, we’ve certainly established a steady pace of attendees and volunteers for our events. What I found was the varied nature of our talks that has encouraged a range of people to attend, depending on the presentation topic, which has always brought about different perspectives, ideas, and questions.

Slack channel

The Australian WTD slack community has crossed 160 members (was 97 same time last year).
In the same time range, the Write the Docs Slack community now stands at 6788 (was 4186 same time last year).

Write the Docs Australia events

In the last 2 months, we organised 14 events across Australia:

  • 4 in Brisbane
  • 3 in Melbourne
  • 3 in Sydney
  • 2 remote sessions
  • A joint webinar around Open Source Docs (Write the Docs India and Write the Docs Australia), and
  • The first full day Australian conference

A big thank you to all the speakers who volunteered and readily presented and participated in our events.

Docs or it didn’t happen

We covered Product Management, Writing hints and tips, Content Strategy, SMEs, Screenshots, Release Notes, Content Mathematics, UX Writing, Writing for Blockchain, Open Source Communities, Dev API Portals, Dev Documentation, Career Progression and more.

Remote presentations and webinars were popular from a pure attendee viewpoint, and many people willing to share their knowledge in that manner.
We had 2 remote sessions: a lunchtime session on teaching engineers about content strategy presented by Stephanie Blotner (Uber) and another Australia-wide one featuring 4 lightning talks and 2 presentations on GitLab by Evan Read and tech writing and metrics by Matt Reiner.

Thanks to ongoing support from companies like Atlassian, General Assembly, Credit Sense, and Google who hosted our events and sponsored food/drinks generously.
We streamed most events live and almost all presentation recordings are freely available on the Write the Docs Australia Youtube channel.
All of these events have been undertaken by volunteers on their own time and in addition to their busy schedules, so a huge shoutout to everyone involved in keeping the community going.

Write the Docs Australia conference 2018

We held our first full 2-day conference in Melbourne on 15th and 16th November at Library at the Docks. Here’s a quick recap of the event. Thanks to Darren Chan for the brilliant photos and videos of the event.

 

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What’s coming up in 2019?

Our 2-day Write the Docs Australia conference takes place in Sydney on 14 and 15 November and we hope to make it a regular feature on the Australian tech/ documentation as well as the Write the Docs conferences calendar.

More information on the conference: https://www.writethedocs.org/conf/australia/2019/
CFPs are currently open until midnight, 9th Aug.

Before the conference, we will have another round of meetup events across Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney (27 Sept). There is a possibility of another remote WTD event (to be announced).

We are also looking at collaborating with Write the Docs India and Write the Docs Seoul for joint webinar style events.

Write the Docs Australia – 2018 Conference

For the sake of this particular post, I am going to put aside my conference wrangler/WTD organiser hat and instead blog as someone who writes content, words for a living.

Why would I be interested in attending this conference in November?

What can I learn in 2 days?

How can I benefit from spending 2 days with a largely unknown group of people?

Read on then…

It’s local! (At least for some of us)

Sure, I could possibly convince an employer to sponsor my travel to a relevant conference in Chicago, or Florida or Berlin or even Singapore. The cold hard fact staring at me right now is that I work primarily as a contractor and need to pay for my own travel, accommodation, and registration, not factoring in loss of income while I attend a conference.

The Write the Docs conference is as local as it gets (Melbourne) and while people are welcome to fly in from anywhere in the world, as an Australian, I’d happily pay to travel locally within Australia. While I’ve been to other tech writing conferences in Australia and NZ, the Write the Docs conference is a bit broader in the sense that it is targeted at anyone who writes documentation as part of their role, so it is not just aimed at technical writers. In fact, last year, the split between tech writers and non-tech writers was about 50-50.

Plus, it is Melbourne, the cultural capital of the country and one of the cities that really understands “coffee”.

Documentation is not simply an afterthought

There is plenty of evidence around to indicate that content rules and has been quite significant for quite some time now. There are conferences entirely dedicated to content – strategy, writing, design, planning, metrics. As a technical writer, there is no better time or opportunities to contribute to the user’s content experience. Irrespective of what your primary role in an organisation, sooner or later, you will be involved in writing documents of some sort – be it documentation plans, requirements, design, user, product or system.

I would like to see where this content journey will take me and attending a conference like Write the Docs gives a lot of people a lot to think about documentation.

Listen to different perspectives

Documentation isn’t just a writer’s thing anymore and perhaps never has been. Anyone who can, should absolutely contribute to the organisation’s content. The more people care and are involved in the documentation can only be a good thing for the organisation.

