This week I attended tcworld India 2016 in Bangalore. It’s been an amazing, rewarding experience. Here are some of my impressions, and a roundup of the posts I’ve written about the sessions I attended.
Tcworld India is an annual conference run by TWIN (Technical Writers of India) and tekom Deutschland. This is a great event, attended by 350 energetic, knowledgable technical communicators.
In his introductory speech at the start of the conference, Akash Dubey said that the great thing about tcworld India is the learning that happens in the corridors. That is so true! At every step, I met people with things to discuss, things to show, questions to ask, answers to propose.
The stage before the start of the conference, awaiting words of tech comm wisdom:
There were 8 time slots on each of the two days of the conference, with up to 4 sessions running in each time slot. In total that makes approximately 30 sessions, covering topics across a range of areas: content strategy, tools, technologies, trends, usability, authoring and editing, structured writing, career development, leadership, localisation and translation, and more.
The following posts contain my notes about the sessions I attended:
- The future *is* technical communication. (This was my own presentation, the keynote address on day 1 of the conference.)
- The Future is Intelligent Information. (The keynote on day 2 of the conference, by Michael Fritz.)
- Technical Writing for Big Data Applications.
- Human Auditory Processing and Speech Recognition—Potential Latencies and Benefits for Documentation.
- Predicting User Questions to Build an Information Repository.
- Collocations and Phrasing in Technical Writing and Translation.
- Accelerating Tech Comm Career Paths.
- When Bad Design Happens to Good People.
- Are YouTube and Google Making Technical Writing Redundant?
- Introduction to API Technical Writing. (This was my tech talk, on day 2 of the conference.)
The conference took place in Bangalore, India. My travelling bookmark has some impressions of the city to share: Bangalore peace and traffic.
Thank you to the organisers of tcworld India 2016, for a very well planned event and a skilfully constructed program. The care that you put into this conference is obvious. Walking around the halls, I saw happy, busy, engaged attendees and packed sessions throughout.
Technical communicators in Bangalore sure do know how to throw a good party. The venue was beautifully decorated:
We started with a few song and dance numbers from some very talented technical writers. I filmed some short videos, which capture the spirit and beauty of the event:
Another dancing item:
There was so much more. Guitars:
A huge thank you to the performers who put so much effort and talent into the show. I was blown away by the beauty of it, and so were all the attendees. Talented technical writers indeed!
After the show, the rest of the crowd got into the dancing scene:
Thanks again, tcworld India 2016!
This week I attended tcworld India 2016 in Bangalore. What an amazing experience! I’ll write a summary of the conference soon. First, here are some notes on a session that I presented at the conference: “Introduction to API Technical Writing”.
The slides for my presentation are available on SlideShare: Introduction to API Technical Writing (slides).
- An introduction to APIs.
- An overview of the role of API technical writer, and of our audience – the developers who need our documentation to use
- APIs in their applications.
- A technical writer’s view of the types of API we might document.
- Demos of 2 APIs that you can play with yourself.
- The components of API documentation.
- Examples of good and popular API documentation.
- Working with engineers.
- Tips on getting started as an API technical writer.
- Why API technical writing is a good field to be in.
Thank you so much to everyone who attended the talk. The room was packed to overflowing. After the session, and indeed throughout the conference, people came up to discuss the field of API technical writing and to show me things they were working on. A number of conference attendees do API documentation as part of their role, and it was very interesting to see the variety of requirements even in this niche within a niche: API documentation within the technical writing profession.
For the next tworld India, I think it’d be a good idea to have a panel discussion on API documentation. We could invite 3 or 4 people working on different types of APIs, and within different environments (such as internal versus external documentation, or integrations).
I’m attending tcworld India 2016 in Bangalore. The last session of the day was a panel discussion with the enticing title, “Are YouTube and Google Making Technical Writing Redundant?” The moderator was Edwin Skau. These are my notes from the session.
Note: By “Google”, the panel means Google Search.
Edwin started by saying that for the past few years, there have been prophets of doom foretelling the end of our discussion. In the age of YouTube and Google, what is the role of technical communication.
The panelists were Rajesh Chandrasekhar,Nihal, and Parveen Mittal.
Rajesh Chandrasekhar kicked off the discussion. He thinks the answer to the question is, it depends. If you think of the job as someone who publishes, then yes, your job may go away. But if your job is to make sense of the information out there, and to understand users’ problems, then our job will remain. Writers become curators of information. We collaborate on putting the information together – see the world of wikis. It’s a deeper understanding of the customer workflow that enables us to put documentation together. Rajesh showed us a configuration guide compiled from infographics, as a simpler, visual way of absorbing information.
