Over last four weeks I had a pleasure to represent SAP Hybris on three different conferences that focus around content, communication and user assistance. Why? For last three years I’m going to various conferences preaching that there is a world without XML and it is doing pretty well. If you are into technical writing aka user assistance you’ve probably heard about DITA standard. Everybody talk about it like it was the only remedy for all the issues people have with structuring and managing content. I’m not trying say XML is bad, I’m just saying there are other options out there. I started my career at SAP Hybris as a technical writer, then, after few years I got sucked in by the dark side of the force and started developing. After learning a lot of Java I realized this is not my fairy tale and I moved to Java Script / Node.js world, and btw, yes, Java and Java Script are completely different things. I’ve attended few conferences for developers and what I liked the most was the technology diversity. There are so many programming languages, so many different frameworks. You can solve each challenge with technology that is build exactly for your case. This is why I decided to go out to conferences about content and talk that DITA and DITA Open Toolkit are not the only open source solutions out there, Markdown and Static Site Generators can also do the trick too and we are pretty good at it at https://devportal.yaas.io/ and https://knowledge.yaas.io/.
Nevertheless this post is not about me, it is about my impressions and learning I took from these three conferences. I’ve learned a lot and tried to write down everything in most condensed but still interesting way.
Location: Dublin, Ireland
MVP vs MVD
I’m currently working as a product owner. For me, minimal viable product is not a new term, this is a foundation of rapid development. On the contrary, minimal viable documentation is something I’ve heard for the first time. I remember when I was working as a technical writer few years ago, we had releases every 3-4 months. We always had to deliver hundreds of documents and have them ready immediately on release day. Because of the amount of work the quality was always questionable, basically because this is how it works, development runs for 3 months and then you have 2-4 weeks to document everything. MVD is a nice idea of delivering basic most important documentation first and then release more and more with each sprint. It is better to make small periodical changes, validate them and get feedback and improve, rather then release huge sets of content every couple of months that later you anyway have to reworks and sometimes write from scratch. Read more http://revelry.co/minimum-viable-documentation-agile-product-management/
Gestalt Laws in UX
As I product owner in a team that runs documentation portals, UX obviously is very much important for me. I’m lucky to work on weekly basis with great product design team. Nevertheless, it is still nice to learn the basic concepts behind good UX. It make discussion with product design people much more constructive and material. Read more: https://designmodo.com/use-gestalt-laws-to-improve-your-ux/
It is also very important to learn about how many different aspects you need to think about when working on user interface. Have you ever though about color blindness? How many people are affected and how difficult for them it is to browse through your Web site? Check out for example this Chrome extension.
As mentioned at the beginning, I’m not a DITA guy, but I love open source. OxygenXML had a good idea to open source their documentation project to present a sample DITA project to the community: https://github.com/oxygenxml/userguide. They also open sourced a validation plugin https://github.com/oxygenxml/dim that runs validations basing an a style guide definition.
Evolution of Technical Communication
Location: Sofia, Bulgaria
Hackaton vs Docathon
Hackaton is a developers’ event. It’s purpose is to place a group of developers into a room so they can work on some great prototypes that later on can evolve into excellent products. Technical writers around ETC in Bulgaria have this great idea to organize a docathon. They want to improve world of open source community and have a collaborative writing of documentation for some open source projects. There were some docathons organized in the world and looks like they were very successful: https://docathon.github.io/docathon/
Chat Bots in Documentation
Two girls from SAP Labs Bulgaria had this inspiring talk about using chat bots in documentation. Dev world is going crazy now all about AI and bots, so seeing Ekaterina and Dima talk about these new technologies in documentation was very impressive. They used https://www.motion.ai/ service for their prototype called Tina. I definitely have to give it a try and you should too!
Location: Cracow, Poland
Docs as Code
Yes, people started talking out loud about markdown and keeping docs close to the source code. It is not only on soap, but also there were two more workshops about it on ETC. I do not feel like an alien any more. Read more http://www.writethedocs.org/guide/docs-as-code/
Information flow these days is huge. How to stay focused if so many distractions are there around you? There is yet another great chrome extension (greetings to IE users) that helps you stay focused and reminds you that you spent to much time on some useless web page: StayFocusd
You need to organize your work well and set some manageable boundaries. I recently started using pomodoro technique. I didn’t buy a real pomodoro counter of course but got an app for my phone. It works really well. It doesn’t cost you a penny, so give it a try.
Most important finding: I was not the only SAP person doing talks at those conferences. I think it is extraordinary. I wonder if SAP is so active only in content related conferences. I’ve attended few developer oriented conferences and haven’t seen any SAP presenter, but it might be like that just because the amount of conferences for developers is significantly bigger. Anyway, I like that our content community in SAP is so eager to go out and share experience with the community.
Some other points:
- Trending phrases/ideas/methodologies (pick one) floating around:
- Build bridges, not silos
- Design Thinking
- Community started learning from devs community: Docs as code, MVD, Docathons. This is the way to go, cooperate and learn from each other, not separate
- At soap! there were few developers. Guess what, they were asking questions after each session. I talked to them personally, they were mind-blown by the fact that role like technical writer exists and that the community is that big and tries to solve so many problems. They came to the conference because they want to make their product more successful through better docs, how cool is that?