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.

2 thoughts on “Content, Community and Conferences – My techcomm journey 2019

  1. Hallo Swapnil
    Congratulations on a great 2019! I’ve very much enjoyed reading your post, as it has so much in it about your personal experience of each event and achievement. Wow you’ve achieved a lot this year. I hope 2020 turns out to be just as successful but with less stress and sadness.
    Cheers
    Sarah

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