In this edition of Indus, we interact with Manju Shrestha who has always let her work speak. Manju has 15 years of experience as a Technical Documentation Professional. She leads the Intel [McAfee] documentation team as a Senior Documentation Manager. Manju has also worked in organizations such as, ArisGlobal [SysArris], Novell, and Oracle.
How did you first come across technical writing? Do you remember your first project? Talk us through it.
Along with my graduation, I had completed the GNIIT program, and NIIT offered placements. A pharmaceutical software company called me for an interview for a technical writing opening. I went to the interview without knowing anything about the profession, and yet that was to be my first step towards a very satisfying career in a field that perfectly uses all the skills I can bring to the table.
My first proper project interestingly was an improvement project. The company was suffering from negative perceptions around documentation across its customers, and I was asked to put together a schedule for improving the quality of the legacy documentation. The company did not have a Doc Manager, and the schedule assignment had been given to me by the QA Manager, under whom the Doc team was tagged. When I showed my manager the proposed schedule, he was pleased enough to ask him to manage that project, which consisted of three more writers, along with me. It was an eye opener for me in terms of what I could do.
We all agree to a large extent that good writing skills is the key, and a quality you look for in a technical writer. How do you assess that?
Yes, quality writing is a core skill required for this profession, and I strongly believe in the time tested assessment method of a written test. It is amazing how much candidates reveal themselves through their writing.
You have been with McAfee for quite a long time. What are the best practices followed for documenting a networking product?
Use the product – that’s the first, second, and third rule to be followed! Like they say, if you have to write about digging, the best way to do it is to first dig yourself! There’s nothing to replace knowledge. Writing just flows once the writer knows the subject.
What are the kind of strategies employed by your team to ensure quality assurance in product documentation?
First and foremost, is the focus on using the product. Content quality can be ensured by making sure the writer has an in-depth understanding of what he/she is writing about.
Second, any enterprise level documentation requires certain company standards to be adhered to. At McAfee, we invest in making sure standards are implemented by the tool itself. This saves a lot of hassle for the writers, and also ensures consistent look and feel, and adherence to the Style Guide.
The other key area of focus is reviews. Any draft can be released only if it has been reviewed and approved by the respective subject matter experts. A language review by an Editor is also done.
Share with us any problem that you have found a technical writer often come across in product documentation, and what should the technical writer approach be in that situation?
Most technical writers face the challenge of getting the required information out of subject matter experts. As all writers will vouch for this, Dev and QA will only answer the questions that you ask them. If you actually should know something in addition but you are not aware that you had to, it’s likely that information will not reach you.
Every time someone does this, and you figure out in hindsight, be polite but also assert that information must be proactively shared. Accurate and complete information will after all help reduce a significant number of support calls.
The other challenge I have seen writers face is Dev/QA engineers thinking that if they have given input, they do not need to review. Providing input and reviewing are two different activities, and we need Dev/QA to participate in both.
Any tips or word of advice for documentation managers?
Do not limit yourself to the documentation process and style guide alone. A manager must focus on understanding how business is run, the reasoning behind various strategies implemented by the organization, and what the competitors are doing. Managers must first see themselves as stakeholders in the direction the product or solution is taking.
Finally, you have always kept a low profile, even when you were in STC India Admin Council. Does it help to remain understated and work in the background?
It’s just a personal style, and not a conscious effort. I don’t think it helps to remain understated! I would encourage everyone to find ways to highlight their work and achievements.