Technical Writing | WTR 37

Technical Writing | WTR 37

Jami is a technical writer for Agency Port Software, a web based software for P&C insurance.

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Show Notes:


ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network, interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they’re successful in technology careers. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I’m Angela.
PAIGE: So Angela, today we’re joined by Jami. She’s a technical writer with a company in Boston. She does a lot of interesting work trying to translate developers and in her position for developers. So we talk a little bit about that and we get into what it means to be a technical write and kind of dig into that whole career path.
ANGELA: And before we get into this interview, I would just like to say that you can support the network and the ongoingness of this show, Women’s Tech Radio, by going to And that is where you will find that we put out a podcast specifically to thank the patrons that are supporting the network. It’s Tech Talk Today. It’s a quick show that we do four days a week of the top headlines. And it’s just a thank you. It’s something that we’re able to launch because we are getting funding that way. So, again, you can support Women’s Tech Radio through
PAIGE: And to get started, we asked Jami what she’s doing in technology today.
JAMI: I’m currently a tech writer. I work for Agency Port Software in Boston. We are a technology company that offers web-based software and tools to P&C insurance companies, and I’m pretty much responsible for creating and maintaining all of their product documentation and as well as the developer documentation site where all that documentation lives. So mostly my responsibilities are related to actual documentation. So I document any updates to the products and the release notes whenever releases go out. And then the other half is I’m actually dealing with the technical aspects of the site. So we make sure everything is up and running, everything is displaying properly, the styles look good, the features looks good. I”m working mostly in a tool called MadCap Flare. It’s an authoring tool. But I also work heavily in CSS and a little bit of Javascript and now learning a little bit more about Bootstrap.
PAIGE: So are you working in MadCap Flare? Is that like your internal program and then you’re also starting to author some of the stuff for the web and that’s why you’re diving into CSS and HTML and stuff?
JAMI: Yeah. So, MadCap Flare, it’s an external software component that you can use to actually build documentation sites. So you kind of organize everything and it builds HTML files that then compile out that you can build an actual site with. But we wanted something a little bit more modern and that we can customize a lot more than what’s built into the product. So that’s why we kind of bring in the CSS and the Javascript and the Bootstrap so that we can make it a little bit more modern and trendy to kind of meet our company’s branding.
PAIGE: So is this something — technical writing is actually — we haven’t had a technical writer on the show yet.
ANGELA: Uh-uh.
PAIGE: So this is kind of fun. What does it mean to do technical writing? I think you kind of grazed over it, but what do you do as a technical writer, like in the nitty gritty?
JAMI: Well, in my position now you’re working with the developers. You’re working with the engineers to find out exactly what is done on a project as related to a product. So whenever they make changes, we have to make sure that we’re relaying that information to whoever the audience is. So in my current case, our audience is actual developers who are customizing our software for clients. So they need to learn how to customize everything. So those updates go in for the content and we also relay the updates as for release notes. So we’re constantly keeping communication to our clients to what we’re being, what’s being done into the product.
PAIGE: So you’re kind of translating developers, and in your position, for developers?
JAMI: Yes. In prior positions where I’ve worked as a tech writer it was kind of the opposite. Where I was interpreting developers notes and trying to decipher it into a language that any man could understand, like they have no technical background but they need to understand. But in my current case it’s, I’m actually relaying developer information for another developer, if that makes sense.
PAIGE: Totally. So are you super technical? Are you a developer yourself? How does that work for you to kind of translate like that?
JAMI: I’m not really a developer per say. I mean, I’m starting to learn a lot more, especially in the past year or so. But I’m more of the content side of it. So I can understand it, but if you give me something to code completely in Javascript, i don’t know how to do that just yet, but I could at least read it and understand what’s going on.
PAIGE: Well, that’s actually a lot farther than some developers I know. So you’re doing really well.
JAMI: Thanks.
PAIGE: Is that something you went to school for? To be — either to understand Javascript or to be a technical writer?
JAMI: Actually, no. I actually don’t have really any formal training as far as even technical writing. My degree was actually in creative writing and journalism and I started working for a small IT company right out of college kind of helping with their help desk and I just gradually made my way up. And now today, I — since working with developers and having to actually look at code, it’s kind of forced me to learn, but also — I’m mean it’s not like a forcing, but — so it’s interesting to finally learn how to do some of this stuff. And then actually to learn more. I’ve been taking classes on Code School and Codecademy and trying to actually dig into code and try to figure it out so that I can understand what they’re talking about.
PAIGE: Very cool. So you’re self-teaching yourself so you can have more understanding at work?
JAMI: Right. Exactly.
PAIGE: And do cool things. Very cool.
JAMI: Right.
PAIGE: That’s actually how I got started.
JAMI: Very nice.
PAIGE: I always like to ask this sort of question, but how does it flip around? Do you feel like you have this creative writing and journalism background and you’re trying to learn code. Do you feel like any of the developers are actually trying to learn how to write more like humans?
