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Seattle workshop on API Technical Writing

Will you be in Seattle on Friday, October 23rd? Join me and the Puget Sound Chapter of the STC for a full-day workshop on API technical writing. It’s free, and there’s free food too. :) Join me and other Google tech writers in a day of API doc lectures and hands-on sessions.

Anyone interested in learning about API technical writing is welcome to attend – you don’t need to be a member of the STC.

Quick links: Register to attend, and learn more on the STC Puget Sound site.

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: Friday, October 23rd, 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: Google Offices, 601 N 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103. (Link on Google Maps.)

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 prerequisites and setup 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.

Meet Google tech writers

There’ll be some Google tech writers at the workshop, assisting with any difficulties during the hands-on sessions. I’m hoping a couple of them will present some of the lectures too.

Hope to see you there!

Here’s that signup link on Eventbrite. I hope to see you there!

Slide from lecture – working with an engineering team:

Working with an Engineering Team

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. :)

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

Now you can add items to Tech Comm on a Map yourself

A smart colleague showed me how to tweak the data source for Tech Comm on a Map so that I can allow data entry via a form, and moderate each entry before it appears on the map. This means technical writers around the world can add items to the map directly, instead of  asking me to do it via a comment on this blog. Too cool!

Would you like to add a conference, society, group, business, or educational course to the map, or some other titbit that technical writers will find interesting?

Use this online form to add an item to the map.

Any items you add will be saved for moderation, and will appear on the map once they’ve passed review.

Background info

Tech Comm on a Map puts technical communication titbits onto an interactive map, together with the data and functionality provided by Google Maps. Read more about Tech Comm on a Map or see it in action.

Tech Comm on a Map


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