2014 Resolutions

I don’t usually create resolutions for the new year. It just wasn’t a thing that I, or my family or friends, ever did. But I’m working on my annual goals for work, and it got me thinking about professional development, and what I can do about that in 2014.

I’ll try to create a list that’s fairly realistic, but I’m still going to organize these goals by the likelihood that I’ll actually get around to them.

“Must Have” goal 1: More collaboration

I know I keep going on about this, but it’s important to my understanding of my role, and the role of tech writers. Basically: Everyone is on the documentation team. It’s time to let other people write content, and do everything we can to encourage that. And, yes, that includes our customers.

Yes, it’s scary. I’ve been there. But once you accept it, it makes sense. Your users know more about your product than you think they do (some of them do, anyway), and they’re often willing to share that information. People in different departments within your company have built specialized knowledge, all sorts of tips and tricks that you need to encourage them to share.

And you, as someone who can collect, create, and curate information, can do more than write end-user documentation. I’ve been reaching out to sales and marketing to see how we can work together. Not because I don’t have enough to do (as a friend of mine said, “I sometimes think I’m a masochist”), but because I learn from working with them. Who are their audiences? What content do those audiences want? Why spend time writing content from scratch every time when we can reuse what we’ve already written? It’s another opportunity to Know Thy Customers (both internal and external).

It can also be selfish: The more people who know who you are and what you do, the better. Market yourself, market your skills, and don’t sit in your cube assuming that your coworkers understand what you do to earn your paycheck.

Yes, I’ve done that. No, it didn’t work out well.

“Must Have” goal 2: Improve my interviewing skills

We’re currently interviewing for a VP of professional services/customer success/other operations, and since this person will be my new boss I’m part of the process. (I fall into the “other operations” category, of course.) I haven’t had any bad interviews, and I really haven’t had a problem filling the 45-minute time slot. I’m more worried that I’m too nice: Because I tend to listen, absorb information, and then process it, I worry that I seem too agreeable during the interview. When I’m really nodding and thinking, “That’s interesting…I’ll have to think about those ideas for a while.”

With smart, confident people, interviews are easy. I can come in with a handful of questions and then have a 45-minute conversation. But I’d like to hone my interview questions, be more consistent about directing the conversation, and always exit an interview feeling like I can make a good decision.

I’ve tried to think about interviews where I’ve been on the other side of the table. But, of course, the interviews that I remember in most detail are the difficult ones, where I was thrown off balance by odd questions, worried that the interviewer wasn’t paying attention, or when I realized that the fit was wrong and I just wanted to run out the door.

But my goal is to find a set of reliable questions, and be consistent. To listen and process the candidates’ answers quickly, to identify and pursue interesting lines of discussion. To do that, my plan is to interview the interviewers; to learn directly from people who have more experience than I do, and try to pick up some tips.

Because soon enough I’m going to need to interview more candidates when I…

“Must Have” goal 3: Expand my team

I’m in charge of documentation and customer support. Which is to say: I write the documentation and handle the support tickets. Clearly, scalability is an issue.

But I need to figure out the best way to do this. I’m pretty sure that I’ll need someone to help me handle support tickets before I need someone to help with documentation. But we’ll need more, and more extensive, documentation as we develop the product.

For now, I’m working with contractors to help me create videos and work on a redesign of the documentation site. And hiring a trainer will mean that I won’t be responsible for writing (all) the training material. But I’m also creating pre-sales collateral, and I’m working with the marketing team on another project or two.

So I imagine looking for a support tech who is great with customers and can create documentation. And maybe I’ll ask for pony while I’m at it.

“Must Have” goal 4: Learn about data analysis

I’ve already started this one by enrolling in an online course about programming for data analysis. That course is required for the more advanced course that I’m really interested in, so I’ll need to put a fair amount of work into this one.

But data analysis is a new area for me. I’ve absorbed some knowledge in the last 10 months, but I need to learn more, to be more familiar with the concepts and processes involved. This is useful when I need to understand the concepts that I’m documenting, and will also help me create better demos, since I’ll have a better idea about what I’m doing and why.

“Nice to Have” goal 1: Single-source process

“Nice to have” because I can get away without it for a while. I’m currently authoring directly in the knowledge center tool, and I know that’s heresy to many tech writers. But I need to do things quickly, and so far there’s a very limited requirement to deliver docs in multiple formats (I’ve created a set of training material based on some of the documentation).

I do have a few cases where I’m repeating information across two or three topics. But I’m still wary of locking myself into structured documentation, based on the fun times I’ve had with that in the past. Most of my writing is pretty structured, anyway, so I doubt it will change much. But I do write different types of documentation, in different formats, and sometimes even the conceptual topics aren’t put together in the same way. And I’d hate to have to create wildly different maps for each topic. That said…

“Nice to Have” goal 2: Investigate this DITA-lite thing

I just installed a wiki to test it for use as an internal documentation repository. If I can install, configure, and start using a wiki in an afternoon, I can do the same with a small-scale DITA test project. And although I balk at the complexity of a standard DITA setup, I would try something with a smaller set of parameters and a less strenuous learning curve.

What else?

I skipped a few things: I need to create more videos, I need to improve the link between our product and the documentation, and I need to spend more time working on documentation strategy. Oh, and I’d like to help set up UX testing, working with our UI designer and engineers. But my list might be masochistic enough.

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