At this point, there was discussion from the floor about the practicality of video guides.
The next panelist was Nihal. For apps, you need a nice way of describing what the app does, said Nihal. He gave 2 examples. A friend of his wanted to connect his phone to Nihal’s car. It was a very complicated procedure, and in the end they couldn’t do it. So they examined the user manual, which was a very thick book. Couldn’t find the information. So then they searched on their phones, and found a YouTube vide that helped them find the answer and do the task within 5 minutes. The video didn’t come from the car company, but from a third party.
Nihal’s second example was a game app that he was playing. He had an issue with adding another player to the game. On the website he found documentation in a question and answer format, and found the answer very easily.
So, in one case, YouTube was the answer, in another it was a technical document.
As a third example, Nihal described a product of his own, which helps people find each other in a certain environment, such as in a conference. He’d explained this app so often, but still the same answer came up: what does the app do. So he created a YouTube video, which does the job well. To create the video, he used a group of creative writers. So no, YouTube does not mean the death of technical writing.
The third panelist was Parveen Mittal. He decided to flip the question, and see what opportunities there are for technical communicators. YouTube and Google are additional channels that we can use. When you need serious information, you need technical writing. He thinks there are massive opportunities, but he’d like to wait for questions before sharing his thoughts.
There was quite a bit of discussion around dating sites at this point, Kinder, eHarmony, and other ways of connecting people. I have to confess I got a bit lost about the relevancy here.
Parveen thinks the amount of work for technical writers will not be reduced. There’ll always be a requirement for some documentation. Edwin made the point that in some cases, there’s a legal requirement for documentation. Regardless of the delivery mechanism for content, someone still needs to design the information.
A member of the audience pointed out that she and many people needed a starter manual, when getting a new product, so that they can confidently start using the product without being afraid of spoiling it or breaking it.
Rajesh pointed out that when you get an iPhone, there’s no manual that comes with it. The expectation is that the design is so good, no documentation is required. A member of the audience pointed out that technical writers are getting involved in the user experience design, that enables such great product design.
Edwin brought curation of user-generated content, and crowd sourcing, into the discussion, asking what the advantage is. Rajesh said the advantage is that you’re making use of the experience of the people out there. Edwin pointed out that there are users who have been using the product for longer than most employees have been with the company that designed the product.
Nihal pointed out that the ability to express the user’s requirements and write clear, useful documentation will always be useful.
A member of the audience said that a study had showed that 75% of the features of a product aren’t used as designed. How do we determine what the customer wants, and how the customer will use the product. Parveen said that crowd-sourced and collaborative technical writing plays a part here. As the UX becomes simpler and the underlying technology becomes more and more complex, you need crowd-sourced answers to issues that arise. Someone else will have had the problem you encounter, and will have solved it.
If technical writers try to stick to writing PDF documents in a dark corner (an analogy that’s been used a few times in the conference) then we’ll become outdated. But if we’re willing to change, there are plenty of opportunities open to us.
A question: Do you think there are limitations to search engines, such as Google, that are preventing users from finding information. Is this so, even though the algorithms are so good, and what can we do to solve the problem? Rajesh suggested running the search engine against your own company’s database, find any shortcomings, and improve the search engine.
Edwin closed by saying that we all agree. Yaayyy. He also suggested that we should consider writing outside our jobs, expanding our skills, and providing information in the places where people are looking for it. So, technical communication is a field that is growing with all these changes, not shrinking.
The consensus was that our profession isn’t going away. Yaayyy.
I’m attending tcworld India 2016 in Bangalore. Edwin Skau gave a presentation entitled “When Bad Design Happens to Good People”. These are my notes from the session. All credit goes to Edwin, and any mistakes are my own.
Edwin started by saying that he focuses on how people think about what they do, rather than teaching people how to do something.
He told the story of the Steve Harvey, who mistakenly announced the wrong winner of Miss Universe 2015. Edwin showed us the card that Steve read the winner from, and we discussed how the design of the card led to Steve Harvey’s mistake. The mistake could have been prevented with better design. When bad things happen to good people, good people fail.
We looked at some definitions of design, and settled on this: “Design is a decision or decisions made to achieve a specific purpose.”
The purpose of training is to change behaviour. The purpose of technical communication is to empower users. Bad design leads to failure.
We looked at some hilarious examples of bad designs. An ATM that was high on a wall, and thus out of reach. Funny, frustrating error messages. Edwin had the audience giggling and even roaring with laughter. Then we saw an example of good design: a gadget that helps you put the pleats in a sari.
Jared M Spool talks about 3 approaches to design:
- Self design – design something to suit the way you would use it. This often fails, because often you’re designing for people who are not like you.
