Monday Sep 15, 2014

2014's Graduating InfoDev Interns

This year we had our third batch of technical writing interns from Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada on board for almost four months. Our goals for this internship program are simple: get some work done and give them insights into what working as a technical writer is all about. Once again this year I feel that we were successful on both counts. This year's interns Chris Ramey and Devin Roberts, worked on our Unified Communications Suite (UCS) documentation, helping us move some of the documents from a wiki format/publishing model into Structured FrameMaker and published on the Oracle Technology Network in an accessible format. They were able to do some re-architecting of content, editing, writing, and production tasks, so they experienced most of our doc life cycle processes. In addition to this blog, they did a Brown Bag session for the full InfoDev team, sharing their backgrounds, information about their school's technical writing program, and what they learned as interns. We appreciate their help and enjoyed having them on board. Here's to their successful career, hopefully as technical writers who will look back on their experience in Oracle Communications as beneficial and fun!

And now just a bit about these two interns: Devin and Chris are both former Arts graduates of the University of Ottawa. This background helped them to prepare for the technical writing field. After graduating from the University of Ottawa, they both attended Algonquin College’s Technical Writer post-graduate program to acquire the specialized skills required for careers as professional writers and came to Oracle for a four-month internship in May 2014.

Cheryl Lander, Oracle Communications InfoDev Senior Director


As aspiring technical writers, we were fortunate to spend the past four months at Oracle. The Technical Writer program at Algonquin College provided us with lots of theoretical background, skills, and writing practice before coming into a workplace. However, once we began working as interns here at Oracle, it was immediately clear to us that there are lots of things left to learn that the classroom just could not prepare us for.

We had the fortune of working with a team of senior writers on the Unified Communications Suite (UCS) documentation set. Many different products are incorporated into this suite, and there are several supporting pieces of documentation for each individual product. This blog provides a summary of the new skills and competencies we acquired while working on the UCS documentation project. For the most part, these new skills are not even things we anticipated learning.

Acquiring Product Knowledge

Knowledge of Oracle’s products is not something we could have learned in our Technical Writer college program. This is something that is learned on the job. We found that the best approach was to dive in head-first and get working on the documentation, while learning about the products along the way. Knowing that our internship would only last four months, we had to begin our writing tasks quickly so we could contribute to the documentation effort right away.

As we worked with the UCS team, we quickly realized that Oracle (and any other company we may work for down the road) has unique products and unique approaches to writing about these products. It became obvious that our challenge would be to learn and understand as much as we could about the UCS products within a small period of time. In addition, we also had to quickly adapt our writing style in accordance with Oracle style.

Working in a Dispersed Team

The UCS team that we worked with comprised writers living and working in various locations in the United States. Even though we came to work in our office here in Ottawa, Canada, we took direction from a team of senior writers whom we never met face to face.

This form of organization provided a unique work experience that neither of us had encountered before. Working in a geographically dispersed team presented several challenges that we had not anticipated. These challenges included:

  • Working in different time zones. The writers on the UCS team are dispersed across three different time zones in North America. It required extra consideration when requesting a meeting or waiting on an email response as the working hours of other writers did not always coincide with our hours.
  • Communicating effectively through email/messaging. Since it was not often convenient to speak to the other team members over the phone, much communication was achieved through email and instant messaging. This correspondence had to be carefully written to ensure effective communication. The topics of our discussions were highly technical and specific, so messages had to be written with precision.
  • Organizing team calls. We took part in weekly conference calls with all of the members on the UCS team. It was important to schedule these calls on a weekly basis to ensure each team member had the same informational updates. We also had daily sync-up calls with individual UCS writers to help us along with our tasks. Both types of calls were essential in maintaining the direction of the UCS project.

Collaborative Authoring

This internship allowed us the opportunity to work collaboratively with other writers. Since the UCS team is dispersed across North America, we had the chance to learn about collaborative authoring techniques that allowed everyone on the team access to the same content. These collaborative authoring techniques included the use of:

  • Wiki spaces. These were a valuable way to keep track of progress on various assigned tasks. Through these spaces, we were able to access task lists, product information, and level of effort spreadsheets to help keep us on track. 
  • Subversion (SVN) version control software. This was our first opportunity to use version control software. We were able to update the folders on our local hard drives daily to reflect the changes that had been made to documentation files by other writers. We also learned how to modify the documentation files through SVN.
  • Beehive workspace. This online workspace allows files to be stored and shared by all teams working on a project. Specifically, we used this space to access writer and peer review checklists to use in reviewing documents.