JAMI: In some cases, yes. Yes.
PAIGE: Awesome.
JAMI: Or maybe we wish that they did, I guess.
PAIGE: Maybe somebody should write a Codecademy for technical writing so that we could learn how to write better documentation.
JAMI: That would be nice.
PAIGE: Yeah. I think they’re based out of Boston or New York. I think they’re in New York.
JAMI: I’m not sure. Yeah.
PAIGE: They’re very close. How did you get where you are? It sounds like you started out of college and you had the college degree. Have you always had an interest in tech or was it just kind of that random happenstance?
JAMI: Well, I mean, I’ve always been into computers and tech, and I’m really tech savvy. So just kind of, I kind of fit in right away in the department and I just — I love it. I mean, I’m always learning something new. It’s always evolving. So, I just — I’ve kind of found that happy medium where I’m writing, but I’m also getting the chance to actually work in tech.
PAIGE: I think it’s interesting how the tech — like if we look at it from a broad perspective. It really is a very deep field. It takes a lot of disciplines. You know, we’ve had so many different people on the show; artist, developers, designers, and writers now and there’s really — there’s room for all of us in this field to do good things.
JAMI: Right.
PAIGE: So why tech? You said you’re tech savvy. What does that mean to you and is it — what kind of stokes your fire in the tech end of things?
JAMI: Well, I think it’s kind of — because I have this personality where I like to kind of be a detective and try to figure things out. So I think in tech I kind of get that opportunity. Where it’s like, oh I don’t know why this page isn’t showing up right. Let me see why. Let me try to fix this. Okay, that’s not working. Let me try this. And just trying to find the answer. If it’s either online or talking to people. And it’s like you kind of get the opportunity to see what you did right away.
PAIGE: Yeah. We actually had an interview, a couple of weeks ago by now, where we talked to somebody about failing. And I think that willingness to explore and to fail forward, like oh does this worK? And to break it and then fix it is — that’s that mindset for me. It’s super important.
JAMI: Absolutely. Yeah, and it helps you learn because I mean for me I’m more of a hands on person, so actually digging in and trying to do things is how I’m going to figure out how to do it.
ANGELA: Is there anything tech related that you do outside of work, like hobby wise? Like blogging or?
JAMI: I did for a while. I was — I did blog for a while. I did some side freelance work for for a while, for like two years. So I had to maintain their — maintain my — I had my own personal site and I had to do all that stuff. I was into photography for a while. So I was editing photos a lot. Right now I just really — I honestly haven’t had a whole lot of spare time to do a lot of outside tech related stuff, but I mean I’ve been using a computer for the past probably 20 years or so.
J; So it’s like attached to me. It’s just a part of our lives now. Tech is always around me.
PAIGE: Yeah, totally. You can’t get away from it anymore.
JAMI: No. It’s like a — it’s literally attached to you hip.
PAIGE: I guess you could move to Amish country in Pennsylvania.
JAMI: Yeah.
PAIGE: That’s about it.
ANGELA: I heard there’s a really good buffet.
PAIGE: Really?
ANGELA: Yeah, really.
PAIGE: I don’t know. I mean, are they offended-
ANGELA: My mom went to it and so did one of my friends.
PAIGE: I’ve had some of the best pancakes ever in Amish country, so maybe it’s relevant. I don’t know. Very fun. So you’re in the Boston community. How is the — kind of the tech community out there?
JAMI: It’s really booming right now, it seems. I mean, I’ve been here a little over a year, but especially in the area we’re in, we’re kind of near South Boston and just companies are moving in, startups and just everything. It’s very tech heavy right now.
PAIGE: I’m from the Boston area, I will admit.
JAMI: Uh-huh.
PAIGE: What is kind of your favorite thing about — I know you just moved up there. What’s kind of your favorite Boston thing so far?
JAMI: I’d say just being in the city to me is just exhilarating. Because I’m kind of from — I grew up in a small Florida town and kind of moved around Florida a lot where we didn’t really have that metropolitan feel. And of course the weather here. And summer/spring is very nice. Winter is a little bit challenging. But I love public transportation so getting on the train everyday to me is exciting.
PAIGE: Boston public transit, I had no idea how spoiled i was until I moved away from Boston, but it’s pretty much, once you get out of the Boston, New York, DC corridor, once you get out of there the rest of the country does not have the kind of public transport that the northeast has, and I had no idea.
JAMI: No. Yeah.
PAIGE: But I’m surprised you say summer. Well, I guess you’re from Florida. Honestly the worst part of New England weather to me is the hot, sticky summers, but Florida definitely takes the cake on that one.
JAMI: Right. Right. Yeah, it’s not that — I mean it’s been high 80s but it’s not that bad.
PAIGE: We also ask a couple of things that people do. So what else do you do with your free time?
