A week in a Technical Communicator’s life
by Gurpreet Singh
The interesting thing about technical writing is that technical communicators enjoy a multitude of roles and responsibilities, which includes delivering documentation for a plethora of products while meeting stricter deadlines. Thus, no two work-weeks are alike. Each new week starts with a fresh set of challenges. These challenges make the week and the life of a technical communicator all the more exciting.
I work as a Technical Communicator in the hi-tech Semiconductor domain, and develop documentation for a wide array of commercial EDA (Electronic Design Automation) software. Technical writers in our organization are referred to as Learning Product Engineers (LP Engineers).
All days in my week start with a morning scrum meeting. Each meeting usually lasts for 15 minutes. During the meeting, each team member reports about what they accomplished on the previous day, issues or major showstoppers, and the plan for the day of the meeting. These meetings are also called as stand-up meetings, because the objective of these meetings is to keep them brief and productive. Hence, all members attend these meetings standing instead of sitting.
Every Monday, we have a longer weekly meeting with our manager to discuss the status of projects, issues, challenges, and so on. Team meetings also provide a forum to discuss team-specific internal documents. For example, the Style Guide. Discussions regarding purchasing new tools also take place during these meetings.
Monday also happens to be the planning day when we set plans for the week including meetings with subject matter experts (SMEs) (blocking time in their MS Outlook calendar is essential!), training calendar for self, and scheduling meetings related to various internal and external projects.
Rest of the week is usually a good mix of long write-edit review cycles, meetings, and training.
A typical day in my work life looks somewhat like this:
- Check corporate emails with a cup of hot Cappuccino: I receive most of the emails from my R&D team based in Santa Clara, California. Due to the time zone difference, they are 12 hours behind us (my night is their day). So, while I’m having a sound sleep, my colleagues continue to develop new features during their day, and send me various documentation requests.
- Listen to voicemails: Few of the SMEs I work with hate writing long emails. Hence, they leave voicemails for me, which may include information about a new feature. Works great!
- Attend documentation meeting: As a mentor, I attend documentation meetings to troubleshoot any issues faced by junior writers, or to redirect them to a specific group/person.
- Moderate Wiki pages: We use Confluence Wiki to author, review, collaborate, and publish technical documentation. A nightly build generates chm, html, and pdfs, directly using the content from Wiki. The beauty of this system is that SMEs (R&D, QA, Sales, Marketing, and Management) can directly edit and add content, instead of routing every request to a LP Engineer. I edit the updated or the newly added Wiki pages for grammatical mistakes, accuracy, and adherence to our internal writing style sheet.
- Install new software build: Every morning a fresh software build is made available in the repository. After installing, I usually play around with the application to check if there are new enhancements/fixes that are displayed in the GUI. Though, I often get documentation requests in form of emails or bugs logged in Bugzilla, it is not uncommon to detect a new setting popping in the new build.
- Close documentation bugs/New Feature documentation: Every day I run a query in Bugzilla to check new documentation bugs/requests filed for me (New feature documentation requests are also filed as bugs). Some bugs require 5 minutes of effort while others (majority) may require an effort of couple of hours. Occasionally, I have bugs (enhancement requests) that might take a few weeks to get completed. Zero bug report is what my eyes dream of seeing everyday.
- Lunch: Home cooked food with a few friends in the office cafeteria: A major stress buster for my day!
- Research using internal/external networks: My work involves documenting extremely technical products for an audience that comprises Engineers and Scientists (who prefer no-nonsense technical documentation). Thus, I try to learn as much as I can about a new feature before I write about it.
- Check the Doc Project Schedule: Since I work on multiple projects, I keep a tab on all the deadlines (daily/weekly) and try to make sure that everything runs smoothly. In case of a slippage in the schedule, I schedule a meeting with the project manager to mitigate any impact by lowering the scope, or by requesting a fresh deadline.
- Conduct Trainings: I often get requests from various teams/groups within my organization to conduct training on Wiki, writing, presentation skills, and Lean/Six-Sigma topics.
- Conduct Lean Meetings: As a Lean/Six-Sigma champion for my team, I lead few internal projects to reduce technical writing process timelines, reduce documentation defects, and improve productivity, and to find areas of automation with our technical writing tools or processes.
- Coffee Break: Catching up with an old friend with a hot cup of coffee is nothing less than having an apartment in the heavens!
- Conduct Toastmasters Sessions: Being the president of our Corporate Toast-masters Club, I often conduct the toastmasters session that help our club members (from various departments and placed at different levels in the hierarchy) to develop their presentation, public speaking, and leadership skills. I’m an award winning humorous speaker!
- Conduct Peer Review: Every documentation project in my team has an author and a peer reviewer. The peer reviewer acts as a dummy user and tries to validate documentation for usability and functional errors, which are often unnoticed by the author. I review two projects in my team. Similarly, my own projects get reviewed by two different authors. I always get amazed by the fact that how easily others can catch errors in our work, which we fail to see, even after several cycles of internal testing.
- Say Sayonara to work and head back to home-sweet-home!
Wait: Meeting with the Santa Clara R&D team is at 11.30 pm, and it extends well past midnight: Another disadvantage of the global work environment. But hey, it is still fun to be a technical communicator working with global teams!
About the Article
This article originally appeared in 2011 summer edition of MITWA News, the newsletter of MITWA mailing list. It is reprinted here with slight modifications.