Write the Docs Conference

I had an incredible experience at the technical writing conference, Write the Docs, in Portland, OR.

Most tech meetups I have attended are for developers and programmers. Many programmers that I talk to have not heard of technical writing before. So you can imagine my thrill when an organizer asked all the tech writers in the room to raise their hands and 200 of them did. I had found my own community and a conference that was catered to people like me.

The conference included approximately twenty-three talks. Five stood out to me the most.

1. Two Great Teams that Work Better Together: Bridging the Gap Between Documentation and Customer Support by Neal Kaplan

At my current job, I work with many customer support team members. It was fantastic to hear his tips for technical writers working with customer support to create a great user experience.

2. Copy That: Helping Your Users Succeed with Effective Product Copy by Sarah Day

This presentation gave great advice on creating product copy, something that I feel will be especially useful to me in my budding career as a writer for technology. She gave examples of both good and bad product copy from Goodreads.com and the iTunes App store.

3. What Writing Fiction Teaches You About Writing Documentation by Thursday Bram

I love writing fiction. So I was especially excited to hear this talk. I thought that it would be entertaining, but I didn’t expect it to be as useful as it was. Ms. Bram had some great tips about narratives in documentation and writing documentation concisely à la Ernest Hemingway.

4. How to Publish Wild-Caught Articles by Sharon Campbell

Ms. Campbell works at a company called Digital Ocean that publishes freelance tech articles. It was fascinating to hear how a tech company could work with freelance writers in this way. She explained how freelance tech writers are somewhat different than regular freelance writers because the technical editors look for technical ability just as much as writing skill.

5. Documentation with a Human Connection by Hannah Gilberg

Ms. Gilberg showed how she used Peter Elbow’s writers guide, Writing Without Teachers, to create documentation with a solid voice that also explained technical jargon clearly to non-technical readers.

In addition to these talks, I also hung out in the downstairs area reserved for relaxing. The conference organizers encouraged attendees to pick and choose which lectures to attend and to relax in the downstairs area when a lecture that might not be applicable to them was happening.

But the best part about this trip was seeing Portland for the first time and meeting my Outreachy mentor, Joni, in person. Portland is an amazing city and Joni is an amazing person. I feel so lucky that I got to meet her face to face a second time.

Technical Writing Community

I am attending the Write the Docs conference in Portland, OR in several weeks. Recently I have begun chatting on the Write the Docs online forum with other people who will be attending the conference. In this small forum I have found something valuable: a sense of community within technical writing.

The general tech and coding community often seems vast with hundreds of developers in startups and larger tech companies around the world. Technical Writing has a community, but I have found it to be much smaller. As a career path, it’s not such an obvious choice.

I have loved writing on this forum and talking to others about technical writing and their experiences at industry conferences. I’m even more excited to attend the conference itself and meet all these people in person. I can’t wait to dive further into the niche world that is technical writing.

Historical Fiction

This blog post is a little different from my others. Normally I talk about technology and technical writing. But I want to mention my other passion, historical fiction writing.

 

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I adore writing historical fiction. And it has connected with technical writing in some surprising ways. Historical fiction requires research. You look at details of how people lived in a different time period. Then you figure out which details to include and where to add them within a story. This is a little bit similar to technical writing. In technical writing, you research and learn about technology. Then you put the information together in an organized, clear way. With both writings, you are teaching other people what you’ve learned either about history or about technology.

 

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Perhaps this is a far-fetched analogy, but I believe that it makes sense. Being a writer of any kind requires creative thinking. If you’d liketo hear more about my novelist side, check out my historical fiction website, writingthroughtime.com.

 

More Job Categories

I came into this job search process intent on being a technical writer. I still am. But one thing I have realized is that only searching for jobs with the phrase technical writer is a bit rigid. So I’ve branched out with a few job descriptions that include tech writing but that also involve other areas of related work.

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One of the other work areas I am looking at is client services at tech companies. Many companies have clients who call or email in with technical questions. I have come to realize that this relates to technical writing. You’re figuring out how to do something with technology and teaching someone else how to do it, often through screenshots and organized writing in an email.

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Another area I’m looking into is general copywriting and content management. I am a writer by trade. I am particularly interested in companies that will ask for a portion of my writing to be marketing, 60% perhaps. But I also want to be able to write other materials such as UX copy and, of course, documentation. I may take a few tutorials in various content management systems.

I am excited about my projected career path and I can’t wait to see what will happen next.

Continuing my Technical Writing Career

Outreachy has open more doors for me than I could have imagined. Before Outreachy, I had sent out approximately one hundred job applications, most of which I was not qualified for, and got no response. Outreachy gave me the necessary experience to meet these job qualifications and now I’ve gotten many positive responses to job applications.

But I must give credit to the person who has helped me most, my mentor Joni. Joni has taught me more than I thought I could learn in three to four months and has guided me through every experience. She knows how to strike the perfect balance between instructing me and allowing me to try things out on my own.

As I go through these new job interviews, I must thank Joni for all that she has helped me with and continues to help me with. It looks like I have a great future ahead of me.

Instructional Design

I graduated college and immediately set out to be a technical writer. But recently another, similar career option has crossed my path: instructional design.

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Instructional design is similar to technical writing in many ways. Both instructional designers and technical writers teach others. Technical writers most often teach technology and so do instructional designers, but instructional designers may also teach a wider variety of practical skills to adults.

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One online article explained that instructional designers often enter their career with a defined path, usually through graduate school. Technical writers more often fall into tech writing. This is because there are few graduate level programs in technical writing while instructional design graduate programs abound. The reason for this might be that instructional designers have to teach in person and over the web while technical writers generally do not (though it varies widely from position to position). Maybe academics feel that teaching requires a graduate degree while writing does not. But that’s just a guess.

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The funny thing about the article that said that people set out to be instructional designers while technical writers fall into their positions is that I have had the exact opposite experience. The Outreachy internship at Mozilla had me do a project that combined both technical writing and instructional design. So in that way, I set out to be a technical writer and fell into instructional design. Now although I lean more towards technical writing job applications, I also look at instructional design applications.

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As I continue my job search, I will show employers that I have both skills while I work, apply, hope, and dream.

 

Outreacy: Over? Not Quite

The Outreachy internship has come to an end. I think I might cry. It’s been such an incredible experience for my technical writing career in every way. But there’s no need for tears because it’s not really over.

I will continue to work as a volunteer for Mozilla. I’m using my travel stipend to attend the Write the Docs Conference in Portland, Oregon in May. And I will continue a great mentorship with Joni, my Outreachy mentor. She has helped me in more ways than I can count. So while I search for a more permanent job and need advice, she’s here.