Conference Speakers

Conference Speakers

Aaron Collier

Seeing your docs through different eyes: Mapping doc users’ experiences

Sometimes we get so caught up in making sure our docs are accurate, up to date, and well written that we don't have time to see how they look from an outside perspective. In this talk, I'll run through how you can gain valuable insight into your docs by mapping the journeys of the people who use your docs.

Customer journey mapping provides a useful framework for thinking about how users of your docs actually experience their interactions. It involves thinking about how your docs fit within users' work and what you can do to maximize their good feelings when their journey touches your docs.

To give you a better idea of the process, I'll present the example of what we learned while mapping at Kentico Cloud. Our process was very useful for us and consisted of several steps:

  1. Gather information about who reads our docs.
  2. Create personas for our readers.
  3. Meet and go through the journey as each persona.
  4. Act on the insights.

I hope that by seeing this example and what we gained from it, you'll be able to see how useful it can be to set aside time to try to see your docs from someone else's point of view.

Kelly O'Brien

Surprise! You're a designer now.

Anyone who’s written documentation for a living knows that our jobs are only, like, 50 percent writing, and 50 percent all the other stuff we have to do to make that writing good. Long before we ever get a word on the proverbial page, we spend ages getting our heads around our products and the underlying concepts that shape them. But how often are those underlying concepts... kind of a mess? And how much better would our lives be if we could help design our products so they’re simpler, clearer, and easier to communicate to our users?

Welcome to the wonderful world of content design. Whether you’ve ever heard of the discipline or not, it’s a safe bet that it already makes up a healthy percentage of your work. In this talk we’re going to explore how all of the systems thinking, narrative building, and language crafting you already do as documentarians can make you an incredible asset to your product design team.

As a former documentarian who’s made the jump to content design full time, I’ll share a framework we've used at Intercom to communicate the value of our role on the product design team. You’ll come away with ideas for:

  • how to get involved with the product design process as a documentarian
  • how to communicate the value of your input to a variety of different disciplines
  • and how to make the content design you’re already doing easier for people to see, understand, and build upon

Prerana Pradhan

Fostering Technical Writing in Developing Nations

In my talk, I intend to share my experience of working with employers, educational institutions and fellow teammates to create a difference in the field of technical writing in Nepal. Also, I will discuss how I was able to set up a team of young technical writers, to keep them motivated, and to explain them the possibilities of working globally.

Awareness of Technical Writing as a separate domain can come from three aspects: employers, educational Institutions and the working people themselves. It is crucial to create awareness about technical documentation in the educational institutions as they are the "producers" of the future pool of professional writers.

It is essential for employers to understand that technical writing is a specific domain and technical writers add value to companies by creating useful product documentation. There is a need to change the general perspective that anybody in the team can write. We need to understand the importance of customer-focussed documentation.

Ellie Farrier

Wild Geeks: Poetry in the Digital Age

Maybe you've always wondered what bridges poetry and tech writing, maybe you already know, or maybe you’re thinking about it now for the first time. In this talk, I will discuss how the two disciplines of poetry and technical writing are the Gemini twins of the Digital Age. As a lifelong student, reader, writer, and lover of all things poetry, I realized early in my academic career that poetry is what I wanted. I didn’t know how I wanted it, but I wanted it. When I was finally approached with the opportunity to be a Technical Writer, I knew it would be a good fit, but I never imagined the interdisciplinary overlap. As a Technical Writer of user documentation I bring poetry into my work every single day. I’m reminded of a poem, a poet, a writer, a theme, a purposeful misspelling, and I see a commonality.

These are some of the similarities I’m reminded of the most, and what I’ll be presenting in my talk:

  • Creatives & Tech writers: Brief, biographical information on well-known creatives who were once Technical Writers. The list may include: Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Pynchon, George Saunders, and Amy Tan.
  • Themes & style guides: “The Crocodile” by Lewis Carroll and its adherence to a poetic theme. Both poetic themes and style guides are important tools for standardizing tone, diction, and organization for writers.
  • Form & structure “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” by e e cummings and the importance of form on a page. This poem uses negative space and unique formatting to add meaning to the content, while the structure of user documentation is vital to the content within any article.
  • Poetry & work: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver and the beauty of reality, making mistakes, and using your imagination to find your place “in the family of things”.

This talk is for people who are interested in dissecting the similarities between poetry and technical writing, and who strive to keep their creative brains enabled in their daily work.

