Welcome @techwriterfaerie, how and why did you become a tech writer?
Good morning! Thanks for having me for an interview today!
Before tech, I worked in the funeral industry. I moved to the Okanagan from Vancouver and the only open position to transfer me to was crematory operator. Good money, good future. Bad for me though. So I applied to be a remote CS at a tech company. Total 180. I got the job but lost the relationship that had me out west, thankfully I could now afford to move back to Toronto. A few months later I saw a job internally posted for a …
… Tech writer in Ottawa. The job description sounded just for me, but I had no degree or any experience in it. After talking to my therapist and crying a lot, I applied. They didn’t give me that job because it was writing for SOC compliance, but they did have a second position they needed filled but hadn’t posted yet. A TW responsible for internal documentation regarding security and IT. They offered it to me and I moved to Ottawa and began my career as a Tech Writer!
I hadn’t heard of technical writing until I read the internal job description.
Sometimes we end up in surprising careers
That’s the story of my life for sure!
I think we’ve all heard that women supposedly only apply if they have 100% of qualifications… i definitely felt the pressure from inside myself to stay in my lane and accept the farthest I’d go is customer support. But being willing to move cities , and to learn whatever it takes… they opened that opportunity for me. I’ll always be grateful for that and for others who have been vocal about how we should apply to those jobs!!
Before becoming a tech writer, did you have an interest in tech or writing?
Definitely, I’ve always been writing little stories and had published a travel article in sky & telescope magazine as a teen. I was an editorial intern at a magazine group in Toronto (before all the funeral stuff), and had printed my own book of poetry thanks to the book machine at the local library in Nanaimo.
My dad is an astrophotographer and I grew up loving technology and science thanks to his influence. Getting hyped for new technology is a big part of my relationship and love for my dad
What was easy and what was challenging about transitioning into tech writing?
For me, what was easy was the actual writing. What was hard was everything around the writing. I was a writer who was embedded in another department, so my actual boss didn’t know the context of my day-to-day in IT, and my IT supervisor didn’t have the context of managing writers. So I had a lot of autonomy and freedom to define what is success in that role. This was not easy, given that I was a fresh baby TW. But I had mentors in other departments, went to conferences, and discovered that some
Of the challenges of the role are industry-wide. Not necessarily just a Me challenge. How to work effectively with devs and / or other cross functional teams… etc.
What are the many duties, industry wide, involved with being a tech writer? i.e. why is the role not standardized between organizations?
I think the general duties and expectations are pretty standard. But the requirements of the role depend on the company and the product they produce.
to Write documentation = putting sentences together about the topic at hand, to guide the reader.
Product: The format of the output depends on what will meet that purpose. Is it a physical product? Probably going to need to publish a physical booklet of instructions. Software as a Service has different requirements.
Company: …company style and structure will determine the tools you use to create the documents and how you get the knowledge required to write.
Some companies have old, well established frameworks, systems, tools, expectations. But startup software companies might have 1 or no dedicated role to do documentation. It can be wrapped into the expectations of other roles.
my experience is in SaaS help documentation, so all digital not physical products. The standards for aerospace tech , much higher BTE
Write docs, edit them, publish them. So when a new update comes to the software your users can self help as much as possible.
Do you write any blogs where you need to focus on SEO?
Blogs, no. Not on behalf of the product I work for now, and not personally. I have a private portfolio site that I include with job applications.
SEO for me means ensuring the knowledge base is fully accessible to users of various skill levels. Have you ever gotten stuck when using a new tool, but all the help docs don’t account for your specific question? I want my docs to provide entry for users by using terms that match how they think about their own use cases. Then build prdct knowledge up
The help centre can be a vector for boosting the profile and posture of the company. But it depends on whether the knowledge base is public or private. I work for a company with a private knowledge base, so my content doesn’t have to compete for attention or try to attract new users in the broad market
it does have to be “optimized” for “searching”, but in a more utilitarian way
What are actions developers could take to improve the tech writing process?
I’ve worked with some awesome developers and I admire the diligence it takes to debug and craft new code. Some people love to document their own work and that’s not something I want to discourage. If you write your own docs, view the TW as a publishing editor and submit the content you might have made ad hoc, to improve the knowledge base.
we want to deliver materials that have an impact on successful feature adoption. think of threads releases without the gifs. it takes time to set that up.
nd we want to time everything to get maximum impact from the release. We want the ux to extend into the help docs and release announcements, for them to be polished and pro. and accurate.
look at the recent debacle with the blizzard Diablo 4 patch, where all the screenshots were wrong. IDK what happened there but if my devs didn’t give me the time of day to verify and ask questions, that is the risk.
we’re also there to take that off your plate if you are working on other things that have higher priority. That’s why access to context is key, if we have built trust together, you know I can write the document and get it to a point where it only needs an accuracy check. Or take your rough notes or spreadsheet and build it up into a document or infographic to share with users.
… and where it should be saved / published, and in what format… etc..
Stepping away from tech writing, why do you enjoy Threads?
@threads doesn’t require hashtags, we can just say what we say and it goes into the right streams. I feel more positive and connected to the wonderful people I’ve met here than I did on Reddit, my previous main social media squeeze. Threads just gets me and put me in this cool (and active!) intersection of writers and tech… the blend of the two niches is my niche. On threads I feel it’s easier to swim in blended circles.
How can people find you elsewhere online?
Thank you for inviting me to join you on this fun community building adventure. Right now this is my most active platform so follow me here on Threads! 🙂 Cheers Ryan
See the original interview on Threads: @ryan.swanstrom • Threads Dev Interview #36 with @techwriterfaerie I am finding developers on Threads and intervie… • Threads