I recently co-organised the Build your Docs career conference together with the Write the Docs (WTD) community. This was the fourth collaboration between the organisations and focused on the technical writing profession.
The all-day event was divided into several small talks on different topics including:
- how to recruit good technical writers
- technical writing career paths
- the future of technical writing
Here are some interesting lessons from the day.
Recruiting good technical writers is complicated
Cherryleaf Director Ellis Pratt talked about how hiring technical writers was different to recruitment in other sectors and suggested recruiters must:
- get candidates to demonstrate the skills and knowledge related to technical writing (such as communication and instruction-based writing) during the interview
- measure a candidate’s ability through a writing, editing or proofreading test, as well as previous writing samples
Ellis also gave a few tips to prospective candidates by suggesting they:
- compensate for a lack of past experience by drawing out hidden experiences such as writing instructions as part of a previous job role
- highlight all their domain and tools knowledge as this is very important when it comes to determining job salary (even though this knowledge does not indicate if the technical writer is any good)
Ellis concluded it was most important for technical writers to be curious, reflective and analytical thinkers.
How to measure technical writer development
Beth Aitman, a lead technical writer at Improbable, attempted to address what progress and growth looked like for a tech writer. You can look at growth in terms of skills or impact.
For skills, you must identify your core and marginal skills, improve existing skills and learn new ones. By upskilling you can become a specialist or a leader.
Another way to look at growth is to measure your impact on people. For example, you can measure how many people your work helps. You can then develop a career plan based on determining what problems you are interested in solving and where you can make the most difference. High-impact activities include working:
- on large problems
- across multiple teams
- to improve organisational processes
Regardless of which approach you take, a technical writer should make a personal development plan, take concrete actions and take advantage of any opportunities.
The future of technical documentation is bright
The final talk of the day was by me! We wanted to see what our community believed was the future of documentation. Almost 100 people gave feedback on working practices and trends we’re likely to see - and the insights were a mix of the surprising and expected.
The community believes that:
- being agile and multidisciplinary is key to being employable
- collaboration between authors and other functions such as user research will continue to grow in importance
- although it may be exciting to try new technology, we must ensure that trialling new functionality does not come at the expense of the quality of content that we produce
Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. It was incredibly interesting to hear from the community on this and I intend to repeat this survey in future.
We hope everyone who attended enjoyed the event. The talks provided lots of practical advice on how we can, as documentarians, learn in such a way as to maximise our potential for development in the future.
Stay tuned to the GDS Technology blog for more information on the next collaboration between GDS and Write the Docs.
If this sounds like a good place to work, take a look at Working for GDS - we're usually in search of talented people to come and join the team.