Category Archives: technical writing

Fledgling Android app for Tech Comm on a Map

I’m very excited, because there’s an Android app on its way for Tech Comm on a Map. The Android app uses the same data source as the Tech Comm on a Map website – so you can see the same events on the map in both apps. In addition, you can add events to the map directly from within the Android app, and it does smart marker clustering too.

Tech Comm on a Map puts technical communication titbits onto an interactive map, together with the data and functionality provided by Google Maps. It’s already out there on the Web. See it in action on the Tech Comm on a Map website, and read more on this page.

And now the Android app

Tech Comm on a Map for Android

The code for the Android app is already on GitHub.  A group of us got together during a hackathon and created the initial version of the app. I’ve added to the app since then, and intend to continue improving it. Eventually I’d like to add it to the Google Play store. There’s a bit to do before that. :)

Friendly disclaimer: Although I work at Google, this app is not a Google product. It’s a personal project by me and the other contributors.

The Tech Comm on a Map app for Android is developed with Java and the Android SDK. It uses the following APIs:

If you’re interested in developments, follow the Tech Comm on a Map app for Android on GitHub. You can build it from the source and load it onto your Android device to try it out. It works. :)

API tech writing workshop comes to New York City

On Monday, September 21st, I’m hosting a full-day workshop in New York City, on API technical writing. It’s free, and you’re invited. There’s free food too!

The workshop is happening in collaboration with the New York Metro Chapter of the STC (Society for Technical Communication). Anyone interested in learning about this role is welcome to attend – you don’t need to be a member of the STC.

Quick signup link: Register to attend the workshop on the STC New York Metro website.

What is API technical writing?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. Developers use APIs to make apps that communicate with other apps and software/hardware components. API technical writers create documentation and other content that helps developers hook their apps up to someone else’s API.

For a tech writer, it’s an exciting, challenging and rewarding field. I love it!

This workshop gives you hands-on experience with APIs and API documentation, insight into the demands of the role, and plenty of information for your own follow-up study.

Workshop details

Date: Monday, September 21st, 2015
Time: 9am to 4pm – breakfast and setup are at 9am, for a start at 9:30 sharp
Instructor: Sarah Maddox  – that’s me ;)
Cost: None. The workshop is given free of charge.
Location: The Google offices in New York city: 76 Ninth Avenue, New York, NY 10011. (Link on Google Maps.) Enter through the tenant entrance at the corner of 16th St and 9th Ave, and report to the workshop registration table. (It will have Google-branded linen.)

This is a practical course on API technical writing, consisting of lectures interspersed with hands-on sessions where you’ll apply what you’ve learned. The focus is on APIs themselves as well as on documentation, since we need to be able to understand and use a product before we can document it.

The workshop includes the following sessions:

  • Lecture: Introduction to APIs, including a demo of some REST and JavaScript APIs.
  • Hands-on: Play with a REST API.
  • Lecture: JavaScript essentials.
  • Hands-on: Play with a JavaScript API.
  • Lecture: The components of API documentation and other developer aids.
  • Hands-on: Generate reference documentation using Javadoc.
  • Lecture: Beyond Javadoc – other doc generation tools.
  • Lecture: Working with an engineering team

Preparation for the workshop

Please take a look at the event announcement to see what you need to install on your laptop before the workshop. Doing the recommended installations will save you a lot of time at the workshop so that you can avoid missing crucial bits when you’re there.

Hope to see you there!

Here’s that signup link on STC New York Metro site.

I’m looking forward to meeting a number of New York technical writers!

workshop-slide

A slide from the workshop

A technical writer’s mission statement

I recently saw a thought-provoking article on cognitive overhead. It got me thinking about what we do as technical writers.

People learn by attaching a new idea to their existing context. The ability to help them do that is our killer skill. That’s the basis of the tutorials we write, for example: start from a known point and expand the reader’s knowledge.

