Write the Docs Conference in Prague – Impressions from a Newbie
First of all, let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Janina Setz and I am a new trainee at SUSE. I started my apprenticeship in the documentation team on September 1st. After working roughly two weeks together with the documentation colleagues, they offered me to accompany them to the Write the Docs conference in Prague. This blog post is about my impressions of this trip.
From Sunday, September 18th to Wednesday, September 21st, the whole SUSE Documentation team was on a trip to Prague to take part in the Write the Docs conference, to meet up with other technical writers from all over the world, and to gain knowledge about other writing techniques and documentation processes.
We were staying at Pentahotel (close to the SUSE Prague office), which was a really nice place to be, also there was a great breakfast and kettles in every room, to boil some water for tea or coffee whenever you wanted to. In the evening we had dinner at a restaurant called Charleston, which had a fantastic atmosphere and very tasty and cheap meals. It was our place to stay and talk that night.
Monday started early in the morning with a delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel. After that we headed off to get the subway to the venue of the conference – Autoklub Prague. At this point I need to mention the depth of Prague’s subways and the length of the escalators, which was partly a bit scary. We arrived way to soon at Autoklub. (Note for the next day: to set off later!)
At the registration table, we received our badges and the Write the Docs T-shirts. At a table nearby, we had the possibility to decorate our badges with some stickers and then post them on Twitter. There was a competition running about the most creative badge. The winner was announced on Tuesday, but non of us won, because we missed to send in our amazing designs in time. This is Meike’s beautiful badge:
At 10:00 am, to kick off the conference, the hosts welcomed everybody and introduced themselves. The speakers and their topics that day were as follows:
- Paul Adams – Postulating the Backlog Laxative
- István Zoltán Szabó – Writing as a non-native speaker
- Erik Romijn – Healthy Minds in a Healthy Community
- Joan Wendt – Operations Technical Writing for Data Centers
- Sarah Karp – Watch that tone! Creating an information experience in the Atlassian voice
- Rory Tanner – Information micro-architecture: grammar, syntax and cognitive rhetoric
- Chris Ward – Beyond Software – Learning from other Technical Writers
- David Oliver – Documentoring: Growing a “Love The Docs” community
I personally liked Chris Wards talk best, because it was very illustrative for me as a beginner in documentation. He explained the basics of documentation work on the basis of game manuals, tutorials, and assembly instructions (e.g. How to set up an IKEA shelf…). The point he made was what we can learn for technical documentation from those manuals, from the style they are written, and their usefulness for customers.
During the day, there were a bunch of snack breaks and midday we were offered a tasty lunch. In general you could say we had no “lack of food” and no chance to stay hungry.
After lunch, on both days, there were some lightning talks and “unconference sessions” where people could share own thoughts and topics which hadn’t made it to the schedule.
The last talk ended around 6 pm. We took the time to return to our hotel to get rid of our working equipment. Then we made our way to the city center of Prague, to join the conferences evening event at “Klub Lavka”, a beautiful location near Moldau river. (By the way there were also free drinks and some finger food provided!) While we were on our way, we passed some well known sights of Prague, such as Charles Bridge, Prague astronomical clock and some places around the historic city center market square.
The evening event offered great opportunities to get to know other attendees from the conference and to exchange stories about work or about the countries they came from. There were a lot of nice people to talk to, like other technical writers from Hamburg and Munich in Germany or from Hungary, Scotland, USA and many other countries. Some were wondering how many SUSE employees were around, it seems as we were the largest group around. It also was a night full of good laughs with the team and we had a lot of fun.
On Tuesday we could start our day a bit later, and we made sure that we would not be the very first group again at the conference. The speakers and the topics of the second conference day were:
- Riona MacNamara – As good as it gets: Why Better Trumps Best
- Daniel Beck – Checklist the Docs
- Thursday Bram – What writing fiction teaches you about writing Documentation
- Sarah Chambers – Documentarians and Support : Work better together
- Michael Meng – API documentation – Exploring the information needs of software developers
- Jan Christian Krause – Using meaningful names to improve API-documentation
- Kata Nagygyörgy – Poll the docs
- Margaret Eker, Jennifer Rondeau – Docs as Code: The Missing Manual
- Chris Mills – Feedback handling, community wrangling, panhandling
My preferred talk this day was from Thursday Bram, more or less because of the same reasons why I liked Chris Wards talk best. It was very explanatory for beginners in how to build a documentation based on fiction. On focus of the talk was how to get people to read your documentation. Some points were briefness, setting the right order, and how to keep the users attention during the “story”, in our case documentation.
If you are interested to learn more about this topic, just find her website here: http://www.thursdaybram.com/
You can take a look at her slides of the talk at the conference yourself.
Around 6 pm the conference ended with a huge thank you from the hosts to everyone who took part or was helpful to make Write the Docs happen. This is the group photo that was taken.
After the conference we decided to visit the city center once again to do some sightseeing and buy some souvenirs. The day ended with a pleasant dinner at a pizzeria called Carllino, near our hotel. It was nice to get to know the other team members better and we shared a lot of jokes and good stories.
Wednesday was our day to visit the new SUSE office in Prague. Tomas Bazant , one of our Czech team members, gave us a tour through the office. After that we had a team meeting in one of the meeting rooms, to basically share our thoughts about the conference and to discuss some other documentation related topics. For lunch we went to an Indian restaurant nearby, where we had really tasty curry – a recommendation by Tomas.
In the afternoon we set off to the main train station to catch our bus back to Germany. The lucky part was, we got back without any traffic jams. But our journey was disrupted, after we passed the German border, by two police officers who controlled everyone’s passports and some baggage.
At all, the conference and the trip were really informative and interesting. I learned lots of new things and met many new people. Also I have to say Prague is a very nice city to stay and I will definitely return someday.