I want to share my experiences and soak in the knowledge, people from various roles bring to documentation. As a technical writer, sometimes, you are limited to how you view documentation, but as I’ve learnt by talking to a whole lot of skilled individuals in organisations I’ve worked in, there are so many ways you can assist the end user when it comes to content.

A conference like Write the Docs brings all these talented individuals in a single room and it opens up a whole new level of collaboration when it comes to docs.

A busperson’s holiday

I don’t mind looking at sales pitches and seeing demos of and trialling new products that can make my work easy, but I gain the most out of other people’s experiences. I would rather learn from their mistakes, lean in on their gotchas and takeaways and make something out of it. It is also a good feeling to sometime sit in a room full of intelligent people from various areas of expertise and just listen.

Last year, attendees got a chance to work on open source projects as part of the Write the Docs Day. It was great fun creating documentation while you are on a day off from work (where you create docs). Kind of a busperson’s holiday.

Stay relevant

As a contractor, I am constantly learning, reusing my skills and sharing my knowledge to add to my professional equity. The better my network, the better are my chances to work on a wide range of products and projects.

Staying relevant with where content is going, how it is delivered, where it is been published is critical and this is where meetups, conferences, and workshops are important. At a conference like Write the Docs, not only do I get to listen to presentations, I also get a chance to network, present my ideas (in a lightning talk or host an unconference session), write documentation for open source projects (doc sprints) or be hands-on in workshops that span a range of tools and techniques.

Costs

Write the Docs conferences are very affordable and a terrific return on investment with the kind of activities they cover. No other conference in my opinion (or at least the ones I’ve paid to attend) come close to the value the Write the Docs provide.

But, for me, it is more for me than that. It is about a community that cares about documentation and loves sharing their experience and knowledge.

So, I’ll be at the Write the Docs Australia conference this Nov in Melbourne. Here’s the schedule of the conference: http://www.writethedocs.org/conf/australia/2018/schedule/

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Maybe I’ll see you there too?

Write the Docs Australia: 2 years and counting…

This Friday, 20th July 2018 marks Write the Docs Australia’s second birthday.

Last year, when I documented A year of documentation goodness I had a fair idea of how I wanted to contribute to and build this community. I am amazed at how the community has grown over the last two years and the friendships and opportunities it has provided to a very diverse group of people who care about and are passionate about documentation.

I hope it has benefitted the community as much as it has to me in terms of personal growth, knowledge sharing, learning, and networking.

Challenges

Organising the community meetup events and the conference has been one of the most challenging roles outside of work. I have learnt a lot about building and growing a community, finding speakers and convincing them to speak, promoting the community, and organising the logistics of the event.

Russell Dickenson and Brice Fallon-Freeman (Brisbane), Sarah Maddox and Michalina Ziemba (Sydney), Nicola Nye (Melbourne), Leticia Mooney (Adelaide) and Shauna McGee Kinney (Perth) have been a huge support in helping me start, organise and keeping the city-specific events running smoothly.

In order for this community to grow organically, it is important for members to support us by attending, volunteering, take every opportunity to speak and share their knowledge and promoting the community within their organisations. Documentation is critical to any role, product, system, process and this community provide a good environment to nurture this passion and add to your skills and professional networks.

Membership stats

Speaking of members, the Write the Docs Australia membership now stands at 479 and while not all of them are regular attendees, we’ve certainly established a steady credence of attendees and volunteers for our events. Luckily, the varied nature of our talks has encouraged a range of people to attend, depending on the presentation topic, which has always brought about different perspectives, ideas, and questions.

Here is some data provided by Meetup.com:

WTD_Joins
Member joins
WTD_Going
Active/passive participation

Slack channel

The Australian WTD slack community has close to 97 members.

In the same time range, the Write the Docs slack community now stands at 4186 (was 2206 same time last year).

Write the Docs Australia events

We’ve certainly had a very busy 12 months with 15 events across Australia:

  • 4 in Brisbane
  • 3 in Melbourne
  • 3 in Sydney,
  • 2 remote sessions,
  • 1 each in Adelaide and Perth and
  • The first one-day mini-conference/event (Add Sarah Maddox’s blog link)
  • Collaborated with Young Coders AU and Justin Cheong to hold a Draw+Code+Write workshop for kids. It was very well received and we hope to do this again.

A big thank you to all the speakers who volunteered and readily presented and participated in our events.