Ben Ahmady

Write the API docs before the API exists

This talk proposes to discuss a recent experiment we at Onfido undertook which took a novel approach: "write the docs before the API exists".

When I first got into software technical writing, I used to think that you should include technical writers from the start of a project. That's still a common approach, but as I personally became a more experienced writer, I began to find that projects very often changed—as they should, by design, in Agile development. The upshot of that for me personally, unfortunately, was that much of my work on documentation ended up being "sunk costs".

When drawing up our newest API at Onfido, I (by now a "quite technical" technical writer) set out with a backend engineer to not only document it from the start, but to actually assist in designing it—based on how I envisaged our customers would review the documentation, test the API, and interact with it.

This talk will discuss the lessons we learned along the way, how well the experiment worked, and more widely about how software technical writers can bring unique expertise to not only write about, but help shape the direction of projects and create the best possible developer experience.

Jen Lambourne

The UK government meets docs as code

Just a few years ago, the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) didn’t have a technical writing team. Documentation was often written by technologists (if at all) and GDS teams were building so fast they had no choice but to cobble docs together with a mix of tools and processes.

For users, this meant an inconsistent experience. For technologists, this meant constant confusion about where and how to document things. And for newly-hired technical writers, it meant learning a new toolset every time we moved teams. So we decided we needed to overhaul the lot.

Three years on and GDS uses a docs as code approach for all our docs. We’ve debated static site generators, wrangled legacy content, switched hosting options, grappled git workflows, introduced and swiftly backtracked on features, and tested repeatedly with our users. It’s not perfect, but we’ve learnt an awful lot along the way.

This talk is the story of how docs as code has fundamentally changed the role of documentation creators in government, how we side-stepped pitfalls and fell head first into others and - if we had the chance - whether we’d do it all again.

Brian Lemke

How to launch your startup with good docs

Just because there’s pressure to get the product out the door, doesn’t mean there’s no time to think about documentation. It’s one of the first things that beta users and investors ask for. But how do you build documentation at the same time as your product on a tight startup timeline of only a few months?

In this talk, I’ll describe my methodology for getting documentation up and running at early-stage tech startups that have focused more on shipping than documenting. I’ll discuss how I assessed the current state of the docs, set documentation requirements with the team, harmonized the various moving parts of the product into a coherent narrative, and led the team to ship a fully-functional documentation system in time for the first release.

Arran Southall

Fostering Talent: Mentorship, Peer Reviews and Going Beyond Your Job Description

“Undertake continual professional development, mentor new or younger employees and learn and implement new skills beyond your primary role.”

This is a sentence that few, or more likely none of us will find in our job descriptions. This talk seeks to impress the importance of developing not only yourself, but others, as a primary part of your job.

What incentive have we to remain in the same role or company if we are unable to learn and use new skills? Why develop new competencies if we have no opportunity to pass them onto the next generation? Why make ourselves vulnerable when we can remain in our quiet, safe silos?

Karen Sawrey

Disagree with “I Agree”. Enforcing better data privacy through the language of documentation

The new privacy regulations that came into force in 2018 (GDPR in the EU, Data Protection Act in the UK, the USA data privacy laws following suit) are not just about the software and data collection/protection. The “privacy by design” principles mean that every aspect of software — including with documentation — needs to be in line with the message of handling the users’ data with great care.

We, as technical writers, can enforce the matters of better data privacy through the language and visuals in the documentation portals and live sandboxes. Which means better security. And which means clear and explicit consent forms, human language in privacy policies, and buttons that do something the user actually understands. Language is powerful. It is a tool that we can and should use it to make the world a safer place.

The talk addresses the aspects and elements of software documentation that should and be reconsidered and restyled in the light of new privacy policy regulations.

Plamena Maleva

The Power of Empathy in Support Documentation: A 5-Step Guide

The teams behind apps and services are faced with the continuous challenge to create customer support documentation that is understandable and up-to-date at all times. With this challenge in mind this talk offers tips on planning and creating customer support documentation by leveraging the power of empathy at every stage. As a key principle in Design Thinking, empathy can be applied not only to product development but also to creative projects like designing and building a help center.

Although there has been a lot of talk about the importance of setting aside pre-existing assumptions regarding (user) behavior and empathizing with voiced out needs instead when writing support documentation, one important aspect has been largely ignored in the discussion: Planning and executing support documentation projects should be guided by empathy not only towards the users of a product but also towards its creators, developers, and support agents. By considering all relevant perspectives at all stages of writing documentation, support teams can create state-of-the-art help centers that serve their purpose in all relevant use cases, from answering customer questions to on-boarding new team members.

