For the past year I’ve been working with colleagues to create and run Google’s Season of Docs program. It’s super exciting that the first results are now out. There are more results to come in the new year, when the long-running projects finish.
Congratulations to the technical writers and open source mentors who’ve successfully completed their standard-length projects and good luck to those who’re working on the long-running projects. Also a big thank you from me, to everyone who’s taken part in this pilot of the program, including those who had to withdraw from the program for various reasons. It’s been a privilege to receive all the feedback from everyone involved and to learn from the experiences of so many people.
Results for Season of Docs 2019
This year’s Season of Docs included a limited number of technical writing projects, as a pilot to measure how well the program would be received. There are 36 successfully completed projects out of the 41 standard-length projects that finished in December 2019. Eight long-running projects are still in progress, scheduled to finish in February 2020.
The goals of Season of Docs are:
- Bring technical writers and open source projects together to improve open source documentation and thus to contribute to the excellence of open source products.
- Give technical writers around the world the opportunity to work in open source and to learn about open source processes, tools, products, and code.
- Help open source projects understand how technical writers work and what technical writers can contribute to the open source projects.
- Improve the overall experience of contributing to open source, by providing excellent documentation for new contributors.
Season of Docs 2019 participants come from round the world, including all continents except Antarctica.
What are the participants saying about their experiences so far? Here are a few quotations from the blog posts and reports that people have published.
- From technical writer Kartik in a blog post, Experience in Google Season of Docs 2019 with Apache Airflow:
I also started getting invited in the PR reviews of other developers. I am looking forward to more contributions to the project in the coming year.
- From technical writer Elena in the project report, Apache Airflow: Documenting using local development environments:
I’m deeply grateful to my mentor and Airflow developers for their feedback, patience and help while I was breaking through new challenges (I’ve never worked on an open source project before), and for their support of all my ideas! I think a key success factor for any contributor is a responsive, supportive and motivated team, and I was lucky to join such a team for 3 months.
- From technical writer Aaron, quoted in a blog post by open source mentor Olivier Hallot, The LibreOffice Documentation Team Announces the LibreOffice Online Guide:
My experience working on this guide was fantastic, and I would urge anyone interested in getting involved with open source to consider documentation as a first step. The Document Foundation’s documentation team in particular has a very well-established process and infrastructure for producing their products, and one of the only things I can think of that would help them is more volunteers.
- From technical writer Shaloo in a blog post about the GenPipes project, Giving it your all to Documentation!
Unfortunately, most of us who write software, think that documentation means simply translating what the software does in plain English. That is so not true. Documentation is more to do with how to use your cool software and solve real life pain points. Staying in touch with your user needs is of paramount importance, whether it is code that you are writing or the documentation for using the same.
- From technical writer Laurel in a post on the Ensembl blog, Ensembl is part of the first Google Season of Docs!
It has been both fun and interesting to learn about the Ensembl REST API implementation as well as to learn about what people who use the REST API need to get started.
A brand new tutorial is now available for GDevelop, and we would like to thank @end3r for writing it as part of Google #SeasonOfDocs!
Thanks a lot to @felicity_brand for supporting the #OSGeoLive project in #SeasonsofDocs 2019. She did a great job and improved our @osgeolive documentation a lot.
- From technical writer Edidiong in the project report, Modernize (rewrite) the VLC user documentation:
Overall, It was one of the best things that happened to me this year. I have been using VLC for as long as I can remember and the fact that I was able to contribute to the organization is an honor.
- From technical writer Pavithra in the blog post, My GSoD Journey – Part 3:
I like working with the Wikimedia community. I got to interact with some really amazing folks and the overall experience has been wonderful! Even though Season of Docs has officially come to an end, I intend to continue contributing and would welcome interested folks to join us.
- From technical writer Mister Gold in the project writeup, Report for the Bot Docs project:
At the end of the GSoD program, my Rocket.Chat mentors asked me to review a technical writer job posting they’d created. They said that the contribution I made to Rocket.Chat is invaluable and cannot be underestimated. They were so excited and impressed by this project that they have decided to hire a person who will be in charge of all the qualitative documentation updates. Rocket.Chat team confirmed that this is one of the greatest achievements of all the times in Rocket.Chat thanks to my work.
- From technical writer Muhammad in the project report, OpenMRS: Write Code, Save lives!
GSoD not only provided me with an opportunity to learn about open source but also to interact with some of the most wonderful people around the globe working enthusiastically for betterment of society and help create and most importantly maintain a Medical Record System completely free of cost for under-privileged as well as other users.
GSoD not only increased my knowledge about open-source and led me to meet exciting people, it also helped me to further enhance my technical writing and managerial skills…
I would love to continue working for OpenMRS and be an active member of the community.
- From technical writer Areesha in a writeup of the project, OpenELIS documentation for end users:
Google Season of Docs introduced me to open-source community. I realized how open-source projects offer multiple benefits to its users. Open-source systems provide more flexibility, security and transparency to the users as the system is continuously being reviewed and updated…
Writing technical documentation for a system that is implemented at such a wide scale and is a part of a global community made me learn so much about how the technical documentation is done in the real-world at the corporate and professional level.
