Documenting from afar

I’ve been in San Francisco for the last few days, working in the Atlassian office here and meeting my SF colleagues. My visit has made me think about the pros and cons of long-distance communication, the technology we use to make it happen, and most of all just how good it is to meet people face to face.

Atlassian has offices in Sydney, where I’m based, and in Amsterdam, Japan and San Francisco. Sydney is the largest office, followed by San Francisco. We also have a team of developers in Poland, working on the Atlassian IDE Connectors for Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEA.

As a technical writer, I document some products that are developed in Sydney, some that are developed inย  San Francisco and even some where the development team is in Poland. Recently we have also partnered with Tasktop (of Mylyn fame) to develop the Atlassian Eclipse Connector, a neat tool which lets developers work with their JIRA issues, Crucible code reviews and Bamboo builds directly in their development environment. I’m documenting the connector, which means I’m working with developers in Vancouver too!

Documenting from afar does work

So, long-distance communication is a must. And actually, it’s not bothersome. Many aspects are quite enjoyable, especially the technology. We have video conferencing that’s kind of fun, a wiki (Confluence) that works wonders, an issue tracker (JIRA) that works like a dream, Twitter, instant online chat… You name it, Atlassian tries it.

Sometimes I work from home, and the developers on the ground floor in Sydney don’t even realise I’m not at my desk on the first floor in Sydney ๐Ÿ˜‰ So what difference do a few more thousand kilometres make?

But it’s just great to meet the people in meat space

I’ve discovered that many people look nothing like their TV images!

I document many of the development-focused products, like the Plugin Framework and the Shared Access Layer. The development teams for those are split between Sydney and SF. I’m also just starting the documention for the new Atlassian Gadgets and Dashboards. (See my earlier blog post.) Most of the development team is in SF. In the few days I’ve been here, I’ve created a new documentation space for Gadgets and Dashboards. The space is still just a skeleton, but I had the chance to review that skeleton while in the same room as the developers. Awesome.

  • I joined the daily standups.
  • I experienced the dynamics of the development team. All dev teams are different, as we technical writers know. We need to make sure we fit in as much as possible, to optimise the use of our time and the developers’ time. And to have fun.
  • I met the people in the support, marketing and technical sales teams, who give so much input into and feedback on the documentation.
  • I spoke to everyone else in the office, and verified that they actually look something like their avatars on the extranet, but only something like them.
  • People took me round their favourite parts of the city, collected me at lunch time to sample a Mission Burrito, took me to some very up-market restaurants, and just showed me what a great place SF is.
  • They laughed at my jokes.

And I was awake for the Eclipse Connector launch

To top it all, the new Eclipse Connector was launched on Monday, my first day in SF. It was useful to be in more-or-less the same time zone as the Tasktop development team in Vancouver and the people trying the connector for the first time at EclipseCon. I was able to respond quickly to requests for troubleshooting guides and FAQs, update the documentation and get the developers to review it on the fly. Fun and very productive.

Farewell fair San Francisco

And thank you to the Atlassian SFers, who gave me such a very warm welcome. This is a view of the city, taken from Twin Peaks just before sunset. The wide road going down the middle is Market Street:

Documenting from Afar

Documenting from Afar

If you’d like to see more pictures of and words about my trip, drop by the Travelling Worm’s blog. He’s my bookmark and he keeps a fairly faithful chronicle of my travels ๐Ÿ˜‰

Tomorrow I’m heading off to Seattle (where it rains) for the WritersUA conference. I’m looking forward to meeting many other technical communicators there, including some that I know only from their blogs and tweets. More long-distance communication about to be converted to face-to-face meetings. See you there!

Long-distance or f2f?

I’m really happy with the long-distance communication. And I’m also very lucky that I had this chance to meet the SF teams face to face. I wonder how many technical writers are located some distance from their development teams. How about you, and does it work for you too?

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 27 March 2009, in atlassian, technical writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’ve been working remotely from home exclusively for 2+ years, and I love it. However, I also really appreciate the times I’ve spent in the office. The communication is a little different in the office as you pick up other bits and pieces going on, almost by osmosis. Working from home means I’m really focused on the task, whereas in an office there are always distractions such as meetings, drop-ins, water cooler chat etc. But it’s these distractions that also keep you in the loop of what’s going on. Having now worked in plenty of cube farms and other office configurations, as well as from home, my preference would be working from home — coupled with the occasional visit to the office.

  2. Hallo Rhonda,

    Thanks for your comment ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, osmosis versus distractions in the office, that about sums it up.

    I’m looking forward to seeing you later today/tomorrow at the WritersUA Conference!

  3. salesengineertrainer

    I’ve worked from a home office for nearly all of a 30+ years career and like the lack of dead commuting time and the opportunity to concentrate on a task without distractions. But the monotony of the same surroundings all the time and only getting fresh input through the computer is hard to take – brainstorming isn’t a game for one player. If you can have your cake and eat it, working from home with days in the office when it suits you would be the ideal combination.

  4. Hallo there
    Working almost 100% of the time from home must be hard, I think. I agree that it would be great to have judicial doses of office and home time. The social tools we have now, via the web or private networks, do a lot to ease the communication problem. In fact, brainstorming via Twitter could be fun.

    But it’s hard to beat sharing a real hot chocolate at a real table and drawing ugly diagrams that make sense at the time on a real paper napkin ๐Ÿ˜‰

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