Podcast 69: TCUK 2019 – The review

This episode of the Cherryleaf Podcast reflects on the main themes contained in the presentations at the Technical Communication UK 2019 conference.

This conference is hosted by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators.


Welcome to the latest episode from the Cherryleaf podcast.
We’re going to just have a reflection on what happened at the TCUK 2019 conference.
And this episode is brought to you by Cherryleaf training division.
If you’re interested in becoming a better technical communicator, and would be interested in some online courses on a monthly subscription basis, where you could cancel at any time, then do have a look at the Cherryleaf website and some of the courses for beginners and for advanced people that we offer.

So TCUK is Technical Communication UK conference.
It’s the conference run by the professional body for technical communicators in the UK, the ISTC, and this year is held in the middle of England in Kenilworth which is near Warwick and Warwick Castle
And the theme for this year was 10 or One 0.
So in the previous episode we had some recordings from some of the people speaking and delegates of the conference.
I ran a session on making a podcast and there are recordings from the different teams that broke out from the session and recorded different people, talking themselves about what they thought about the conference.

So for so in this episode I’m just really going to reflect on the presentations I saw and pick up on the main themes
So the conference has two tracks and so I saw one presentation and so I missed the other. One I couldn’t be in two places at the same time so this will be a personal reflection from what I saw.

At the conference the delegates do get copies of all the slides from all of the presentations and access to audio recordings of all of the presentations as well, but they hadn’t been released yet.
So I’m going from memory here which is about three or four days after the event.

Right so what were the main themes, well, I think there were three main themes this year one was the trend of Docs as code or Docs like code.

So this is how you can treat documentation similar way that the development code is treated, doing this for a number of reasons.

One to make the workflow and the stages of review and writing in alignment with the similar processes for the code development another is to get it easier for developers to contribute to the writing process or the writing content that can then be put in immediately into the outputted documentation or edited by a technical author or reviewed by developers, having systems that makes it easy for them

So often when this is done, it’s done with tools that make it easier for developers so standards like lightweight markup languages like markdown or AsciiDoc and tools like sublime text or Atom
So there was a talk by George Bina and also one by a colleague of his they both work for Syncrosoft in Romania the company that makes oxygen XML Alexandru Jitianu, I think was his name, is his colleague.
Oxygen is used for XML-based documentation to standards like DITA.

So what they were talking about was how you can have some people writing a markdown, some people working in to have an environment where the two can coexist and work quite happily

So it might be the more complex stuff is written in DITA and some of the simple stuff is written, more straightforward stuff by developers, is written in markdown.

And so George talked about and I’ve talked about different ways in which you can do that so you can have content that’s written in markdown and convert it to DITA. And that’s approach that they talked about and they demonstrated how the metadata at the top of a markdown.
More content that can explain who wrote a topic on which version it’s for, or when it was written, which version it was written, how about metadata content can be converted to the relevant elements within a DITA topic.

They talked about how markdown topics can be wrapped around.

So they’re pretty much as they are but can still be accepted within the DITA publishing tools and they talked about DITA Glass, which is one of the tools that they have to do that, and they talked about how you can make it easier for developers to use forms to write content that gets transformed into DITA, although all of the complexity is hidden away from them.

And they also talked about using Dchematron to set business rules, so things are checked before they’re saved to see that they comply with the appropriate rules that are there.

Another talk about talks like code was from Jen Lambourne, who had a presentation ones and zeroes, and introduction to managing documentation like a code, and talked about how GDS works in this way.

How their content is written in Markdown and stored in repositories, and some of the approaches and techniques that they’ve used to get people to review the content on a regular basis, to get some workflow into that.
So she explained how github and how content can be pushed and pulled and committed to documentation.

That was part of what she talked about, but she also talked about a bot that GDS developed with the name Daniel the manual spaniel. Yes that’s right: Daniel the manual spaniel, and this is a bot that GDS has developed that can check documentation see when it was last reviewed, and if it hasn’t been reviewed for the set amount of time that’s required .
So three months or six months
What this bot does is it sends a message to the person who’s responsible for if.

It sends that message on Slack, the communication channel Slack, saying to them this page, it’s due for renewal, and then sends my link to that particular page.

And then they can approve it and gets notified and then that’s gets removed from the list of pages that this bot goes through and reminds people about.

So open government means that a lots of the code and developments that GDS works on is made available to anyone – another government or another company and so on – the github repository that GDS has called alphagov

You can actually go and download and modify and use this bot called Daniel the manual spaniel

So that was very interesting.

And on a related theme there was a presentation by George Lewis about continuous integration.

He talked about how companies like Amazon have capabilities of publishing every 10 or 11 seconds Kindle books, and how you can set up similar systems in the cloud to have content approved or published as a single topic

And that did then generate a publishing process

That means that the live system can be updated within in 11 seconds or so that it can go up there

So he talked about the model of how this can be done

He then took his life as his hands as a presenter and then attempted to demonstrate this over the web.