- From technical writer Anna in a writeup of the project, How did Open Collective’s docs change in three months?
This community has welcomed me with open arms and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. Open Collective has found in me a contributor for life, and I hope to keep contributing for as long as I can.
- From technical writer Anne in the project writeup, The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to NumPy:
If you’re interested in getting involved with NumPy or Google Season of Docs, I highly recommend it. If you’re new to open source projects, you might have a bit of a learning curve setting up your workstation, becoming familiar with NumPy’s contribution guidelines, and getting to know the ins and outs of .rst and Sphinx, but it’s so worth it. It’s definitely challenging if you haven’t done it before, but keep going. Once you get those details nailed down, you can start having real fun!
- From technical writer Alex in a writeup of the project with International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF), Technical Writer, Google Season of Docs 2019:
I’M STILL SMILING!
It’s well worth taking a look at all the project reports listed on the Season of Docs website, to see the scope of the projects tackled, the challenges that the technical writers faced, and how they overcame them. Every story is different!
Please do let me know of any posts I’ve missed, or if you’d like to add any experiences of your own. Add a comment on this post so that others can read it too.
Opportunities to contribute to open source
If you’re looking for opportunities to contribute to open source, these opportunities abound.
A note to avoid potential confusion: Contributing to these projects would be outside of the Season of Docs program, unless you’re already officially signed up to take part in the relevant long-running project in Season of Docs 2019, or you’re accepted into a future Season of Docs program in 2020 or beyond.
Some suggestions for finding a project to contribute to:
- In their project reports listed on the Season of Docs website, many of the technical writers describe followup work to be done.
- The open source organisations published detailed lists of ideas in their original proposals for Season of Docs. Many of these ideas are not yet addressed, because Season of Docs is only three months’ worth of writing!
There are more Season of Docs 2019 results to come
To the technical writers and mentors working on the long-running projects for Season of Docs 2019: Have fun, best of luck with your projects, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the results in February!
To add to the celebratory nature of this post, here’s a picture of a tea tree flower spray which I came across while walking in the Australian bush:
Technical writers around the world can now explore the open source organizations taking part in Google’s Season of Docs program. It’s time to start preparing your project proposal!
Season of Docs provides a framework for open source projects and technical writers to work together on the projects’ documentation. It’s a program run by Google in collaboration with participating open source organizations.
The program kicked off in March 2019 by inviting open source organizations to apply to take part.
The list of participating open source organizations is now available on the website.
The next step is for technical writers to apply to take part in the program.
Explore the tech writing project ideas and contact the organizations
It’s exciting to see the variety of open source organizations taking part, and the technical writing project ideas that each organization has on on offer!
If you’re interested in working on open source docs as part of the Season of Docs program, now’s the time to start planning your project proposal. You can contact the organization(s) that you’re interested in right away, and discuss your proposal with them. Talking up front is a great way to ensure you submit the best project proposal that you can. Then you’ll be ready when the technical writer application phase opens on May 29.
Some hints from me
Each open source organization has published a list of ideas for technical writing projects they’d like to complete within the Season of Docs program. (Follow the links from the page of participating open source organizations to see each organization’s project ideas.)
- Remember that you’re the one with technical writing expertise. Write your proposal based on your experience of other projects. Include your plan for design and execution of the project, and scope the project so that it’s achievable within the Season of Docs time frame.
- You can split an organization’s idea into smaller chunks and write a proposal for one or more of those chunks.
- You can also propose an entirely new project idea of your own, based on your exploration of the organization’s open source product and existing docs.
- Read the Season of Docs FAQ and technical writer guide for information on how much time you can expect to spend on a project, and about long-running versus standard-length projects.
- Do get in touch with one or more organizations to talk about the projects they have on offer. They’ll be able to help you design a proposal that you can then submit to Season of Docs. It’s the organizations who’ll eventually choose the technical writers to work on their docs during the program.
- You can talk to as many organizations as you like, and you can submit more than one application to Season of Docs, though only one application will be accepted.
- Your project proposal forms part of your application to Season of Docs. Read the technical writer guide and application hints for help with creating your application.
- Make your project proposal count. There may quite possibly be other technical writers proposing to the same organization.
Questions and discussions
Here are a few places where you can learn more and ask questions:
- Join us on the Season of Docs Slack workspace or discussion mailing list, anytime. For information on how to join, check out the page about discussion channels on the Season of Docs website.
- Will you be at STC Summit in Denver on May 6-8 (next week)? I’ll be speaking on Tuesday, May 7, at 2pm about open source, documentation, and Season of Docs. See the session description in the summit app (you need to be logged in). You can also grab me for a chat in the conference hallways.
- Join the Write the Docs online meetup in mid May. Write the Docs Australia and Write the Docs India are hosting a joint online meetup (webinar) on May 15 (APAC time zone). Join us for an overview of Season of Docs! The webinar is free of charge and is open to anyone interested.
