After some weeks of preparation, we finally held the 12th edition of Technical Writers @ Lisbon, this time at Feedzai's Lisbon office in Parque das Nações.
Participants started arriving before and around 9AM as scheduled in a joyful mood and commenting about the amazing office view overlooking the Tagus river. We gathered in the lounge area marked by an informal atmosphere, with a TV, sofas and a pool table that also doubles as a ping-pong table.
Not much after 9AM presentations started with some familiar faces in the audience and quite a few new ones. Twenty people attended the meeting, including not only technical communicators but also software engineers and people from other backgrounds.
Joaquim opened the event with a short introduction to the group and quickly explained the rules of the game, including the usual public notes and how he would then publish a summary of the event in a report.
Feedzai has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years and is now at that “not quite a big company but no longer a startup” stage. To go along with this growth, the company started a Technical Communication team as they can no longer afford to just release software with some last-minute docs.
Nuno explained what Feedzai is looking for in a Technical Communicator and why it has been so hard to find such people. The presentation started by introducing how industry terms like Technical Writer are starting to seem more and more outdated, as a Technical Communicator does so much more than just writing.
However, those are the terms the market recognizes and the job titles we still must use when posting job offers. And what Feedzai has observed is that most people that respond to these ads end up failing not only on language aspects but also by being unable to extract relevant technical knowledge and expose it in a relevant way.
Then, Nuno presented 10 key characteristics that a Technical Communicator should have, and the ones Feedzai is looking for when hiring. Some of these traits may be innate and behavioral, while others are more technical. But what they have in common is that they need to be nurtured and developed.
The conclusion, and after some Q&A discussion, is that as companies realize the value of having a technical communicator in their ranks, the market is still not responding to the challenge. And while we can’t move our eyes off the prize and just lower the bar or give up on trying to find this super-being, unicorn or mythical creature, it’s up to us to push forward and find alternatives. And the most fitting one seems to be considering not the individual as the unicorn but the team itself. The sum of each individual's best skills will end up fulfilling these 10 key traits and even taking them further.
After the first presentation, we moved to the kitchen area for coffee and some snacks gently provided by Feedzai. Everyone was engaged in conversation whether it was about what had just been discussed, the company itself or other related topics.
Helena joined Vision-Box in 2014, coming from a linguistics background and extensive experience in editorial coordination and translations. She wasn't a technical writer before that, and landing at a technological company, having to quickly learn the ropes of a new job, she experienced first-hand the necessity of having some structure and guidelines.
When a new member joined the team, and started asking questions, she drew on her past experience and started working on a Style Guide as a way of exposing a reference of the team's learnings and best practices.
Helena described the Style Guide as a broad and encompassing tool that includes spelling and grammar rules, writing guidelines, how to organize the different types of documents, correct usage of technical terms, etc. Documenting hardware manuals, software manuals and end-user guides, and handling translations for all these types of content made it clear that the Style Guide could not just be mere generic recommendations and suggestions.
The sheer variety of content, its complexity and the intricacies of the documentation toolchain (in DITA) stressed the need for a very thorough and complete code of best practices. Although it is a continuous work in progress, it became clear to the audience that this tool is much more than what we might think of when considering a regular Style Guide.
The Q&A session generated a lot of interest from the participants, as it was a very practical topic that resonated with the audience. In the end, there was a general consensus that having their own versions of such Style Guide would be very useful to anyone in the audience.
Jorge presented his personal account of what technical communication means to him and how his experiences led him to move from Spain to Lisbon where he currently works at Feedzai.
He started out by explaining his view on how a combination of passion for writing and literature and an early exposure to technology, brought the “technical” and the “writing” together. He studied English Philology and now works in the engineering department of a software company. That may seem strange, but for him it is only natural.
It's also natural for him to think in broader terms than just technical writing. He described his views on what modern technical communication should be: Current, Human, Proper and Fresh. Docs must be correct and up-to-date but they also must feel like a human wrote them to be easily understood by other humans in an easy and appealing way.
