Last updated on Oct 8, 2020
Sarah Day, the Senior Technical Writer at LaunchDarkly, joins us in this episode of the Knowledgebase Ninjas and shares her experience being a startup’s only technical writer and how it changes her job. Check out all the other episodes of Knowledgebase Ninjas.
Connect with Sarah and LaunchDarkly’s Documentation here:
Sarah’s journey into documentation
Sarah has amassed an impressive 10+ years’ experience in the technical writing industry. To our surprise, her journey did not start as a technical writer. She was initially doing a degree in English from her college. Halfway through that degree, Sarah had a realization that the path she is on can lead her to three different career options. These three options are pursuing further education at a graduate school, becoming a teacher or becoming a journalist.
All three of these options did not seem very appealing to Sarah, which prompted her to look for a career path which allows a living wage. This is how she found out about technical writing. Add to this the fact that in her opinion, writing is the only thing she can do consistently well.
Sarah’s documentation process
As the only technical writer at LaunchDarkly, most of Sarah’s job is very collaborative. Her documentation process starts with a sort of “kick-off meeting” where the project managers get together and lay out the plans for the company and the projects they will pursue. Meetings like these happen once or twice every quarter and they give Sarah the chance to get a head start over the projects that will be worked on in the coming quarter. These meetings also allow Sarah to create a schedule based on them, something that comes in handy in her job as a technical writer.
Sarah then schedules interviews with people in different projects to kind of understand the project itself. She also encourages the engineers to keep documenting the project as it goes on so that the writing workload is divided evenly. Once Sarah has the first draft of the document by the engineers, Sarah’s task then is to iterate on it and edit it to get it to its final stage. She then publishes it.
The responsibilities of being the only technical writer in a startup
A lot of Sarah’s job as a sole technical writer is about consistency. She has to be consistent and time-specific in her job to make sure the processes happen at a good pace. One of her responsibilities is to anticipate what the startup or any project in specific may need ahead of time. Her job is helped by the fact that LaunchDarkly has what she describes as a “strong documentation culture”. The engineers are more than happy to document their work as it happens, thus lowering the workload on Sarah. Before Sarah’s arrival last year, the engineers were just very used to writing API and Product documentation. Therefore, most of her job then is to make sure that the documentation set is audience-friendly and fluid. Her job also requires her to bring in first drafts of documentation and then iterate on them and refine them.
Important factors Sarah considers while writing a piece.
Sarah believes that two factors are supremely crucial in writing a coherent piece. These factors are:
According to Sarah, this is the first thing she notes when starting to work on a piece. She believes that understanding the audience is non-negotiable in her job. It guides her in setting the document’s tone, its format, its pace and the technicality of it. Sarah believes that if she fails to understand who is reading the document she is working on, the documentation is going to fail.
While this factor applies a lot on documentation itself, Sarah believes that this is necessary for all walks of her professional life. Especially in a startup where the dependency on each other’s work is massive, and every part has to be perfect for a project to be efficient, Sarah believes that she has to be extra careful on her commitments and the time in which she gets done with a document.
The effect of quality documentation on workload
For Sarah, one of the biggest indicators of documentation succeeding in its job happens during support tickets and early sales calls. When someone refers to the documentation and notes that it already answered a question they had, it is not only an indication of a successful piece of documentation, but it also lowers the workload on the HR and support team. Sarah then goes on to note that her workload has increased as a new documentation process has been brought into place.
Sarah’s inspirations through her career
Heidi Waterhouse — Senior Developer Advocate at LaunchDarkly
Sarah’s favourite documentation related resources
Sarah believes that she is now at a point in her career where she does not need to focus on the specifics of the documentation process itself. Thus, she listed down some of her favourite resources in general.