Creating Documents According to Oracle Style

As new technical writers, we needed to get acquainted with the editing and formatting required to produce quality documentation. We reviewed, edited, and formatted documents that had been converted from an online wiki page into Structured FrameMaker. There were a number of things that needed to be done to ensure documentation quality, including (but not limited to):

  • Ensuring that system commands cited in the documents were properly formatted
  • Making the documents accessible to those with visual disabilities
  • Editing the document to ensure it conformed to Oracle’s style guide
  • Updating documentation sets for new releases
  • Addressing comments made on the documents by software developers

Authoring Our Own Document

After working on Oracle’s UCS documentation set, we were given the opportunity to co-author a new System Administrator’s guide. This was the first time either of us had ever written a guide from scratch, so we were thrilled to have the chance to write our first one for Oracle. The guide tells system administrators how to use one of Oracle’s UCS products. It included instructions on how to initiate server functions by executing commands on a command-line interface. This was a fascinating guide for us to write, and challenged us to learn about a product we had no prior knowledge of.

We’ve had a fantastic experience working here at Oracle. We learned so such about technical writing over the past four months. This experience has provided us with knowledge that will be highly valuable in our future careers. Thank you to everyone who has made our time here so enjoyable!

We Value Your Feedback

If you would like to suggest improvements or report issues on any of the product documentation, curriculum, or training produced by the Oracle Communications Information Development team, you can use these channels:

· Email cgbu_docfeedback_us_grp@oracle.com.

· Post a comment on this blog.

Thanks for reading!

Friday Aug 23, 2013

Oracle’s Internships for Technical Writers Look to the Future

This is the second year in a row that we've had the fortunate opportunity to hire technical writer interns from Ottawa, Canada's Algonquin College's post-graduate Technical Writing program. Kayla Robinson and Rachel Rosenfeld have been on board for four months (May through August) and during that time, they've learned about tech writing from the experts on our team and we've use their skills and enthusiasm to get work done--what a perfect match!

First a bit more about Kayla and Rachel. They both have arts backgrounds: Kayla majored in English at Carleton University and Rachel majored in history at Dalhousie University. Kayla enjoys creating graphics and writing social media pieces. Rachel enjoys learning about new products and software applications. During their time at Oracle, they worked on AIA, IP Service Activator, UIM, OSM, and MSS projects.

Today's blog is all about their experiences and I'm sure you'll enjoy reading it. This also is a good reflection of the things we do on our team to ensure our team members continue to develop their skills, share their experiences, and focus on creating high-quality content. Thanks to Kayla and Rachel for a great blog and for four excellent months of work - best of luck to you in your tech writer careers.

Cheryl Lander, Oracle Communications InfoDev Senior Director

Oracle’s CGBU Information Development (InfoDev) team provides quality internships for new technical writers, like us, who want to gain real world experience in the workplace. Fostering a mutually beneficial relationship with Algonquin College’s technical writing program in Ottawa supports the local community and new professionals looking for industry training.

This blog post is the culmination of our efforts to select the top 5 reasons why our internship has blown our socks off:

1. Participating in Brown Bag Presentations

Brown Bags are not a packed lunch that technical writers bring to work. We are much more likely to be found getting sushi takeout or stopping by one of the gourmet food trucks in downtown Ottawa. Oracle Brown Bag presentations are lunch-and-learn web conferences that focus on a variety of topics.

Brown Bags explore new product innovations, current projects, customer feedback, and tips on documentation, courseware tools, and processes. Some really useful topics included Doc Bug Best Practices, How Audiences Read, and tips on how to take advantage of features in our FrameMaker authoring tool.

2. Collaborating with a Global Team of Technical Writers

Meet the diverse team we collaborate with:

  • Technical experts have specialized knowledge that range from fixing computers to programming languages.
  • Tool gurus are willing to take the extra time to help you when you get stuck on a tools issue. When you have stumbled into the Bermuda triangle of software errors and cannot find your way out, your fearless tool guru will show you the path.
  • Mentors are the experienced writers who are willing to instruct you on how to perform the tasks necessary for job success. Our mentors really helped us adjust to the company processes. They even provided us with a cheat sheet of useful links and tips. Definitely a must-have.
  • Team Leads and Managers have calendars with schedules more complex than any Rubix cube puzzle, and somehow they still have time for us! We haven’t figured out quite how they manage to do this, and we are inherently suspicious of their super-human abilities.
  • Documentation architects focus on structuring information in a logical and consistent way for a user. Our documentation architect visited Ottawa and held focused learning sessions about document structure and writing for different audiences. To learn more about documentation architecture, read Scott Miller’s blog post: Online Help and the Epic BFFL Throwdown of the 90s.
  • Editors fokus, among other things, on making our writing klear and task-oriented instead of describing softwear featyours. Our editor, Bob, holds an informal meeting every Friday where he updates the team on unit-wide developments, addresses questions, and occasionally we get to hear his cat Jason in the background. Wut wood we do without our editor?
  • Courseware Developers are knowledgeable about the products and can be a good resource. They appreciate it when you perform usability tests on courseware and troubleshoot the courseware in a real-time training environment.