Unfortunately the curse of live presentation demonstrations happened, and it didn’t work, but the concept was very convincing and very interesting.

Which is essentially for those that are writing in tools like Flare, and it could also be appropriate for other help authoring tools as well.

To have a workflow where you have a copy of Flare in a container like Docker or Kubernetes in the cloud, posted on something like Amazon Web Services, connected to a continuous integration tool like Travis.

So that when somebody does a new topic that that triggers a command to this version of Flare in a Virtual Machine in this container to do the publishing and then that content to be published and be available on the web.

So for those that need quick publishing on an almost instantaneous basis without human intervention with it being done automatically in the cloud without necessarily relying on somebody’s laptop being up and running then this demonstration of how it can be done or is being done was very interesting indeed.

So there was this theme.

Maybe that was just the one that I picked out on Docs as code automating the processes that was there with a number of the presentations.

Another theme that came through was graphics.

And there was a presentation by Chris Burden an overview of graphics – the tools, the different formats, when and where you might use graphics, what their purposes can be.

And then there was a very specific technical presentation on SVG done by Tony Dzumaga that a number of people when I was talking to them at the conference mentioned.

Now Tony’s session on SVG was actually in the workshop sessions on the day before the conference.

He also did some live presentations and there a couple of things we had to make adaptations on the fly to get round screen resolutions and how it displayed.

But I understand he managed to resolve those, and he showed how by using SVG.

And it’s sort of xml-based format

You’ve got the ability if a company changes its name and the graphics have that name in there or products name, then you can make changes to the SVG code and then those graphics can be changed very quickly, very easily to reflect the changes can happen to graphics over time as products change.

So I didn’t attend that session

So I’m looking forward to the slides and recordings to actually catch up and see what was done on that

So theme one, Docs is code, continuous integration
Theme two graphics
Another theme was on management, soft skills side of things, and things around thinking strategically, dealing with leadership, getting feedback, and taking it on board, and learning to improve.
And using empathy skills to communicate with others in a way that they understand and you don’t end up with a crash
So there were a number of presentations on that
Chris Hester came over from Chicago to present.

She works for UL, a testing organization in the States, and she talked about strategic thinking about finding hidden things, finding hidden value, getting away from being stuck in deliverables.

And also consider questions around how you work on why you to certain things in certain ways ask the why question what is the impact how does this relate to what users want and she talked about setting clear direction cultivating relationships encouraging innovation with your processes.
And related to that was another presentation from ARM, but there were two presentations from different people working at ARM. ARM has been the biggest technology company in the UK. They design the chips that go into smartphones presentation by George Bakalios which was a very warts and all, very honest, presentation on his career so far and how he got into becoming a technical writer, and how he’s progressed into roles of being a team member and then leading a team and moving into management.

Another presentation I mentioned was by Charlotte Claussen
And she talked to BAU it’s really communicating in a way that is empathetic, understanding what other people are thinking and wanting. Communicating in the right way, considering what to other people think, and then using that.

She also mentioned a book called manipulation by Klaus Kjøller. Unfortunately that book is only in Danish and I don’t speak Danish. That sounded very interesting.

I guess related to the empathy side of things there was another ARM presenter who come over from Texas Andrea folded she’d been at the TCUK conference here before she was following up from that about user research understanding users empathy using baseball metaphors – to think about the who, the what, the why type questions.

Now one of the features within TCUK’s it encourages first time speakers it’s very friendly conference. There’s lots of support for people that are speaking for the first time and so there are a number of people that had taken that up.

There was somebody from Russia from St Petersburg, Olly Kirillova, who talked about risk management principles applying those to technical communication

And there was somebody from the Government Digital Service, Andrea Szollossi, I think I pronounced her name right, talking about the different types of people in the world, but specifically about how you can get developers involved in documentation writing content and reviewing it.

Some of the techniques that are used at the Government Digital Service to achieve this.
So she talked about how GDS uses pair writing and content critiques to get that content going through the process.

Now this year TCUK has had an award for the most innovative presentation. Andrea was talking at the same time that I was talking, so I didn’t have a chance to see that presentation , and it happened that she was the winner of the prize for the most innovative presentation.

So it’s her first time speaking at a conference and she won an award.

So congratulations must go out to her for achieving that with her first presentation.

The more people we have presenting, different voices, different ideas at conferences, the better.

It’s great that there are these new people speaking at the event.

I think that’s all I can recall from the conference in terms of themes and presentations

So just to say again Docs as code and continuous integration seems to be a number of developments in that area, much more confidence on that, and thinking about sort of leadership and management, emphasis fired again, communicating with developers and development teams, and getting them to understand what’s required, understanding what they want, understanding users on what they need, to make sure that we write the right content for our audience.

That’s it for this time.

Thank you again for listening, or thank you to those at the confidence that mentioned the Cherryleaf podcast and the feedback that you gave. Lovely to hear that.

If you want to give us feedback by email, it’s info at Cherryleaf.com. That’s it for this time we’ll be back with another episode soon. Thanks for listening.

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