I'm Fabrizio Ferri Benedetti, a technical and UX writer based in Barcelona, Spain (more)
Technical writing requires appropriate gear to be done in a way that’s both healthy and productive. While it’s true that communicating with subject-matter experts and writing documentation can be done on a tiny Chromebook, I would compare such an experience to driving all the way from Chicago to San Francisco on a BMW Isetta: feasible, though not very comfortable nor fast, and certainly not fun for your derrière.
Just when we thought that we wouldn’t be replaced by WriterBot, a mounting concern is ruining many a breakfast: Bad actors could still get hired as technical writers by feeding take-home assignments to ChatGPT and presenting the resulting soliloquy as their own. Nevermind that ChatGPT content is often wrong or trite: Some think that it’d still fool hiring managers. Let me suggest two solutions to this robocalyptic scenario.
There’s been a lot of fuss about ChatGPT, OpenAI’s conversational bot, and its docs capabilities. Some dismissed its skills; others are thinking of selling their possessions and flee to Patagonia. Let’s do something different and entertain a hypothetical scenario where OpenAI will be prepackaged and sold as WriterBot. Let’s suppose it’ll be relatively cheap and easy to run (some deep learning software runs on desktop machines after all).
What would happen?
Every now and then, people ask me how one can become a technical writer for software companies. Answering that question has always been difficult, as there is no clear career path for becoming a tech writer, nor a demand for tech writers such that it’d push formal tech comms education forward (at least in Europe). While the role has grown in popularity, technical writers are still a small fraction of the total workforce in the tech industry. The question is so powerful, though, that I cannot ignore it. I’ll try to provide an answer.
A recurring question from people entering the tech writing profession is “Should I learn to code?”. This query has become hugely popular in the docs-as-code age, where writers and developers live in the same DevOps trenches, eating the same CI/CD rations and publishing docs using broken tools that often lack maintainers.
My answer is “These are not the learnings you’re looking for.”
Almost a year ago I had this crazy idea of writing a children’s book on OpenTelemetry. In this, I was inspired not only by my lifelong love for illustrated stories, but also by the example set by Gently Down the Stream, a children’s story on Apache Kafka. I pitched the idea around a bit, processed some feedback, then got down to it. Now the book is online!
While thinking about unconventional technical communication, like comic books, children stories, and games, a thought occurred to me that they’re all attempts at hitting the core of what a product is and does, that is, its truth. I developed this picture of a series of concentric levels of comprehension and something resembling the circles of Dante’s Inferno came out of it. Don’t run away yet: Embrace hope all ye who enter here.
As a psychologist, I’m quite familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s an extremely popular framework for human motivation. The hierarchy, often pictured as a pyramid, states that people look for certain things following a certain order: First shelter, then food, then company, etc. As with most psychological theories, Maslow’s is almost certainly false; nonetheless, it provides a very intuitive way of thinking about priorities.
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