3. Working with Industry Tools

There are many tools available for writers. Our toolkit is definitely more extensive thanks to Oracle, and you can check out our favorites below:

  • Structured FrameMaker: A popular structured authoring application that uses tagged mark up to create consistently structured documentation.
  • Oracle Review is an internal tool where writers post their drafts and invite reviewers to pin comments to the posted draft.
  • Graphics tools: Microsoft Visio makes it possible to create flow charts to illustrate complex concepts, and we use Snagit to snag awesome screenshot captures and painlessly edit them.
  • Version-Control: Version control software keeps a history of when documents are modified and provides controls to make sure that multiple authors aren’t working in the same book simultaneously. It also provides backup so writers don't lose their work, because we have writers in California (earthquakes), Texas (tornadoes), and Canada (maple syrup shortages).
  • TWiki is an internal InfoDev wiki where guidelines about writing style, process, content, structure, and procedure are all documented. We would have been lost without this oft-bookmarked and frequently accessed resource.

4. Learning the Company Values

Blending in with a company’s corporate culture is a significant part of succeeding in a work placement. We have learned two things about Oracle:

  • Oracle values technical documentation: We heard stories about companies where writers spent their days chasing down developers who had no time for questions. At Oracle everyone was more than willing to provide us with information, patiently answer our questions and provide us with the resources at their disposal.
  • Oracle promotes working independently: After our initial two weeks of training, learning processes and downloading tools, we were expected to work with minimal supervision. We were provided with a work schedule, encouraged to ask questions when we were unsure and expected to provide status updates and attend meetings, but we weren’t micro-managed. Being trusted to work independently encouraged us to take initiative in ways that might not have been possible if a manager had been hovering over our shoulder. We were accountable for our time at work, and this trust encouraged us to work hard.

5. Engaging Tasks

“Working hard, or hardly working?” Well we know for a fact that we were working hard, but our favorite tasks hardly seem like work. Here is a list of the tasks we enjoyed most:

  • Fixing bugs: When a documentation error or required update is flagged in the internal database, we call it a documentation bug. Fixing documentation bugs involves putting on your Sherlock Holmes hat and doing some detective work. Research and tracking down subject matter experts can take time, but it is worth it in the end when you can go into the bug database and change the bug status to a satisfying 89 to indicate you have solved the problem. For example we might say, “Sweet. I 89ed that doc bug all the way to Quality Assurance. Take that.”
  • Writing Content: Writing content is what comes to mind when you think about technical writing. In reality, there is so much else involved in the average workday. After all the planning , researching, converting documentation, attending meetings, and all the other tasks that take up your day it is nice to sit down and write content.
  • Creating Graphics:

A key aspect of communication is maintaining an open dialogue, and continuously eliciting feedback. When an international company like Oracle encourages two technical writing interns to contribute to the company blog by writing about our experience as interns, we can provide guidance and tips to the next generation of interns by sharing our experiences of a memorable summer at Oracle.

Please help us by sharing your best advice, tips, or personal anecdotes for new interns with a comment!

We value your feedback. If you would like to suggest improvements or report issues on any of the product documentation, curriculum, or training produced by the Oracle Communications Information Development team, you can use these channels:

About

This is a blog from the Oracle Communications Information Development team, led by Cheryl Lander, Sr. Director. She and members of her team from various functions (writers, curriculum developers, and architects) and product lines will share their approach to documentation and curriculum, all with the goal of getting feedback to improve their deliverables. We'd like to thank Joe Sciallo, UCS Tech Writer (former Sun) for pushing us into the social media world. The primary team driving this blog is called "Joe and the Blogettes"; other members include Brenda Roldan (BSS Tech Writer), Jodie Wilford (OSS InfoDev Director), Leif Lourie (SDP Curriculum Developer), and Scott T. Miller (Documentation Architect).

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