Based on the above premise, here’s an idea for a technical writer’s mission statement:

Make complex goals achievable within our customer’s context

Originally I’d written “Make complex goals achievable within our reader’s context”. Then I thought the word “reader” may be too narrow, as we often create material in media other than the written word. Actually, that’s often the argument used for calling ourselves “technical communicators” rather than “technical writers”. But that’s another story. :) Anyway, I’m still leaning towards the earlier version of the mission statement:

Make complex goals achievable within our reader’s context

What do you think of these ideas for a mission statement?

After writing this article, I searched to see what other people have said on this topic. Here are some good posts:

 

Inspired by technical communication

What are the most inspiring, exciting areas of technical communication? I think this is a cool topic to explore. I’m hoping we have many different ideas and perspectives. Even better, I’m hoping that each of us thinks the area we’re personally working in is the most inspiring of all!

Why am I asking this question right now? Well, I do think it’s a very cool topic that will give us insight into the depth and breadth of our field. Also, I’m thinking of incorporating this topic into an upcoming presentation. If you’d like to add some thoughts via comments on this post, I’ll credit you with anything that I mention in the presentation.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll say that API technical writing is the best. :) It’s no secret that I love my role and talk about it non stop. Being so deeply immersed in APIs, I have the opportunity to play with them myself, build stuff with them, and show other people how they work. It’s a demanding, constantly challenging role – but that’s the way I like it.

It comes down to this:

APIs are the communication channel of the online world.
Developers need help hooking their apps up to someone else’s API.
Technical writers who can give that help are in a very good position.

Other inspiring or even revolutionary tech comm?

There are other areas of tech comm that seem equally appealing, at least from afar. How about documenting the software used by 3D animation specialists, or tools used by artists, or the games industry, or smart hardware, or the medical industry?

Perhaps there are tech writers working in areas that are revolutionary as well as inspiring. Here’s a challenge: top my description of API tech writing if you can. :)

An inspiring mushroom

I came across this Veiled Lady Mushroom while walking in the bush near Sydney, Australia:

Inspiring mushroom

Webinar on API technical writing – June 2015

On Friday 19th June I’m presenting an hour-long webinar, an introduction to API technical writing. The webinar is hosted by the Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand (TCANZ, also known as TechCommNZ).

The session is a 60-minute introduction to APIs (application programming interfaces) from a technical writer’s point of view. It’s designed for an audience of technical writers who’re interested in learning about APIs and API documentation, and who’re looking for pointers about how to get started as an API technical writer.

Quick signup details: Anyone is welcome to join the webinar. You don’t need to be a member of TCANZ. (There are different fees for members and non-members.) To join the webinar, first sign up for a username on the TCANZ website (click Create Account on the TCANZ website), then register for the webinar on the webinar page.

More about APIs and the webinar

APIs are an exciting area of software development. In the online world, APIs provide the communication channel between one application and another. How does WordPress display your Twitter stream on your blog’s sidebar? By using the Twitter API. How does Confluence wiki display a set of Flickr photographs on a wiki page? Via the Flickr API.

Join us to see a couple of APIs in action, to find out what API documentation consists of, and to learn more about the role itself.

Webinar title: Introduction to API Technical Writing
Date: Friday 19 June 2015 (New Zealand/Sydney time zone)
Time: 11am in New Zealand, 9am in Sydney (see the World Meeting Planner for more time zones)
Cost and signup: See the TCANZ webinar page

Session summary:

  • What an API is and does.
  • Introduction to the role of API technical writer and our audience.
  • Overview of the types of developer products we may be asked to document – APIs and others.
  • Types of APIs, including REST APIs, other web services, library-based APIs like JavaScript, and more.
  • A couple of live demos of APIs that you can play with at home: a JavaScript API and a REST API.
  • Examples of good API documentation.
  • The components of API documentation, and the technical writer’s role in the creation of each component.
  • A day in the life of an API technical writer.
  • Tips on getting started in the role.
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