All things documentation

  • We talked about Content Strategy, Design errors, UX documentation, working with chatbots, SVG for tech writers, history of Australian games industry, minimalism in documentation, developers documentation, imposter syndrome, Information Architecture, Q&A around tech writing teams and hiring, contributing to open source docs, moving docs from word to web, ethics and documentation, doc fix-its, API documentation and knowledge management.
    From a pure attendee viewpoint, there is just so much documentation goodness people are willing to share and so much to learn if you are documenting in any aspect of your role.
  • We had 2 remote sessions: a lunchtime session on docs-like-code presented by @Anne Gentle all the way from the US and another Australia-wide one featuring 5 lightning talks and 2 presentations on release notes and devrel from members all across Australia.
  • We had founders, writers, content strategists, graduate students, developers, UXers, QA, product owners and engineers attend, network, speak and share their experiences.
  • We had ongoing support from companies like Atlassian, General Assembly, Red Hat, and BigWorld/Wargaming who hosted our events and sponsored food/drinks generously.

All of these events have been undertaken by volunteers on their own time and in addition to their busy schedules, so a huge shoutout to everyone involved in keeping the community going.

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What’s coming up in 2018?

The first full 2-day Write the Docs Australia conference takes place in Melbourne on 15 and 16 November and we hope to make it a regular feature on the Australian tech/ documentation as well as the Write the Docs conferences calendar.

Before the conference, we will have another round of meetup events across

There is a possibility of another WTD event (in collaboration with UX and CS communities) in Adelaide.

We will round up the year with another remote session (details to be confirmed) in December.

My Techcomm Journey – 2017

Yet another year has come and gone. This year, I have seen the rise of the term UX writer, chatbots making an appearance in the most interesting of places, and Markdown becoming the favourite tool for many writers.

My professional journey was slightly different to the last one I blogged about, but it was still a step further in more ways than one.

Here’s a summary of my career in 2017 (in no particular order)

Turning non-believers into believers

Last year, I blogged about how hard it was to turn some non-believers (in documentation) into people who appreciate what we (as tech writers) do, so this year, we took it upon ourselves (my team and I) by putting things into action. Instead of simply talking about it, we took it upon ourselves to prototype, test and demonstrate.

At work, we had operated as a Word/PDF and Sharepoint shop, but we brought in Confluence, Trello and JIRA into our mix of content tools and made an immediate impact on the way our teams accessed and used our content. Having a responsive, always relevant and device-independent tool translated to instant productivity gains. The teams were reviewing content faster, the content was easy to access, use, share, and the information experience was wholesome.

Public speaking

I’ve not been entirely petrified of public speaking in the past, but I was always wary of not being able to say something that would be of relevance to others. I was clearly wrong. There are plenty of meetups and conferences out there who want to hear your story and perspectives. There are people in similar predicaments who are eager to hear how you solved a particular issue.

Working with Write the Docs gave me an excellent opportunity to not only speak publicly, it also helped me hone my organisational and networking skills. Over the past year, I have spoken to many attendees and potential speakers and sponsors.

I also presented my experiences in documenting a product I use, at the ASTC conference. Presenting for the first time for well over 40 minutes has now given me enough confidence in speaking publicly, that I can carry into 2018 and beyond.

Write the Docs Australia

What started off on a good footing in 2016, we managed to build a strong community Down Under.

The Write the Docs Australia meetups now run regularly every couple of months across Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. We have had our first remote session recently and it was very well received by the people who attended.

Having the confidence in the Write the Docs Australia members, I decided to host a one day event with help from members of the community. We hosted our first Write the Docs Day Australia in November and it was attended by about 45 people.

Here is a recap of the event: http://www.writethedocs.org/conf/au/2017/news/event-recap-feedback/

Tools

I was exposed to a few tools I hadn’t used before, and I feel this added lots to my skills (and adaptability at using them).

Working on Write the Docs Day event, I was exposed to tools such as Github, Atom editor and Markdown in greater detail. The whole experience of updating website content via Markdown and Pull Requests was fun and challenging.

Self-learning

With some free time between projects, I started reading up and learning to add to my skills. I’ve travelled a fair bit on the API documentation path via Tom Johnson’s blog and also courses on Udemy.

In addition to this, Content Strategy and Information Architecture are 2 other skill areas that I am brushing up on coming towards the end of the year. Volunteering for the Content Strategy Forum last year gave me a good insight into the world of Content Strategy and it is an area I am keen on expanding into.

Wishlist for 2018

Chatbots – I would relish the opportunity to document chatbots. Chatbots are taking over a number of areas and it would be interesting to work on projects that incorporate clear, concise content with the bot mechanism.

Learn a programming language – While I’ve had some background in learning programming in the late 90s, so much has changed that I almost feel the need for a refresher. I’d like to start with something simple, something that allows me to automate tasks and work more effectively.

Remote work – I currently work remotely (part-time) on a technical writing project. It has been a great experience working with this team for the last 2.5 years. I’d like to work on more remote projects and build my expertise working on a wide range of content.