A Season of Docs story
Lack of clear and reliable documentation is one of the main shortcomings of many open source projects. Last year, Google set out to help change that by announcing the first ever Season of Docs.
Season of Docs is an initiative that brings together technical writers and open source projects to collaborate for a few months, benefitting both the communities and writers.
This is the story of Audrey Tavares, one of the writers who signed up for Season of Docs.
Turning incipient curiosity into an opportunity
In 2019, Audrey was completing the Technical and Professional Communication program at Glendon College, exploring technical writing out of curiosity. One of Google’s technical writers, Nicola Yap, completed the same program and visited Audrey’s class in March to talk about her career. It was an enlightening experience, showing technical writing as an attractive alternative with plenty of opportunities, and introducing Audrey to Season of Docs.
For Audrey, this experience meant stepping into unknown territory—she knew nothing about open source software. Naturally, the first step was to familiarize herself with the communities and understand the software development paradigm. After spending time learning she submitted her Technical Writer application—which was accepted—and was assigned to Oppia, an online educational platform.
Audrey had two mentors to help her on her journey: one in India and the other in the United States. As you can imagine, this revealed the first challenge—time zones. While the first few days were stressful, as navigating schedules across time zones was a daunting task,with a little work, they soon came up with an arrangement that worked for everyone.
The second challenge was learning the tools. For most of us, writing a document involves opening a word processor and typing some text, however, Audrey was about to find out, things are a bit more intricate when it comes to documenting code.
When presented with the choice of a documentation tool set, Audrey decided on Read the Docs. It seemed like a very popular tool among open source communities. How hard can it be to use, right? Well, it’s not so much about how difficult it is, but how different it is for someone unfamiliar with a common software development workflow since it entails learning a few things:
- Version control – tools to track changes in files.
- Markup languages – a way to write docs in plain text.
- A static site generator – a tool that turns the markup files into a beautiful website.
- The command line – an interactive program to issue commands to a computer, like in the good old days.
Audrey was not dismayed. She pushed forward and gradually learned these new tools. Both mentors were always available, willing to help, and answered all of her questions. Their mentorship was key to her success.
Every end is a new beginning
After Season of Docs was over, Audrey decided to remain part of the Oppia community to actively contribute to make the platform even better.
The experience allowed Audrey to walk away from Season of Docs with a new set of technical skills, communication skills with software engineers, an extended professional network, and a new item in her résumé. She now works as a technical writer for a software company in Toronto.
Applications for Season of Docs 2020 start on April 13 for open source organizations and on May 11 for technical writers. Check the official announcement to learn how to participate.
By Geri Ochoa, Google Cloud
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