What a year it has been. I feel I have personally gained a lot during the last 12 months in my technical writing journey than I have in the years before.
Now that it is time to unwind a little bit with the holidays well within sight, I’ve finally found some time to put down my thoughts here.
Summary of 2016 (in no particular order)
I definitely feel a lot more confident using a range of tools, largely due to the fact that I could use them for my various projects.
While I am largely stuck using MS Word at work, along with SharePoint for publishing, I’ve had the chance to use Madcap Flare + Git (via BitBucket) for my part-time project with Planifi. In the last few weeks, I also started using GitBook for creating online help for Rounded (an accounting app/tool for sole traders and freelancers) and I think it’s an amazing tool to use for lightweight documentation.
Snagit still remains the best tool I use, day in, day out. It sits quietly in the background and every time I hit the PrintScreen for it to fire up, I feel like Thor calling on his Mjolnir to do some grunt work.
Believers and non believers
This is always a tough one. While my current team and especially my team lead believes in the value of good documentation, there exists some in the larger business unit who do not see any real value in documentation and are reluctant to come to the party, so to speak.
It is always a challenge to make people see the value in documenting, be it processes, systems or pretty UIs, but so far with a fair amount of persuasion and a little bit of name dropping (desperate times!), I’ve been able to get things documented.
I don’t know how doc projects existed before Git. I use Git fairly regularly for my freelance projects and couldn’t dream of having documentation without any sort of .git associations with it.
I work across 2 different devices (a PC and a hybrid tablet/laptop), so picking up where I left is never hard if I have managed to push through my changes to the central repo using Git. I would like to use the Git Bash Prompt to do this, but most days I prefer SourceTree to push doc changes to GitHub or BitBucket based repositories.
Pro bono docs
Ever use a really cool tool and feel you could contribute to their journey? I came across Rounded while I was trying to find something to help me manage my invoices for freelancing projects. Rounded was founded with exactly the same idea – accounting for freelancers and sole traders (and it was Australian based).
I got in touch with the founder and offered to write their documentation for them, simply because I believed I could help them while getting a chance to try out their product for my projects. I have started on the documentation and am using GitBook to create some basic online documentation for new users of the tool.
Write the Docs (meetups+conf)
This was, and is, by far the best thing that has happened to me this year – becoming a part of this large, and rapidly growing, community of people passionate about the art and science of documentation. The community may have started off with a focus on software documentation, but I think it has clearly gone way beyond that.
Growing a little disillusioned with the ASTC and what it offered to members, I admit I was struggling a bit to feel a part of any community (a tribe essentially) and this was when I came across Write the Docs 6 months back. I joined the Slack channel with a little anxiety, but it was and is a great place to be. The amount of ideas and the free-flowing nature of conversations on the Slack channels have been inspirational.
Soon after I connected with the Write the Docs community, I felt it was the right time to get these meetup events to Australia. With a little help and encouragement from my techcomm friends (a big thanks to Sarah Maddox), we kicked off Write the Docs Australia in Melbourne, followed by an even bigger event in Google offices Sydney. The idea is to take the events nationally and hence the next event is scheduled for Brisbane for Feb 2017.
While I was planning to attend the Write the Docs Europe conference, I received notification that my conference proposal was accepted. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of presenting at an overseas conference and the audience was excellent. I spoke about what bad screenshots do to good writers, largely from experience and also deriving some inputs from other writers.
Flare User Group
All while I was getting involved with Write the Docs, the other group I started 2.5 years back was still around and kicking – the Melbourne Flare User Group. What started off as a local Melbourne event has long surpassed the geographical boundaries and we now have members regularly join in from Perth, Sydney, Adelaide, New Zealand and one from Bangkok, Thailand on Skype.
The group is still going strong and we have covered a number of interesting topics around Madcap Flare. We meet every alternate month via Skype.
While I had some free time between projects, I signed up for a couple of API courses on Udemy, particularly ones around API documentation. While they are far from being completed, I have liked what I have done so far (have completed the JSON/XML component) and would like to pursue this further. It is definitely on my to-do list for 2017.
To-do list for 2017
Better tools – While I am largely happy with the range of tools I am using, I have enjoyed working with tools that allow me to focus on writing than being worried about the look-and-feel and wouldn’t mind working with such tools more.
I would love to design or collaborate with someone who could create a dashboard for tech writing projects (regardless of the toolchain). A dashboard showing the status, estimation of effort, costs (if that is something that can be easily worked out) and tasks.
Raising the profile of tech writers – This is not going to be an easy task and is certainly not a one-person thing. I would like to get help from as many communicators as possible to raise the profile of technical writers here in Australia. A fair number of organisations still do not understand the value tech writers bring to a project and I would like to work on changing that, if I can.
API docs – I would like to spend some time learning and practicing API documentation. I feel there is a great amount of work in this sphere for technical writers and I want to use my technical skills and experience writing documentation help teams write clear, consistent documentation.
Different projects – Variety is what keeps me going and I love dabbling in different projects at the same time, time and health permitting. This is one of the reasons why I like taking on projects on the side, to keep the creative juices flowing. For 2017, while I may cut down on my project work to dedicate more time to learning, I would still like to be involved in a project of a nature I have never worked on before.
Meetups – What started off in 2016 will definitely continue in 2017 with more techcomm focussed events. The Write the Docs Australia roadshow next rolls into Brisbane and will make its way back to Melbourne via Sydney. Who knows, even Adelaide could be in the mix.
Remote work – This year, I have been lucky to work with a company and a team lead who are extremely flexible with my working style and consequently work hours. I like early starts, so most mornings, I get a lot of work done between 4.30 am and 6.30 am on my freelance projects, before my family gets up. I would like to take on projects that allow me a fair amount of remote work, as it suits my working style.
Volunteering – Last month, someone got in touch with me to ask me if I was keen on volunteer with their organisation teaching kids how to code. While I can’t (or won’t perhaps) code to save my life, I am interested in the challenge because I may yet learn how to teach coding.
This idea could be extended further to get kids aware of documentation from an early age, though personally I struggle to see why my 5.5 year old would want to write more than what is absolutely essential. Those shiny metallic buses and trucks are not going to play themselves!