In the end of May, I attended Write the Docs (WTD) 2016 in Portland, and what a conference it was. While I didn’t make it on Saturday for the hike, I think it’s awesome that a conference has a group hike together. That was a sort of foreshadowing of the type of people and conference this turned out to be.

Day 0 - Writing Day

Writing Day didn’t actually take place at the main venue, instead we were set up in a nice coworking space a quarter-mile away. Upon arriving, WTD organizers immediately greeted attendees, told us where everything was, and gave off this incredibly friendly demeanor. Saying WTD attempted to be inclusive to everyone is a complete understatement. They were thoughtful enough to provide vegetarian and vegan meals each day, and put these signs up at the restrooms.

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WTD made sure everyone was welcome at the conference

Writing Day was about getting together in groups and choosing a project to work on. This could be an open-source project that could really use help with their docs (Mozilla had a project), or a group getting together to provide feedback on the each other’s company docs. My table had technical writers from CrashPlan, Splunk, and my friends at Linode. Peer feedback was really nice to make sure we were on the right track with our documentation, putting out the best product for our readers. Dinner was at the Mediterranean Exploration Company, a really lovely restaurant. Some of us got together to discuss which talks we were most interested in hearing in the upcoming two days.

Day 1 & 2 - Talks at the Beautiful Crystal Ballroom

The first real day of the conference was Sunday at the Portland Crystal Ballroom. This venue is a beautiful place where many bands come and perform at night. The floors were actually springboard dancefloors, meaning they bounced up and down as we walked around. How mind-boggling. There were nine roughly thirty minute talks on the main stage while unconference talks started around noon on the second floor.

A great talk that really stood out was Two great teams that work better together: Bridging the gap between Documentation and Customer Support. As someone who came up from a Support background, the cooperation between the Docs Team, Community Team, and Support is very important.

My favorite talk of the entire conference was Copy that: Helping your users succeed with effective product copy by Sarah Day. Product copy being a form of documentation was fascinating.

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The most visual talk was by Christy Lutz called We’re not in Kansas anymore: How to find courage while following the Technical Doc Road. When she walked on stage with ruby red slippers, I knew this talk was going to be interesting.

Back At the Hotel

After everyone cleared out of the Crystal Ballroom, we set out to get dinner. For dessert, we went to a nice ice cream shop where we ran into some of our WTD friends. We went back to the hotel lobby where we talked for over an hour on the best parts of the conference, how our interest in docs started, and our opinion that moving Writing Day to the last day of the conference would be more helpful.

Conclusion

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WTD 2016 Portland was my first WTD event and I really enjoyed it. I would love to go again next year however I also don’t want to wait that long to do this again. Using my newfound knowledge and friends from the WTD Meetup Unconference Talk, as I make my way out East, I plan on resurrecting the WTD New York meetup. I’ll be working with the Linode Docs Team to help them start a brand new WTD Meetup in the great city of Philadelphia. If you would like to learn more about these meetups or to chat with me and others, you can join the #nyc and #philly channels in the WTD Slack Team.

These monthly meetings will be a great way to stay connected with tech writers as well as other evangelists and devs who are passionate about docs. CircleCI Docs will continue to improve and grow as a result of this knowledge sharing and acquisition. This is a big win for everyone, especially our customers.

Conference Takeaways:

  • documentation is it’s own product
  • The main person in charge of docs is basically the Product Manager of Documentation
  • CSATs are important
  • Get feedback from docs. This can be traffic, a simple thumbs up or down vote, or full-blown comment boxes. This data surfaces docs with big issues that need to be corrected or even simplified.
  • docs aren’t books. In the age of the Internet, there’s no longer a specific order readers will use. While writing docs, remember to link back (and forward) as much as you can.
  • product copy is a form of docs too
  • CI can lead to faster shipping for docs (hell yeah!)
  • Patheon gave a shout-out to CircleCI (<3)