He concluded his presentation reflecting on what his experiences led him to believe is the best way to continually learn and improve as a modern technical communicator. In general, always looking forward, trying to find better and innovative solutions, communicating in a personal and unique voice, not getting stuck in old patterns and not settling for what's already comfortable.
The audience was very engaged by seeing a seemingly old concept being presented in such a personal and heartfelt way. The Q&A session was confirmed the initial idea that in Technical Communication, what really makes the unicorn is the combination of unique people, points of view, and skills in the same functional unit. And that's what we should strive to achieve as Technical Communicators.
Special thanks to the speakers for the diverse and though-provoking presentations, and to Feedzai for just letting us borrow their workspace for a whole morning.
— Nuno Grazina, email@example.com
After years of driving the meetings of Technical Writers @ Lisbon, I felt a special pleasure in seeing Nuno accept the challenge and organize a very successful meeting. He invited and coordinated the speakers, secured the location and the coffee-break, and put together a perfect morning. I learned from the three presentations.
The eternal challenge of the community has been to make these sessions regular. Let us know if you can offer a location, or if you would like to present. Presenting what you know is a good way to consolidate your own knowledge. And presenting is never difficult when you present among friends.
— Joaquim Baptista, firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: If you care about such things, we finished the morning on schedule at 12h30.
Second invitation (23-Mar)
This is a gentle reminder for the meeting next Saturday, with some updated information.
- The building is right next to the Oriente station. See the photo below.
- The building is closed on Saturdays. Ring the bell, wait for the security personnel, then go up to the 11th floor. Wave or knock on the door.
- The event will be in the lounge. Expect an informal space.
The tentative agenda is the following, subject to delays imposed by your questions:
- 09:00 — Introduction to the group, and rules of interaction.
- 09:30 — Nuno Grazina — Technical Communicators: Why we rarely find the in the wild.
- 10:15 — Coffee-break, sponsored by Feedzai.
- 10:45 — Helena Pires — Documentation changes but style remains: The importance of a Style Guide in technical documentation.
- 11:30 — Jorge Leal — Aesthetically functional.
- 12:15 — Wrap up.
- 12:30 — Lunch. Join us to continue the conversation!
First invitation (12-Mar)
Greetings to all technical writers, and to everyone interested in technical writing!
We are excited to announce our 12th formal meeting:
- Saturday, March 25th, 9h00–13h00 (be sharp).
- Feedzai Lisbon office.
- Avenida D. João II, Lote 1.16.01 Piso 11, 1990-083 Lisboa (next to Gare do Oriente).
- The main door to the building will be closed. Ring the bell.
- Nuno Grazina (Feedzai): Technical Communicators: Why we rarely find them in the wild
- Nuno will provide an overview of the main traits of a good technical communicator, and discuss why setting the bar so high is making it that much harder for Feedzai to hire the right people.
- Helena Pires (Vision-Box): Documentation changes but style remains: The importance of a Style Guide in technical documentation
- Helena will provide a survival guide for writers with no technical background who want to thrive in a hi-tech environment, and give some insights on the importance of having a Style Guide in technical documentation.
- Jorge Leal (Feedzai): Aesthetically functional
- When looking for functionality and clarity, sometimes appearance is overlooked. In this presentation, Jorge will tackle technical writing from an aesthetic point of view: what we should aim for when documenting is not only for it to be concise, but also appealing and current.
The participation is free, but subject to room capacity.
We are also delighted to welcome Nuno Grazina as organizer! For this meeting, he both secured the location and selected the speakers!
— Nuno Grazina, Feedzai, email@example.com
— Alexandra Albuquerque, APCOMTEC president, firstname.lastname@example.org
— Carlos Costa, EuroSIGDOC chair, email@example.com
— Joaquim Baptista, EuroSIGDOC vice-chair, firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Feel free to extend this invitation to friends and other interested parties. More interesting participants will improve the learning experience for everyone.
- The 12th Report
- 29-page report of the meeting, including the slides of the presentations.