I spent 2 days last week in the busy city of Bangalore, India, attending tcworld India 2014, a conference for technical communicators/documentation managers and translators/localisation experts. Organised by tekom (Germany) and twin (Technical Writers of India) at Vivanta by Taj, it has become one of the biggest such TC events in India. It was nice to see old friends and meet new people. A big hurrah to the tcworld organisers for a positive, rewarding conference.
This was the first time I was presenting ever at a conference, and had a few nervous moments leading up to the presentation, but I took confidence from other presentations I attended and was able to put across a fairly sufficiently good view of how it is working as a contractor and an employee Tech Writer in Australia.
The conference got underway with the traditional lighting of the lamp ceremony, an event perhaps distinctive in the Indian context. Light symbolises knowledge and “lighting the lamp” indicates the action of bowing down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms. It is a strong symbol of enlightenment, hope and prosperity.
Notes from some sessions
Here are notes of some of the sessions I attended at the conference.
The Future of Content (Sarah O’Keefe, Scriptorium)
In her keynote presentation about the future of content, Sarah elaborated on what the future of content holds. This was inevitable given the rapid pace of technology and how we as technical/content writers need to adapt to this pace.
She got us thinking about a zone, a sort of sweet spot between “not enough” and “too much” content, which she called Minimum Viable Content (MVC). She gave a few examples and statistics about how 80% people currently have access to and are looking at documentation (user help, forums etc) before buying a product, and urged us to think about delivering content in a manner that would address this. She also showed us examples where unofficial content was competing with the official documentation and that presented us with some real issues around how and why content needs to be accurate, concise and address customer issues. It also stressed the fact that most people only ever need just one bit of information at a time.
The future of content is moving to smarter writing, one which gives the user enough information to perform a task or use the product. Citing examples of augmented reality and audio enhanced documentation, she had us thinking about how we need to deliver better information and use the appropriate medium to deliver this content. Web analytics and other tools also provided good insight into what users are looking for and we are not far from when the fields of techcomm and marcomm converge, so we have to take the best of both worlds to produce effective and usable content.
Auto generated Task Documentation from UI Mockups (Anindita Basu, IBM)
In her presentation, Anindita demonstrated how it was possible to auto generate task documentation from UI mock-ups. Using XML tools, she showed how to convert wireframes into usable pieces of documentation. The writer can use this auto generated content to produce task documentation.
Careers Paths for Technical Communicators (Sharmila Rammohan, Synopsys)
Sharmila Rammohan gave us an interesting insight into what possible career paths a Technical Communicator could follow. She spoke about how companies view TWs and TW teams in terms of revenue generated and investment required to keep these teams/individuals operating. She also illustrated a 7 point process of progressing your career as a Technical Communicator.
Being in a position to hire TWs, she pointed out some of the key traits that her company looks for, while writers.
One of most salient comments was “You don’t need a title to be a leader”.
Catering to Diverse Information Needs of Our Target Audience (Kumar Dhanagopal, Oracle)
In his own appealing style of presenting, Kumar Dhanagopal got us thinking about who our customers really are and what we are doing to cater to their needs. Much as people won’t admit it, most users need documentation in some form or other. One thing documentation can’t do is make up for lousy products.
Through an immensely funny video about documentation, Kumar showed why it was important for us to consider diverse information needs of the target audience.
Some ways he suggested how we do this were:
- Vary levels of content (From Beginner to Advanced)
- Structure information differently – To suit different audiences.
- Tune the format to suit the usage – Give the user what they want and how they want to see it.
One of his best comments was undoubtedly “The Resume is the most important document you will ever write (as a Tech Writer)”.
Creating Help Systems that sizzle with Adobe RoboHelp 11 (Kevin Seigel, IconLogic)
Using the latest features in Adobe RoboHelp 11, Kevin demonstrated how to create visually attractive and usable online documentation. I was particularly impressed with the new “Responsive HTML” feature which took away a lot of the writer’s work when it came to designing different kinds of output or customising skins for web vs mobile vs tablet outputs. With responsive HTML, the writer only has to create the content once and depending on what device the user is looking at the documentation, the output automatically adjusts itself to fit the device screen dimensions.
Choosing the right path in a fast moving TC world – (Tony Self, tcworld)
Tony Self started off proceedings on Day 2 in his own impeccable way, illustrating the different paths we could take in fast moving TC world.
Supported by facts and images of some innovations that were considered science fiction hardly 10 years back, he drove home the point that we, as user advocates, needed to continuously rethink the ways documentation/content is delivered. The use of E-ink devices and technology has altered the way organisations across the world are delivering content to their users and it was time for us to consider ways to manage and incorporate this in our work.
Career Story: Working as a Contractor vs Employee – Swapnil Ogale (my own presentation!)
This was my own presentation, wherein I discussed the pros and cons of working as a contractor vs as an employee Technical Writer in Australia. I also spoke about how professional development, being a part of technical writing associations and networking help find suitable work in Australia. There were around 20-30 people who attended the presentation and it was good to see some enthusiasm amongst the Indian technical writers about seeking opportunities elsewhere, given the nature of the market presently in India.
