Fulfillment and change

Empire State Building at nightAt the beginning of the year, I reviewed the goals that I set for last year. The results were hugely disappointing. I hadn’t fulfilled any of them to the degree that I’d hoped. I had started making progress on a few of them, but I was never able to make enough progress to consider any of them a success.

I was in a career situation that wouldn’t allow me to succeed in the way that I wanted to. I was frustrated and looking for a change, and found an interesting opportunity.

But not as a technical writer.

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The case for Minimum Viable Documentation

I attended the TCCamp conference…er…unconference last weekend. Short review: I enjoyed it (again!). I attended Tom Johnson’s great intro to API documentation, I talked to some interesting people, and I got some practical advice during the three discussion sessions.

And I won an iPad Air 2 (thanks to XMetaL/JustSystems), which is FREAKIN’ AWESOME.

But I want to focus on one topic that came up during the “Technical Communication in Agile” discussion: the concept of Minimum Viable Documentation.

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(Not my) predictions for 2015

It’s the time of year for technical communication industry predictions, but that’s not my speciality. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of techcomm; in fact, I’ve been feeling like I’m in an isolated backwater. When people learn that I’m using ZenDesk for documentation they think that I’m either very brave or very masochistic.

As Luke Skywalker would have told me, “Well, if there’s a bright center to the [technical communications] universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.”

[Speaking of, what sort of help system would you write for a lightsaber? “Point shiny end away from face and good luck”?]

Getting back on target…

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Working well with others

A big part of a technical communicator’s job is research. The information we use to create content comes from a wide variety of sources: technical specs, product research documents, business proposals, white papers, internal wikis, customer support tickets…

And even from actual people. There’s lot of good info locked away in our coworkers’ heads. Getting to that info isn’t always easy, but I’m honestly surprised how often one question comes up both in interviews and in discussions with other tech writers: “How do you work with engineers?”

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Quick thoughts on useful skills for technical communicators

A question that comes up regularly on Linked in forums is “What are the most important skills for a technical communicator to have?” I used to have a quick answer for that, but I realize it was based on how I learned to technical writing. But now many people in techcomm won’t be using a complex desktop publishing program to write manuals designed for print. They won’t be relying on the work of editors, illustrators, and a production team.

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The diversification, not death, of technical writing

It’s been a month of organizational changes at work. Actually, just a particularly chaotic month, after about 5-6 months of changes. Which is stressful in general, and I’m finding it also saps my will to blog, and leaves me with few new things to blog about. The “document the product” part of my job has taken a distant third place to customer support and establishing a training program.

It also means that I have to make decisions about what I want to do. And, again, stop being a damn hero and trying to do everything every day. I want to be a “working manager”: Leading a team, but also doing a bit of day-to-day work (content development, ideally, but that could also include customer support). And although it’s different from when I started as a tech writer, it seems like the working manager is now the norm.

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Building a team

I’ve been at my current company for a year and a half, and my role is a mix of technical communications and customer support (which is really technical communication with a specific person instead of a group of current customers and prospective customers).

As my company is growing and taking on more customers, I need to build a team. I’m figuring out what that team will look like, and what sort of skills and personalities I need to fill those roles.

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What users are looking for (hint: FAQs)

I spent last week researching support and learning management systems, working on a documentation delivery schedule for the rest of the year, and responding to a few complex support cases.

Those support cases, along with some comments from other users, have made me rethink my opinion of FAQs. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that this feedback is pushing me in a direction that I’ve been trying to avoid, while I knew that I was fighting the inevitable.

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