Hope to see you in one of those places. 🙂
Last week Google announced a new program, Season of Docs (g.co/seasonofdocs). The program provides a framework for technical writers and open source organizations to work together on a specific documentation project chosen by the open source organization and the tech writer concerned. From April 2, interested open source organizations can start applying for this year’s Season of Docs. Exciting news indeed! But what happens before April 2? I decided to blog about some ways you can get started with Season of Docs right now.
Open source organizations can start planning the documentation projects they’d like help with, and letting technical writers know about those projects. Get the conversation going, and build up excitement amongst your open source community and amongst the technical writing community.
The first step is to think about a good project or projects that a technical writer can help you with. The Season of Docs website provides some generic ideas for doc projects. You should to craft a specific project or two, based on the actual doc needs of your project. Include links to the relevant docs or other resources within your open source repository or on your website. I’d recommend that you propose a a few different project types, because different tasks may be of interest to different tech writers. For example, you could offer one project to refactor your existing docs, another to create a specific tutorial, and so on.
Your goal is to attract tech writers by making them feel comfortable about approaching your organization and excited about what they can achieve in collaboration with your mentors during Season of Docs.
It’s a good idea to find out who in your community wants to be a mentor. The mentors don’t need to be tech writers. There’s help about the mentors’ role on the Season of Docs website too.
When you’ve gathered some project ideas, blog about the fact that your organization is putting forward an application to participate in Season of Docs. Use the blog post to tell tech writers about your ideas and ask for input. You don’t need to wait for applications to open. You can get a head start by kicking off the discussion now.
Use the tag #SeasonOfDocs when promoting your ideas on social media. To include the tech writing and open source communities, add #WriteTheDocs, #techcomm, #TechnicalWriting, and #OpenSource.
Exciting news: Google Open Source has announced a new program called Season of Docs. I’m excited because the goals of this program reflect two passions of mine: to help technical writers get started in the world of open source software, and to help open source projects build great documentation. I’m also excited because I’m on the program development team for Season of Docs.
Technical writers bring their documentation expertise to the open source project of their choice. In return, mentors from the open source organization help the technical writer gain an understanding of their open source community, processes, tools, and code.
A golden collaboration
When technical writers contribute to open source projects, both parties benefit. The open source project gains good documentation and improved contribution procedures. The technical writer gains experience in open source software, developer-focused products, new tools, and the ways in which open source communities work. A golden collaboration.
Open source is great. Some of the world’s most-used software is open source: the Linux operating system, Firefox web browser, LibreOffice, Apache web server, to name but a few well-known brands. Large companies like Microsoft, Google, Red Hat, and IBM contribute to, as well as use, open source code.
Open source ideology is great too. People share code in public repositories, collaborate on making the code better, invite others to join their communities… yet, all too often, people expect those newcomers to understand the product, the code, and the community’s values with very little good documentation.
Why the dearth of good docs? It’s clear from GitHub’s Open Source Survey that open source organizations know the value of good documentation, so why are there so many gaps? Because writing documentation is hard.
But wait… there are people who know how to do it well!
Many technical writers are keen to gain experience in developer-focused products such as APIs, SDKs, and various programming languages and tools. Technical writers look for opportunities to explore cloud computing, machine learning, hardware, and more.
When a technical writer wants to expand their resume or look for a new role, the advice is sometimes to build a portfolio by contributing to open source. But that’s not easy. There are so many open source projects out there. Where do you start? How can you be sure your contributions will be useful to the open source project? Who can help you understand the contribution procedures, the product, and the code?
Season of Docs gives technical writers and open source projects the opportunity to work together within a structured program.
Let’s go build great open source docs!
How does Season of Docs work?
First up, open source organizations apply to participate in Season of Docs. The list of accepted organizations is then published on the Season of Docs website, along with the ideas each organization has proposed for technical writing projects.
Then technical writers explore the list of participating open source organizations and their project ideas.
As a technical writer, you can decide which open source project you’d like to work with. It’s a good idea to get in touch with the open source organization to chat about their requirements and your own ideas. You can contact more than one organization if you like.
When you’re ready, you submit your application to participate in Season of Docs, including your project proposal and the name of the open source organization you’re interested in. You can submit more than one project proposal, but only one will be accepted.
If your technical writing project is accepted for Season of Docs, then you as a technical writer will work with your chosen open source organization for a few months (starting in September 2019) to complete your project. You work closely with your open source mentor for the duration of the program, to ensure successful completion of your project.
When can you start?
Open source organizations can start applying to participate in Season of Docs from April 2, 2019, and the website will show the list of participating organizations on April 30. Technical writers then have the opportunity to examine the list of participating open source organizations and explore the project ideas proposed by the organizations.
Technical writers can start applying to participate in Season of Docs from May 29, 2019.
The Season of Docs timeline shows the key dates and what happens in each phase of the program.
Want to learn more?
Take a look at the Season of Docs announcement on the Google Open Source Blog, or dive into the guides on the Season of Docs website at g.co/seasonofdocs. Join the mailing list at season-of-docs-announce to stay informed about when applications open and other important program events.