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Abigail-McCarthy- KBNinjas

Mastering Open Source Documentation with Abigail McCarthy, Staff Open Source Technical Communications Manager at VMware

Category: Podcast

Last updated on May 11, 2022

In this episode of The Knowledgebase Ninjas Podcast, Gowri Ramkumar is joined by Abigail McCarthy, Staff Open Source Technical Communications Manager at VMware. They discuss Abigail’s transition from technical writing to a managerial role, the ideology of the open-source documentation process, and the biggest challenges in a technical writer’s career.

Key Facts

  • Abigail’s LinkedIn
  • VMware website 
  • Abigail holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from Siena College 
  • Abigail has been associated with VMware for over three years
  • VMware develops innovative ways to allow technologies to work seamlessly together. Their cloud, mobility, networking, and security aids constitute a digital foundation that powers the applications, services, and experiences currently transforming the world

Key Takeaways

  • Abigail refers to her transition into technical writing as a ‘happy accident’. She even picked her major in computer science because it involved the least amount of writing. However, once she completed her education and started working as a web developer, she realised that she wanted to do something different
  • After talking to a friend and doing some research, she realised that her job as a web developer also involved some amount of technical writing. She had been naturally gravitating towards it without knowing it. Once she got into technical writing, she found it to be just what she was looking for
  • Abigail shares that VMware’s documentation is mostly open-source and available on the internet 
  • All her work is done on GitHub and freely available repositories to aid consumers
  • Abigail believes in getting involved in the community to gain customers’ insights, proactively finding out about the upcoming features, and regular communication with the developers to understand their engagement. To be in control of the information inflow, she involves herself early in the process to understand the general documentation requirements 
  • Once the document is created, Abigail reviews it in detail pertaining to product design and features, testing them out herself to make sure they comply with the design codes mentioned in the documentation. She updates the required modifications during the review stage 
  • Furthermore, she interviews stakeholders, who suggested core changes in the product and design codes and adds their feedback to the document
  • Once a draft is finalised, it is reviewed multiple times by respective individuals, particularly those who made changes in the product features 
  • After this, the document is sent for publication
  • Abigail shares that one of the biggest challenges she faced in her career was figuring out how to do documentation in an open-source community. Previously she had been the owner of Docs and had a lot of say and control over the content of the document. However, working in an open-source environment requires a different mindset, since it allows anyone to access the docs and make changes. However, with time, Abigail learned that it was a good way to encourage engagement and urge communities to contribute to the document
  • Abigail’s transition from a senior technical writer to communications manager allows her to work with a larger team and assist a broader spectrum of projects. It allows her to create a community of docs, set up processes and templates, create a culture around docs, and get more people involved in the process

Who has Abigail learned the most from in her documentation career?

  • Dr. KellyAnn Fitzpatrick taught Abigail the basics of technical writing when she was starting out in her career and was a great mentor who instilled confidence in her

Key Resources

What documentation-related advice would Abigail give to her 20-year-old self?

“Spend a little more time on writing; learn grammar and Basic English” 

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