- Unintentional design – the design is forced by a decision made by someone at some time.
- Research-based design – this is the best form of design. It’s based on user research: what the user uses the product for, what their win factors are, and so on.
Edwin discussed the features of good design. A well designed product is functional, useful, aesthetically pleasing, intuitive (making a user manual unnecessary), honest, and durable.
What about failures in information design? Edwin gave some examples, from some projects he had seen. These are some of the examples he mentioned:
- Tabbed pages. Tabs hide information.
- XML tags for every style.
- PDF files produced from XML, where all topics of a particular type (concept, task, reference) are sorted together. This results in a guide that fails to help a user with a particular type.
- Choose a tool first, then build a strategy around it.
- Content sorted in alphabetical order by title.
- Document the features, not the usage.
- Forcing documentation into sprints. This can lead to over-documenting, and documenting what the developers have done rather than what the users will do.
You need to design the documentation process based on what you want to get out of the: where are we now, where are we going, what’s the most efficient way to get there from here. You must also figure out what you should not do.
A closing thought from Edwin: Quick wins are often the enemy of long-term gains.
I loved Edwin’s style of telling stories to illustrate his points. Thanks Edwin!
I’m attending tcworld India 2016 in Bangalore. Alyssa Fox gave a presentation entitled “From Byways to Highways: Accelerating Tech Comm Career Paths”. These are my notes from the session. All credit goes to Alyssa, and any mistakes are my own.
Alyssa started by describing how job ladders can help technical writers in an organisation plan their career paths. It helps people know the expectations for their job level in a particular job ladder, and how they can aim at promotion to the next level. It also helps managers allay people’s confusion caused when comparing their own performance to that of other people.
These are the areas that Alyssa’s company focuses on in their job ladder:
- Technical expertise and product usability. This includes things like product knowledge, and how the person applies that knowledge, tools, and user experience. Alyssa described how a junior employee’s skill may differ from a more senior employee, for example in the field of product knowledge. The team encourages writers to do more than write PDF documentation. She explained that this is good for the writers’ careers too. She encourages writers to take part in and conduct UX (user experience) studies on the product itself. This helps prevent the team having to document around bad UI. The latter is not a good use of writers’ time or customers’ time.
- Quality. This covers content improvement (for example, no typos, good structure), product improvement, understanding customer needs, and quality of writing. Again, the writer’s contribution differs depending on their level. A junior write may just produce good writing, while a more senior writer may offer suggestions on how to improve quality, and even drive processes for quality improvement. To move up the ladder, think about how things could be done better!
- Functional expertise. These are the nuts and bolts of tech writing: putting a schedule together, process, defining a project, results. A junior person won’t be setting schedules – that’s the task of the lead writer, who’ll also coach the junior team members on how to estimate timings and create a schedule. Similarly, Alyssa has very different expectations about what a junior level person puts out in comparison to a senior level person. The important thing is that they’re learning.
- Communication and teamwork. Alyssa said that Bangalore traffic is one of the best examples of communication that she’s seen. 🙂 Thinking about how we communicate (a soft skill) is a huge part of our job. It’s vital to our success as technical communicators. Things that the job ladder takes into account: communication style, communication scope (how often you communicate with people outside the tech writer team, and what type of value you provide), teamwork, interpersonal skills. Junior writers will probably talk to only members of their immediate team, whereas more senior writers speak to people of other disciplines (such as marketing). Writers even have contacts outside the company, such as by attending and speaking at conferences, or making presentations to the team or to a wider audience.
- Leadership. Alyssa emphasised you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. It has to do with the way you carry yourself, the ideas you bring forward, your self motivation. Alyssa looks for initiative. Things on the ladder: Planning, interviewing, team leadership, change management.
Alyssa mentioned that getting promoted is great, but often people don’t necessarily want to be promoted. You can grow horizontally by expanding your skills, without necessarily wanting to progress up the ladder. UX is an obvious transition point for technical communicators. Another option is to become the team’s tools expert. Technical communicators can also move over to product management. It’s a different skillset, but the foundational knowledge that we gain as writers gives us a good start.
A focus on editing skills is an option for horizontal growth. Or information architecture. Similarly, a technical writer’s project management skills can be transferred to a full project management role. Marketing is another opportunity. Technical writers can sync up with the marketing team, to ensure a clear path for the user from the marketing content to the technical content.
In Alyssa’s job ladder, there are 7 levels of technical writer. From junior information developer (level 1), through lead information developer 1 (level 4), to senior information architect (level 7).
Thanks Alyssa for an energetic, information-packed presentation.