Podczas naszej ostatniej wizyty w Pradze (z której relację możecie przeczytać tutaj) poznaliśmy wiele ciekawych osób. Jedną z nich jest Brad Schmidt – kiedyś tester w Dolinie Krzemowej, a obecnie Tech Writer w stolicy Czech. Zobaczcie jak to się robi u naszych południowych sąsiadów.
How long have you been working as a Tech Writer?
A little more than 10 years.
How did you become a Tech Writer?
It was a lucky accident! I’d done QA for years in Silicon Valley, but sort of burnt out by 2001, which lead me to come to the Czech Republic to teach English in 2002. After a couple years, a colleague at a school I taught at demanded that I give him my CV because there were so many IT jobs coming to Prague after they joined the EU. Shortly thereafter I interviewed for a Tech Writer job. My sales pitch was that writing user documentation was like writing test cases and bug reports except the result was a positive one. Ten years on, I’m still doing it. 🙂
Can you say something about the company you work for and your team?
Currently, I’m in the IT infrastructure and operations organization of a large pharmaceutical company. I’m one of a few full-time documentation staff that are embedded within various project teams.
How is your and your team’s work organized?
I serve several different project teams within an organizational group. There’s a mix of agile and waterfall projects.
What tools do you use and what do you think about them?
We are locked into using Word, SharePoint, and a secure repository for finished work. It’s very old fashioned, but there is a movement to modernize our workflow. I’d rather be using a proper version control system and a more lightweight document format, but the nice people and work environment more than make up for it. 🙂
How do you get the information you need to prepare/create documentation?
You name it. 😀 Meetings, wiki pages, IM, tech talks, tea kettle conversations. The more I know, the better questions I can ask. Having an SME prepare drafts of the more technical content is still the best case scenario, though. Usually a QA lead, dev lead, or product manager can be more helpful if you are very specific about the answers you need to prepare the documentation.
What documents do you deliver, in what form, in which language(s) and how are they published?
Currently they are all auditory compliance documents that describe systems, users, access, and so forth. Everything is in Word format, in English, and published to a secure repository that auditors can access.
Do you participate in any other activities besides documentation writing (e.g. creating marketing materials)? If yes, what is it and what tools do you use?
In the past I’ve helped with product fact sheets, occasional marketing copy, and proof-reading colleagues’ slides and proposals. I love leading workshops and training sessions when the chance comes. When I worked in Singapore, I was lucky enough to travel to some interesting places while training people for a new IT system. I’ve also done a fair amount of narration for promotional videos and screencasts (video tutorials) and am doing that a lot at my current job. For video I’ve used Camtasia and/or Captivate. For audio it seems everyone uses Audacity unless they are in a professional studio.
What are the biggest challenges at your work?
Writing in a busy office with lots of distractions. When I need to get things done I need to work at home or stay late at the office.
What do you like the most in technical writing?
Using language with economy and precision is harder than it seems, but I enjoy that challenge a lot. The best experiences were when I worked on an open source project. We would get direct feedback from users about how something helped them, or ways the documentation could be improved. Unfortunately, direct user communication is too rare in technical communication.
What is your advice for those who want to begin their adventure with writing documentation?
I try not to ever give advice. 😀 There’s a lot of information about how to get started in technical writing out on the web already. Basically, I’d say start small and use an existing tutorial, guide, or FAQ that you like as a model for what you want your documentation to look like. The first FAQ’s I wrote were when I worked in tech support. It built up from there as my roles changed into full-time writing.
Do people in the Czech Republic know what a Technical Writer is?
Not unless they are an IT recruiter 😀 Seriously, I haven’t worked any place where more than a small percentage of people know about tech writers.
Is there any organization that unites Technical Writers in the Czech Republic? How does it work?
None that I know about, currently. There was a group a few years ago that I was a member of from 2008, but it fell apart after a couple years. I could start a Meetup group, but these tend to devolve into beer drinking events. Though that’s not a totally bad thing. 🙂
Are there any tech comm conferences in the Czech Republic?
None that I know of besides the last two Write the Docs.
Do you have any diploma or certificate in technical writing? If yes, did it help you in your career?
I studied Economics at University and ended up in tech by learning on-the-go because those were the only decent jobs available in Silicon Valley. I think tech writing is a very specialized corner of the IT world that unites a broad set of skills. IMHO there are too many pointless IT certificates out there already, but for someone at an earlier stage of their career I can see how it could be useful.
How does the labor market look for Tech Writers in the Czech Republic? How many job offers are there on average (monthly, yearly etc.)?
It seems pretty good. There’s always openings, but I don’t have any exact statistics to share. You’d have to ask Glassdoor or LinkedIn that one.
What is the salary for Tech Writers in the Czech Republic?
It varies a lot depending on the company and your experience. For multinational companies it’s much cheaper here than in Silicon Valley, other parts of the US, or London. Compared to the cost of living, the wages are much better than the local average so I’m satisfied with it.