Social Collaboration: How User Added Content enhances your documentation (Mike Hamilton, Madcap)
This was perhaps one of the most significant presentations I attended, especially because it gave me some ideas on how to tackle social collaboration with documentation I am creating at my workplace currently. In his presentation, Mike Hamilton, VP Product Evangelism from Madcap spoke about how the role of customers has radically changed in the past few years with the advent of social media. One comment from his slides rings true “Engagement. Not data. What if customers want meaningful conversation?”
As a result, he says, it’s imperative that we as content writers stay relevant. In the 80-20 rule, social media fills in the 20% user needs through community conversation.
How adding a social layer to your documentation helps the writer?
- It inspires ideas from customers, users and others who use the content.
- It can reveal questions, you may have overlooked while creating the content.
- It converts users into contributors and experts, and most importantly,
- It takes the problem solving pressure off you.
This social layer can be implemented via different mechanisms/tools such as comments, ratings, email notifications, quick response times and reports, to track what the users are looking at and commenting on.
Talk Show with Successful Technical Communication Teams
A talk show consisting of documentation managers from Cisco, Oracle and HP can only be interesting and it indeed was. Managing documentation teams anywhere from 10 to 100s dispersed globally can be a daunting task. The talk show panellists discussed the various ways they employ to keep their teams happy, collaborative and productive. Along with the usual company activities, there was also other methods they used to keep the team members talking to each other, feel a part of the team and contribute successfully.
Dive into HTML5 and Deliver your dream video documentation (Sreejith S and Girish K, Cisco)
The last presentation I attended on Day 2 was an interesting look at using a freeware tool called Mozilla Popcorn Maker that enhances existing online videos, by adding more context (text, graphics, maps etc.) to make it an effective tool for documentation. Sreejith and Girish explained the theory behind using this tool (making use of newer HTML5 concepts) and demonstrated the tool itself. The tool itself is pretty intuitive, but can make a whole lot of difference between run-of-the-mill videos and more interactive and dynamic videos in the documentation.
Just a few days out from the conference, there was an email inviting the speakers for an informal get together a night prior to the conference. Most of the speakers turned up on this beautiful evening on an open terrace bar at the Hyatt Bangalore. Given that half of the speakers knew each other and the other half had wisely made use of social networks, it was easy enough to put faces to names. It was good to chat with other presenters over a quiet drink (or two).
Networking dinner, lunches and other things
The conference ticket included lunches, morning and afternoon refreshments and a networking dinner on Day 1 and it was undoubtedly a great opportunity to meet other fellow TWs, share ideas and discuss collaboration, business or otherwise.
Lunch was a good spread of Indian and a few other dishes. While a few TWs were tucking into their curries with gusto, a few multi-talented TWs from Oracle put on a flash mob dance sequence, gyrating their bodies to popular Indian chartbusters. The thing is most popular Indian songs get your foot tapping (regardless of what language the songs are in), so there was a whole lot of TWs in the crowd, who were swaying and moving to the music, whole delicately balancing their Naan breads and Pulav rice with Paneer (Cottage cheese) and Murgh (Chicken) curries. Quite a sight!
The networking dinner and drinks was a rather quiet affair. It was preceded by a few games, extempore singing and more dancing. A few TWs seem to have a whole lot of other skills in their kitty and they weren’t certainly afraid to showcase them. They were even mistaken for being the entertainment for the evening (much as they did provide it), as opposed to being TWs with these extra skills!
Bangalore has earned itself a reputation for being a leading city when it comes to the number of IT companies based here, but has also garnered negative press about the shocking traffic and the amount of time it takes to travel from one place to another. Thankfully, the conference location was as central as it could get, providing viable transport options. That didn’t stop a few attendees perform daring acts of courage of crossing the street outside the conference venue.
Events such as these also provide a great opportunity to meet TWs and others you follow on Twitter or through blogs/website. Mike Hamilton and Jose Sermeno (from Madcap Software) were the coolest Product Managers/Evangelists I had a chance to interact with. I’ve been a long time fan and a user of Madcap Flare, so it was awesome to meet the brains behind it. While I have attended Mike’s presentation last year, it was good to meet Jose in person – I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the Madcap blog about the tips/tricks he’s shared to make using Flare that little bit easier.
|Mike Hamilton and Jose Sermeno from Madcap Software
It was also awesome to meet Sarah O’Keefe and Tony Self and attend their presentations. There is always so much to learn from them!
Some of the key takeaways for me, from this conference:
- The Future of Content is evolving and it’s no longer restricted to delivering the content in a specific medium. We need to think about the container.
- Add a social layer to your documentation and convert users into contributors/experts.
- The traditional way of looking at Technical Writers has changed and it is important for us to understand and adapt to the growing needs, relevance of the content and the way we deliver this content.