Last week I saw a presentation by some Microsoft reps on the open source projects Microsoft in involved in. I asked how the projects were getting documented for end users, and where the need was. I wondered aloud—if one were going to get involved and get some experience documenting these new applications, how would one choose where to start. In particular, I was looking for the path to getting paid. Before the words were out of my mouth, I was guessing that probably no one could really tell me that. Sure enough, the presenter, Stan Schultes, told me to figure out what interests me and start there. He named one particular product off hand that needed help, but most open source projects could use a hand with documentation. Great– I could choose what we want to work on. Just what an ENTP needs to drive herself bonkers.
Along the same lines, I’ve been thinking about another degree since I got my B.A. in Creative Writing. I was considering everything from a Masters in tech comm. to an A.S. in computers. I finally decided I want more technical skill; a CS degree and some programming languages. Besides starting the prerequisites, I’m following more developers on Twitter and reading more articles on new apps. When it was time for a new phone, I bought a G1 and started reading a bit about developing for Android. By the time Wave came out, I was underwater. Heh. Sorry. But really, it’s humbling to start listening on this new conversation where I really don’t have much to add and everyone is so quick.
I got the idea to put some more effort into technical skill from two things: a Joe Welinsky’s presentation on getting away from standard help files and providing more specialized, branded user assistance. In some cases this requires tech writers to learn some programming or new tools. To illustrate, is site, WritersUA.com, is full of articles on standards and applications and how they’re being applied to user assistance. And when we started using MadCap Flare at work and getting into the XHTML code and CSS to troubleshoot, I absolutely loved it. I’m following that bliss a bit, and trying to steer it towards a specialty in content strategy/ business analysis.
Something else that’s going on right now is that I’m slowly getting a handle on some project management skills. I know that comes easily for some people, but as in most areas, when it comes to taking on projects, I get the eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome. I’ve got a gifted manager at work that is helping me develop my “finishing” skills. I’ve had the chance to lead a couple of large, complex projects to success, even if one of them did have a meandering path. I’m applying it to my role as Vice President of the local STC chapter, too. I’m a hairsbreadth away from having several months of speakers and meeting places lined up so that I can concentrate on other projects for them. It makes me smile to type that, because I’ve been treading water in that position for months.
In the past, taking on those kinds of projects has always started out exciting and ended up feeling like a pummeling of simultaneous to-do items. It’s incredibly satisfying to learn that if I keep steadily punching back a little each day, focusing my next actions, planning my follow up– that I don’t have to get overwhelmed. I don’t have to throw up my hands and walk away when I’m behind, I can just ask for patience while I catch up. I can prioritize without feeling (too much)like I’m missing out on things. It’s a bit mysterious to me how it’s happened, but my bandwidth has increased, and I’m confident that it’s still growing.