Wednesday, November 23, 2011


A good conference should get you out of your day-to-day tactical problems, and get you focused on the big picture.  It should put you cheek-to-cheek with people who are excited about being in the same space, and who are interested in exploring beyond the status quo.  You should return to your day job with a renewed sense of energy, and a plethora of ideas that will inspire you to do better, achieve more, think bigger. 

For tech writers, that conference is Lavacon.  It's dedicated to content strategy, which, in my mind, means thinking outside the box about why and how we produce content.  Social media, new content types (such as mobile) and an increasingly global environment mean that the communication approaches we've used in the past are no longer good enough.  The role of a tech writer is changing; there's simply too much content to have only one role dedicated to writing all of the docs needed.

My favorite session was Scott Abel's "Help 2.0" presentation.  His ideas about how to leverage the crowd to create and organize content were revolutionary.  I think that crowd-sourcing has great potential for developer docs and have been thinking about how to do it ever since.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Telecommuting for tech writers: feasible or not?

Does it make sense to hire a tech writer who is not co-located with the team?  The answer is: it depends.  Here are questions to ask to help you decide.
  • How many people does the tech writer need to interface with?
    The more people involved with a project, the more valuable it is for the tech writer to be onsite so s/he can gain economy of scale by meeting with multiple people at once.
  • How formalized is the exchange of information in the company?
    If a company has, and follows, fairly stable specifications and project plans, it's easier for the tech writer to work at a distance.  If critical information tends to be communicated in hallway conversations and over lunch, it's better for the tech writer to be onsite so s/he can take part in these conversations.
  • How important is it that the "powers that be" at the company recognize the value of tech writing?As a general rule, face to face contact increases perceived value. If education about the value of tech writing is strategically important in the long term, it's better for the tech writer to be located onsite. If it's okay that tech writing be viewed as a commodity, then telecommuting is fine.
  • How specialized are the requirements of the position? 
    As with any profession, the best tech writers are hard to find.  The more specialized the skillset of the writer you are recruiting, the more you may have to gain by agreeing to let the tech writer telecommute.
    Many of the most technical API writers are qualified to be software developers. They have consciously chosen to earn less income as tech writers in order to make gains in work/life balance, and telecommuting is one of the top benefits they are seeking.  You can attract exceptional talent by allowing telecommuting.
What other factors are important to consider with respect to telecommuting?  Are there additional advantages or disadvantages I've neglected to mention?