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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

Designing a workshop and workbooks

Over the last couple of months I’ve been presenting workshops on API technical writing in various locations. The workshops last a full day, and consist of lectures alternating with hands-on sessions. During the hands-on sessions, which last an hour, the participants work through learning material and exercises in a workbook. I put quite a bit of thought into the design of the workshop and workbooks. A few people have commented that the resulting structure works well, so I’ve decided to blog about it in the hope other technical writers will find it useful.

I’ve run the workshop three times to date: once in Mountain View, in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Chapter of the STC (Society for Technical Communication); once more in Mountain View, for Google technical writers; and once in Washington, DC, in collaboration with the STC Washington, DC – Baltimore Chapter.

First I’ll describe the workshop as a whole, then I’ll focus on the workbooks designed for participants to work through during the hands-on sessions.

Content of the workshop

The workshop is an introduction to API technical writing, designed for an audience of technical writers who’re new to APIs.

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 technical writer, it’s an exciting, challenging and rewarding field.

The workshop includes the following parts, alternating between lectures and hands-on 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.

Design of the workbooks

When designing the content and structure of the workbooks, my aims were:

  • Consolidate the learning points from the previous lecture, by guiding people to perform the same tasks that they’ve just seen demonstrated.
  • Teach in-depth concepts and techniques that are better learned by active self-study than by watching someone else.
  • Provide material for further study after the workshop is over.
  • Cater for people with various skill levels in each subject area. Provide enough material for people who already know a bit about that particular subject, as well as for people just starting out.
  • Take the varying interests of the group into account. Some participants are more interested in REST APIs, for example, whereas others want to focus on JavaScript or Java. People can start each workbook during the allotted session, but then decide to focus only on a particular workbook for further study.
  • Prevent performance anxiety. Some people are quite nervous about taking part in workshops, worrying that they won’t be able to complete the exercises in the allotted time, and won’t be able to meet other people’s expectations or even their own expectations for what they’ll achieve during the workshop.

The first part of each workbook consolidates what participants have learned in earlier lectures. Subsequent parts of the workbook are more advanced.

As an example, here’s the introduction and table of contents for the first workbook:

Workbook table of contents

Part 1 of this workbook consists of material covered in the previous lecture. Parts 2 to 4 contain new material.

Later sessions in the workshop build upon the material in parts 2 to 4 of this workbook, but without assuming that the participant has already had time to complete those parts.

Helping people feel comfortable

For hands-on sessions, I made it clear that people should feel free to pair up with someone. Some people work best alone, getting into the zone and focusing. Others work best with a partner. The partnering worked particularly well during the latest workshop in Washington, DC. A number of people paired up, and the room hummed with concentration.

I also let people know that the workbooks contain everything they need. In particular, all the code is available in the workshop material or via links in the workbooks.

Introducing a hands-on session

I wanted people to enjoy the workshop, to feel they had time to get to know their fellow participants, to come away feeling that they’d learned something useful, and above all to have plenty of material and avenues for further investigation. Judging from the feedback, the design is working well. Thanks to everyone for your comments, and for the suggestions on how to improve the workshop for future incarnations!

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