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'Write the Docs' is a Conference for People Who Write Software Docs (Video) 24

Posted by Roblimo
from the documentation-makes-software-more-usable dept.
There is this guy, Eric Holscher, who has been doing FOSS development for quite a while. He's been on GitHub since 2008, and got involved in Gittip not long after it started in 2012. Not long after that, Eric started thinking about how open source software developers have all kinds of conferences and have many communities they can join and learn from each other, while those who write documentation, especially for FOSS, typically work all alone in a vacuum.

So why not have a conference for documentation writers (and developers who want to hook up with writers who can help them make high-quality docs)? Don't limit it to FOSS, but make sure that's the emphasis. Call the conference 'Write the Docs' and have the first conference in Portland, Oregon, in 2013. Which is exactly what Eric did. A year later, a second 'Write the Docs' conference is scheduled in Budapest (Hungary) at the end of March, and the next Portland conference is set for May 5.

Robin:So Eric, tell me what is this Docs thing all about?

Eric:I care about documentation in general because I think it allows people to use software better and allows more people to get into software. It is just kind of a way to actually get people that are learning and that kind of thing, being able to use the software that actually exists, instead of having to just try it out and use it and fail and give up. It actually gives people a path to try and figure out

Robin:RTFM, I think, is that what you are saying? RTFM, but there has to be a manual to read.

Eric:Well, there are, it is fine if they come and ask questions, but it is much better if they get to the point where they can ask questions because there is documentation to help them.

Robin:Yeah, that’s a good idea. I will go for that. I’ve written three books in that area, and God knows how many hundreds and hundreds of articles. I am on your side, and like most people doing this, I’ve been off in a corner and I maybe know three other people who did the same thing, and they are scattered. So you’re bringing people together, right?

Eric:Yeah, that’s kind of the idea with the conferences Write the Docs in the programming world, we have all those communities that are very strong, they come from Python, there is a big Python community, and all those kind of things, and then the documentation people there, none of that exists right?There are just three people that know each other scattered across the internet. That is not a way to feel like a member of the community. So bringing people in a room, getting talks, and trying to build the community througha broader action. This is the idea of the conferences.

Robin:And your next one is where and when?

Eric:We have one in Budapest at the end of March, March 31stand April 1st, that is in Hungary, obviously in Europe.And then we have one in Portland, Oregon on May 5thand 6th. So I think that’s about two months away, two and a half months.

Robin:Yeah, now is a good time to plan for it.

Eric:Yep, exactly.

Robin:Start checking out your airline and hotel reservations. I was looking in on your website, it did not look expensive, $55 advance, $75 full tab.

Eric:Exactly. So we are doing something new this year with we are kind of copying a couple of other conferences where they're asking, if your company is sending you and paying for your ticket, you pay a little bit more, and for the yes ones, you know $100 still really cheap and an amazing deal. What that allows us to do is offer students even cheaper tickets. So then we can do $50 student tickets for the full conference registration process. By allowing the companies to pay a little bit more, it gives us a little more flexibility with money so you can do a little bit more with student tickets and a few outreach tickets and things like that.

Robin:I don’t want to give you any bad ideas but no company I’ve ever worked for would’ve, I am a reporter, I get into that sort of jump free, you’d give me a press pass right, but no company I’ve ever worked for has ever kicked a stink about $150 or $200 for a conference.

Eric:Yeah, I know.It is something that we thought about as well as having a $200 ticket where it helps support the conference if you can, because if you don’t ask for it, and there is no option, people won’t do it.

Robin:Maybe next time, charge $200 for sponsored attendees, and then the company can get a little you can have a page of sponsoring companies.

Eric:Right, yeah.

Robin:You know, throw them a link.

Eric:I mean, we have a more formal sponsorship as well, but it seems when people are registering if they have a conference ticket budget or whatever trying to maximize what you get from that—it is a good plan.

Robin:So it sounds great. How many people do you get at these things?

Eric:So we are only planning for about 100 or 125 in Europe. Because it is the first year. But last year, we had about 200 in Portland, and it was really well received. So we are aiming for 300 or 350 this year for the North American version.

Robin:So this is really new, it has only been going for a couple of years.

Eric:Yeah, 2013 was the first year.So yeah, it is pretty brand new.

Robin:So get in on the ground floor and all that. I saw this stuff in the 2013, and we’ll link to it in the intro text on Slashdot.So with the people, what kind of talks do you have lined up?

Eric:So really there is a kind of a range of things, so the primary audienceis developers who care about documentation and people that write documentation that care about documentation which hopefully all of them, do it, right. And then we are trying to expand both of their knowledge in different directions. For the programmers, they get content on writing and all those kinds of stuff, and we are trying to do a design and typography, do a couple of talks on that, we talk about product support, knowledge based kind of things, and how programmers can do good new documents we had last year, how to write a good tutorial. So we are trying to stretch each of the audience members in different directions so it kind of expands their knowledge of what exists in the field.I think that was a really well received approach last year and we are going to try and do more of the same with it this year.

Robin:And I see you are looking at, you’ve done meet-ups too, right?

Eric:Yeah, we have a couple of meet-ups I think one in Boston, one in San Francisco, and we are trying to get one going in New York as well. Those kind of spawn from attendees last year wanting to keep things going locally, and probably this year we will be able to get a little bit more momentum since we already have a few established, and we can talk about them at the conference and tell people that they should also start. Those just happen naturally, if we can try and play on that or anything. So we are going to try and use the conference to add a little bit more weight to the meet-ups and that kind of stuff.

Robin:That is always a best way when things grow organically, grassroots. Also in Hungary, in Europe, are you congruent or close to it with what kind of other developer conferences?

Eric:Yes, so Drupal Developer Days in Szeged, Hungary which is just this beautiful town in Southern Hungary that is directly preceding our conference. So theirs is like fromMondaytoFriday, orMondaytoSunday, they are doing a I think it is like 300 or 400 people so they are a big Drupal event in Europe. And ours is theMondayandTuesdayafter, so a few people I will probably be down in Szeged before there are a few people taking the train upon Sundayup to Budapest for the conference.

Robin:You get around, don’t you? You were in Taiwan now, the last I heard you were in Thailand. Where do you go from here?

Eric:Yeah, I go back, I was actually in the Philippines speaking at PyConPhilippines, speaking about documentation, and then I am actually speaking in Kuala Lumpur in the middle of March, and then I fly to Europe to help organize the conference out there.

Robin:All this on only $75, or $55, no you are getting sponsored somewhere, you got money coming in, right?

Eric:Actually most of the money I make is on Gittip, which is a platform for supporting open source developers. So yeah.

Robin:That’s cool. I admire you. It is great that you are making a living from helping open source developers to better work. That’s wonderful.

Eric:Yeah, it is a new model I think and the conferences basically make zero money. We are just still kind of doing it for the love. Maybe in a few years, we might slowly raise the ticket prices just to try and make it a little bit more sustainable for the organizers, but for now definitely we are just the work for free because we believe that it should exist.

Robin:I agree with you. I thank you. I suspect that many people in the Slashdot community are glad to hear this. And I hope that at least a few of them get to these conferences and help grow it. Thank you Eric. I really appreciate it.

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'Write the Docs' is a Conference for People Who Write Software Docs (Video)

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