Field Notes: The Writerside Team at Write the Docs Portland and soap! Krakow

Write the Docs Portland

Not that I can judge, as I’m not a frequent conference-goer, but Write the Docs (WTD) stands out from all others I have attended – the good, the bad, and the corporate. 

A friendly and open community was eager to accept anybody who writes docs, whatever their official job title. They’ve coined the word documentarian, which is an inclusive term for anyone who contributes to docs and content. It’s easy to fall in love with the community from the very first conference. And now, as we’re developing a tool for documentarians, we’d like our dev team to feel like they are part of this open, friendly, sincere, and creative writing crowd. 

In 2023, the Writerside team attended Write the Docs Portland, the first onsite WTD event after a long COVID-induced hiatus. This time around, half of our booth’s staff were developers. 

So, what did they think of the conference? Read their first-hand impressions below to find out.

Michael Blajer, Writerside Technical Lead

Write the Docs is very different, not the type of conference I am used to. Here everyone is willing to talk to you, especially at the Unconference. You get so much information from other participants about the tools and features they use or problems they would love to solve.

Most writers feel they are isolated from the devs. One common problem is when a developer changes something at the last minute, and it’s a tech writer’s task to ensure the docs are up to date. Everyone is looking for a solution that maps docs to product sources so that they are notified about any changes that affect their docs.

Can we provide this kind of experience with Writerside? Now I see it as my mission.

Jan Kytka, Writerside Software Developer

Cool conference! Lots of professional technical writers, and some developers, too. Even the authors of the Docs for Developers book!

People asked us: “Do you have a plugin for VSCode?” Actually, we’ve got everything they might need right in the IntelliJ Platform. We have Git integration, Markdown support, and even style guides. I think we need to educate people more about our advanced features.

Looking to the future, we hope that WTD will reinstate its annual Prague conference, which we are hoping to attend as a whole team. We’ll listen to talks, participate in debates, and promote one of our fundamental beliefs: 

Developers and writers belong to the same community of documentarians and should work together – just like product management, quality assurance, and marketing folks do. 

And our Writerside team is the best proof of that concept.

soap! Krakow

Soap! has been on our list of tech writing conferences to check out since before the pandemic. This year was the first time we actually made it, and we absolutely loved it!

Technical writers comprised the majority of a young, friendly audience of about 200 people. But there were also DevOps specialists, content designers, marketers, and software developers. 

This year SOAP introduced its new Soapbox format – lightning talks and discussions resembling our favorite activities at Write the Docs. These impromptu performances highlight the main pain points and hot topics for the tech writing community.

What was our key takeaway from the event? 

The main problem when it comes to the docs is not tooling, but rather broken processes.

  • Most issues are caused by insufficient communication and a lack of clarity.
  • Bridging the gap between writers and developers is a hot topic. It would help if writers used Markdown and the same repository and tooling. They should also participate in developers’ meetings and use the same Jira fields (like the release version), so documentation tasks pop up while searching.
  • Go beyond the “humble role of a tech writer” and stop being invisible. Writers need to befriend developers, become the product quality gatekeeper, and test documentation against code. They should take part in release planning discussions to ensure they know about the topic before release time.

And one last thought: Krakow is a stunningly beautiful and welcoming place. We plan to go to the next soap! conference, and we’ll be sure to give ourselves at least one day to enjoy the city. 🤩

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