While building a help center alone is a big project that requires creativity and dedication, the importance of maintaining its efficiency and accuracy as an ongoing task is not always given the attention it deserves in Support teams. By choosing to approach such projects with an iterative mindset, writers can continuously improve their documentation in response to incoming feedback and relevant user data.

The tips offered in this talk aim to help writers and teams to apply empathy and iteration to their documentation projects as a way to improve not only the quality of the end product but also the writers’ satisfaction with their work in a sustainable manner.

Kayla Lee

The Super Effective Writing Process of Grammy-winning Artists

Before getting into docs, I worked as a recording engineer in Manhattan's studios—recording major artists. The writers, producers, and artists use a similar "process" for getting into flow state. I mimicked this process and my productivity skyrocketed. So much so that myself and 2 other technical writers on my team wrote 2 million words last year.

I'll share this magical process and:

  • Why you have to write for "you" every day before you can write for anyone else (including your company)
  • How to "let the bad songs out" to get to the good songs
  • How to find creative inspiration, because that's important, even with technical documentation

Zachary Sarah Corleissen

Found in Translation: Lessons from a Year of Open Source Localization

When Kubernetes docs added support for localization, we observed a greater-than-additive improvement in the quality of the docs as a whole. By greater-than-additive, I mean that localization contributors don't just add their own localized content: they contribute upstream to English source doc; they contribute laterally to other localizations; and they contribute upstream to Kubernetes features.

Examples include:

  • Scripts to determine when an upstream English file has been updated, and whether an open PR is considered the single source of truth
  • Advice and support to optimize long-running branches
  • Grammar and etymology in linguistic groups

While we did not set out with these explicit goals in mind for collaboration, in hindsight they were neither accidental nor spontaneous. This talk covers how a community code of conduct shaped docs localizations for collaborative success across axes of gender, language, and national identity.

Ilona Koren-Deutsch

Inclusive environments are better: science says so

Current neuroscientific research on psychological safety dovetails nicely with thinking we already do about inclusive language in our documentation. However rather than start and end with language, I propose building inclusive doc teams, and letting that inclusivity inform our work.

While many organizations are better about creating diversity, many have not yet figured out how to make the environment inclusive—that is, create an atmosphere in which all people feel valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities. Inclusive organizations seek to treat all people with respect, dignity, and impartiality. They bring everyone into the group and exclude no one.

This presentation will outline current research on inclusivity, both scientific and organizational, and suggest practical ways - some of which have been successful on teams I’ve been part of - to use that research to influence our hiring and team-building decisions, leading to better documentation that increases customer satisfaction.

James Scott

101 to 404s: How to write great error messages

Error messages are such a small and innocuous part of documentation that they sometimes don't always receive the care and attention that they deserve. Even the shortest error message can evoke far stronger, negative emotions in your end users than the majority of your documentation. If you get your error messaging wrong, it can not only lead to poor user experience and customer frustration but also low product satisfaction, and in worst cases, ridicule on social media.

After being asked by a developer for advice on how to write error messages, I found there wasn't really a definitive guide I could recommend so I ended up doing some research of my own and put some rough guidelines together. My talk will cover the three Hs (Be Helpful, Be Human, Be Humble), as well as the pros and cons of using humour and the risks of creating error mascots" or "fail pets" to reflect your brand. I will share some examples of error messages in the wild, highlighting where some companies have learned from their mistakes and corrected their error messages. I will also discuss sentence length and how it impacts user comprehension before touching upon colour and design; sharing my research into colour psychology, cultural interpretations of colour and its impact on accessibility.

Alison MacNeil

Documenting known unknowns

This talk explores the challenges associated with documenting a project with a very difficult subject and having an audience with vastly different backgrounds. I started a project two years ago to document a database query language that was invented to work with genomic databases. It is an esoteric subject where the knowledge was very much in the heads of a small number of people, but needed to be accessible to an audience including geneticists, software engineers, bioinformaticians and hospital clinicians. We use a mixture of Sphinx (with some adaptations) to bring in contributions from people working on the language and the project has grown to include contributors from all the backgrounds I mention here. By treating the documentation like a code project, we created a process we can work with, but this talk is really about the process of translating information within a single language and between domains and how to make information accessible without sacrificing meaning.