One reason why I like the show Dirty Jobs so much is because Mike Rowe, the host, is so respectful and honest about the work that people do each day. Dirty Jobs offers such a great viewpoint on work that is done each and every day. I recently discovered that Sarah Maddox, a technical writer at Atlassian (makers of the Confluence wiki engine), has written two great posts about being an Agile technical writer, or an eXtreme Technical Writer (XTW). These posts on Agile Technical Writing offer wonderful windows into the work that technical writers are doing around the world. Plus, they offer some down-to-earth how-tos that make sense to apply in a modern technical writing career. If you’re thinking about technical writing as a career, check out these two posts for your research, because I believe that agility is one of the best skills you can bring to this career path when I consider the direction it is heading.
- The agile technical writer is the first post, and it has a great description of daily life as a technical writer.
- Plus don’t miss the great photo art mashup in the agile technical writer part II, another excellent post that really describes what it’s like to write in the Agile development environment.
Here are some highlights from each that I could identify with:
- Responding to IMs from all over. Carrying on multiple conversations intelligently is a gift.
- Concerns about information overload – it’s daunting, but do-able. (Okay, funny side note – My typo for overload was “overlord.” Yipes. That can happen too.) My advice is to ride the serendipitous river of information. Sounds like hippy advice but somehow it works.
- What a wonderful viewpoint of how the daily life of a technical writer has changed so greatly over the years. I listened to Linda Oestriech’s podcast about the Direction the STC is Heading at Tech Writer Voices and one great quote from her was, “We’re not the technical writer from the 70s.” I’d say we’re not even the technical writer from the 90s.
- Love the Swaparoo idea – similar to pair programming, but call it a swaparoo when you want to trade tasks with another writer to get cross-product knowledge.
- Respond to customers from the varied means of communication that is offered to you in this awesome world of documentation. And if it doesn’t have to do with the doc, don’t meddle, pass it along to the support team.
Thanks Sarah, for sharing such a great “day in the life” slice for technical writers.
Authoring and delivery tools for the Agile Technical Writer?
I’ve had a question via email recently, asking something like, “What is the ideal toolkit for writing in an Agile environment?” Or, “What would you choose if you had to write in an Agile environment in order to be most effective as a technical writer?”
It’s tempting to actually try to answer that question with a straightforward response of one tool – but of course the answer is not that easy. The product and audience and company that you’re writing for all dictate the documentation deliverable with far more weight than the “manufacturing” process that is used to build the product. Sarah’s posts don’t directly mention their toolkit, but her “eat your own dog food” bullet point hints that the doc is delivered via their wiki engine. (Sarah, do correct me if that’s an inaccurate leap in logic.)
But, if the product you’re documenting isn’t itself a wiki, you’re going to need to evaluate tools. I borrow directly from Don Day’s editor evaluation heuristic for a methodology for evaluating a writing and publishing toolkit to fit in an Agile environment. Evaluate a tool (no matter what you’re trying to deliver or how you’re authoring it) using “cost/benefit judgments on the features that mean most to your intended scenarios, business rules that need to be supported, and the willingness of your team to learn some new ways of doing things.” Well stated, Don, and whether you’re trying to find the right DITA toolkit or the right Agile toolkit, scenarios and business processes are quite useful. Anyone have great authoring or publishing scenario or business process suggestions for the XTW?