Hiring Technical Writers: the Siberian Way

Hiring Technical Writers: the Siberian Way

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Sam Faktorovich

May 16, 2017
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  1. Hiring technical writers: the Siberian way Sam Faktorovich Novosibirsk, Russia

  2. None
  3. None
  4. Novosibirsk: the Silicon Taiga

  5. None
  6. None
  7. Programmer Technical writer Project manager

  8. Number of technical writers in a company Time 1 Important

    evolution point 0
  9. Why set up internal documentation? To improve the speed of

    knowledge transfer inside the company
  10. Integration/architecture docs • Strictly internal! • Implementation details important for

    integration w/other components • Usage limitations and constraints • Design decisions and their rationales • ....
  11. • How is the component built? • Why was it

    built this way? • Why should all this matter to you? Integration/architecture docs
  12. Necessary skills for technical writers • Technical stuff • CS

    fundamentals (algorithms, design patterns...) • Linux specifics (processes, threads, IPC, networking...) • Knowledge of С++ (reading code is important) • Capability and willingness to write documentation
  13. Necessary skills for technical writers • Technical stuff • CS

    fundamentals (algorithms, design patterns...) • Linux specifics (processes, threads, IPC, networking...) • Knowledge of С++ (reading code is important) • Capability and willingness to write documentation x4
  14. Number of technical writers in a company Time 1 Another

    important evolution point 0 2 3
  15. Software job market in Novosibirsk (circa 2013) • Population: 1,500,000

    • 13 universities • ~500 software companies • ~1000 job openings for programmers per month
  16. Tech writing job market in Novosibirsk (circa 2013) • Zero

    job openings for tech writers • Zero tech writers actively searching for a job • ~10 tech writers total in a 1.5M+ city • No universities producing technical communicators
  17. Prior experience as a technical writer should not be required

  18. Technical skills Textual skills

  19. Technical skills Textual skills

  20. Technical skills Textual skills

  21. Technical skills Textual skills ???

  22. Technical skills Textual skills

  23. No prior experience as a technical writer Pre-interview writing assignment

    Either technical background OR good writing skills
  24. Results (from 2013 to 2017) • 120 candidates (120 assignments

    received) • 40 interviews • 6 hires • 4 persons working as of 2017
  25. Technical skills Textual skills 120 candidates total

  26. Technical skills Textual skills 2 candidates, both hired 120 candidates

    total
  27. Technical skills Textual skills

  28. Technical skills Textual skills 60 candidates

  29. Technical skills Textual skills 60 candidates 2 hires

  30. Knowing how to write well ≠ knowing how to teach

    others to write well
  31. Technical skills Textual skills

  32. Technical skills Textual skills 60 candidates

  33. Technical skills Textual skills 60 candidates 2 hires

  34. Teaching technical things to non-tech people • CS fundamentals turned

    out to be teachable! • Lots of teaching materials publicly available (books, online courses...) • Fundamental technical knowledge is easily transferrable • 2-month crash course did the job
  35. Teaching a good writer to code is easier than teaching

    a good coder to write
  36. Technical skills Textual skills

  37. Technical skills Textual skills Hire these and teach them later

  38. Pre-interview assignment task • Write a medium-sized (1-2 pages) text

    describing a complex technical topic • Topic defined by us • 2-3 weeks to complete the task • Use any information sources you like
  39. Pre-interview assignment task • Should not mimic our typical day-to-day

    documents • Should show the candidate’s capability to explain complex things
  40. None
  41. “[The] documentation must teach. You should think of your documentation

    as a lesson (or series of lessons) because that’s what it is.”
  42. Explain the difference between HTTP and HTTPS to a non-technical

    owner of an e-commerce website.
  43. Explain the difference between HTTP and HTTPS to a non-technical

    owner of an e-commerce website. Explain the difference between UTF-8 and UTF-16 to a programmer who is unaware of Unicode concepts.
  44. Our team, from 2013 to 2017 Major/background Tech skills Text

    skills Computer Science ✓ ✓ Computer Science ✓ Physics ✓ Computer Science ✓ ✓ Computer Science ✓ ✓ Liberal Arts ✓ Mathematics ✓
  45. Our team, from 2013 to 2017 Major/background Tech skills Text

    skills Computer Science ✓ ✓ Computer Science ✓ Physics ✓ Computer Science ✓ ✓ Computer Science ✓ ✓ Liberal Arts ✓ Mathematics ✓
  46. Hiring “technical” technical writers: other approaches

  47. Hiring “technical” technical writers: other approaches • Recruit your own

    developers to be technical writers? No • Grow the job market itself? Yes
  48. Hiring “technical” technical writers: other approaches • Recruit your own

    developers to be technical writers? No. • Grow the job market itself? Yes
  49. Hiring “technical” technical writers: other approaches • Recruit your own

    developers to be technical writers? No. • Grow the job market itself? Yes
  50. Hiring “technical” technical writers: other approaches • Recruit your own

    developers to be technical writers? No. • Grow the job market itself? Yes!
  51. Growing the job market • Technical writing class in one

    of local universities • Public lectures promoting the profession of a technical writer • Technical writing bootcamps • Corporate consulting on setting up documentation departments/processes
  52. Growing the job market • 2013: Zero technical writer job

    openings per month • 2017: 6-10 technical writer job openings per month
  53. Summary • “Technical” technical writers are rare: hire good writing

    talent first • Evaluate the writing talent by checking how they explain things • Teaching a good writer to code is easier than teaching a good coder to write • Grow the market: it’s beneficial for everyone
  54. Thanks! Sam Faktorovich sam.faktorovich@gmail.com linkedin.com/in/sfactor @Lazeez Drop me a line

    if you need some advice/consultations on building a documentation team or setting up documentation processes