WritersUA 2011 wrapup – a great technical communication conference

This week I attended the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. For the past few days, I’ve been blogging about the sessions I attended. This post is a wrapup and a big “thank you” to Joe Welinske and all the conference organisers.

This is the second time I’ve attended this conference, and I enjoyed it even more than first time. Walking around and talking to everyone else, I saw nothing but happy contented people. Thank you Joe and all the people who put so much work into organising this excellent conference.

The sessions

Over a period of three days, we could choose from five sessions per time slot. All were high quality presentations covering a wide range of topics of interest to technical communicators.

Here are links to my blog posts about most of the sessions that I attended. Some sessions were essentially hands on or interactive, and I didn’t blog about those.

There were many more sessions that I missed, because we had five per time slot. Luckily, other people are blogging about them too. Here are some links. Let me know if you know of any more!

The people

One of the WritersUA 2011 sessions in progress

One of the WritersUA 2011 sessions in progress

This year there were 360 attendees. Eight of them were from Australia!

The place

Conference venue, Hyatt Regency in Long Beach

Conference venue, Hyatt Regency in Long Beach

We were at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Long Beach, California. The Travelling Worm was at the conference too and has posted more pictures and words on his blog.


Quite apart from the conference sessions, I really enjoyed meeting up with people from all over the world. It was especially good to catch up with people I met at the last WritersUA conference.

At lunch time, each table had a designated topic. We could choose which table to sit at. On Monday, I chose the “agile” table. That’s not a table from the Faraway Tree that hops around while you eat. Nor is it a table of meals for the super fit. 😉 Instead, it was for people working with, or soon to be confronted with, development teams using one of the agile development methodologies. It was great to chat to technical communicators who are working with agile development teams, and who are at various stages of integrating the technical documentation tasks into the agile process. These are some of the points that came up for discussion at the table:

  • In an agile team, the idea is that there are no specialists. Each developer, in principle, should be able to pick up any of the stories or tasks. How does that work when there’s just one technical writer (or, as is so often the case, half a technical writer) on the team?
  • The tools that a technical writer uses are different from the tools that the other developers are using. Indeed, technical writing tools can be a barrier to allowing other team members to contribute to the documentation. I raised the point that a wiki helps here.
  • What happens when the technical writer is away for a sizable portion of a sprint?
  • Some development teams react negatively when told that the documentation tasks are now part of the definition of done.
  • How can you finish the documentation for a story in the same timeframe as the development of the UI and the other software components for that story?
  • It all comes down to the skill with which you define the stories that make up a sprint.

Peer showcase

The WritersUA peer showcase, on the last day of the conference, offers another opportunity for swapping ideas and information. If you are hosting a session at the peer showcase, you sit at a table for two hours and people drop by in groups or individually to see your project.

There’s also an award for the most innovative peer showcase project. I was completely overjoyed when my project won the award this year! (It was all about using social media to get your readers involved in your documentation.)

WritersUA Peer Showcase trophy

Fun stuff

The entire conference was fun! (Well, once you’ve got over the inevitable attack of nerves if you’re presenting a session yourself.) There are some special events to add extra lustre.

Dave Gash hosted the infamous Geek Trivia Quiz. (Click the pictures to expand them.)

Geek Trivia Quiz

Geek Trivia Quiz

Dave Gash, geek quiz host extraordinaire

Dave Gash, geek quiz host extraordinaire

The winning team. No? Well, nearly!

The winning team. No? Well, nearly!

Geek quiz scorecard

Geek quiz scorecard

The other outing not to be missed is the Australian Cultural Event, not to be confused with Australia, culture, nor even really an event. It’s more like an explosion of Ozzies and would-be Ozzies. Kiwis are tolerated too. 😉 The intrepid Tony Self is in charge. More or less. This year, remembering the penchant of his charges to become confused and lost towards the end of the evening, or even at its start, Tony came equipped.

Australian Cultural Event? This way, mate!

Australian Cultural Event? This way, mate!

Setting of with a clear purpose. And a flag.

Setting off with clear purpose. And a flag.

Perhaps we’ll leave it at that point of the evening, when things are still relatively clear in everyone’s head. 😉

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 20 March 2011, in technical writing, WritersUA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great recap, Sarah! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for all the blog posts that help me to catch up on the sessions I missed and to get a different perspective on the ones I attended. If I have one regret it’s that you and I couldn’t talk for longer. – Well, maybe next time. Best regards from Frankfurt / Copenhagen, Kai.

    • Hallo Kai
      It was really great to meet you at last! And to be on the winning trivia team. 😉 Well, almost. All the best until the next time we meet!
      Cheers, Sarah

  1. Pingback: How do you blog at conferences « ffeathers

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