JAMI: Well, I have a little dog named Penny so I like to spend time a lot with her. I like to research old train stations, which is kind of silly, but it’s kind of like a new thing since I’ve moved up here to New England. There’s a lot of — obviously a lot of history, a lot of hold history. But a lot of old train stations that have either been renovated into other things or they’re just kind of missing and you just kind of see pieces of them and you want to know why. Like why, what happened? And things like that.
PAIGE: That’s really fascinating. You should blog about that.
JAMI: It’s such a random thing. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with it.
ANGELA: Yeah, no, seriously. Yeah, if you started a blog I bet you could get-
PAIGE: I would follow that.
ANGELA: Click revenue, because trains and stuff like that is really a popular thing.
JAMI: Probably.
PAIGE: Even if you’re in a for a casual ride, the Rail to Trail project that has happened through most of New England is fascinating.
JAMI: Yes.
PAIGE: And you get to go by a lot of those old train stations and things.
JAMI: Yes, we have one that actually runs right by our house. We haven’t been since fall, but we take the dog and it’s very interesting. Some of the old signals are even still there. And the old crossover bridges. It’s very cool.
PAIGE: New England is a really fascinating place for history. Definitely. Highly recommend. So you’re teaching yourself right now. What are some of the things that are hardest for you, even just learning like — is it jus getting your head around the logic of it? Like understanding terms? Like what is a variable? What is a function? Like what’s your sticking points and how are you getting over them or how are you not?
JAMI: I think it’s more the logic, because I’m kind of still in the midst of doing some of the online courses for Javascript. And it’s just — I don’t know if it’s the math portion or it’s just kind of all of it at once, like the, you know, if L statements and things like that. Sometimes it kind of throws me around. It’s just trying to figure it out. They give you a sample. Okay. Here’s some code, now try to fix it. Or you’ve got to write this yourself. here’s your variables and write it. So it’s just digging in and trying to figure it out is the best way how I get through it.
PAIGE: I like that. I also usually encourage people who are new to programming to write it out in plain English first.
JAMI: Uh-huh.
PAIGE: And then try to make it into code.
JAMI: Right.
PAIGE: Because if you write the logic in a way that you understand it and then translate, it can kind of help that step. Are you just doing stuff online? Are you going to meetups or anything?
JAMI: I haven’t gone to any meetups yet. I know there are a lot in the Boston area. I know there are couple of, especially for women they’re actually creating — there’s a lot of groups that are actually for women that want to code and you could actually get involved in these groups and they do meetups. And basically at any level you could just want to learn and you could get into the groups and start working with them and learn more. And that’s something I’d love to do. I just haven’t had the chance right now, unfortunately.
PAIGE: I definitely encourage you to check that out. I’m actually the director for Women Who Code Portland and I know that we have a Boston chapter.
PAIGE: And I think Girl Develop It is out there if you want something more workshoppy.
JAMI: Right.
PAIGE: I highly recommend both of those.
ANGELA: Do you have, at your job, are you the only technical writer or is there somebody else that you — that also does that?
JAMI: No, I am the sole technical writer. I was actually hired on last year to help their documentation section. They were using and old Drupal platform and they wanted something more robust and more modern that could actually kind of help users navigate it through better. So that’s kind of where I came along. I’ve had a little over six years’ experience as a tech writer so I kind of brought my expertise in and helped them find the MadCap Flare tool to build their documentation set. So I’m the sole person on that — in that full team right now.
ANGELA: Job security.
JAMI: Yes.
ANGELA: Have you ever met another technical writer? Like with either a partnering company or a client that has a technical writer?
JAMI: Yes.
ANGELA: Yeah? Is that-
JAMI: Yes.
ANGELA: Are you guys able to like share hidden jokes and — I don’t know.
JAMI: Sometimes. Yeah, so my last job before this one I was actually on a technical writing team. We had — I think at one time we had about five writers and a supervisor that we’d all been — you know, we were all tech writers. So we all knew the jokes, whether it be about a specific programmer or just the logic of things. Of, oh like, oh your authoring tool is doing something weird again. Oh no. You know, things like that. It’s mostly just weird little quirks.
ANGELA: Uh-huh.
PAIGE: Did you ever put easter eggs inside technical documentation like we do with programs?
JAMI: Uh, no I haven’t.
PAIGE: You should consider it.
ANGELA: Yeah. You work on that. We’ll check back with you in six months.
JAMI: Okay. Yeah.
ANGELA: No, just kidding.
PAIGE: So, if someone was listening to the show and is a writer currently, they’re freelance or whatever they’re doing, or maybe they’re finishing a degree or something and they wanted to get into technical writing, what kind of advice would you give them?
JAMI: I would just say to get out there and read as much as you can about it. I mean, from my perspective, I didn’t have an actual formal tech writing training. I didn’t go to school for it. So you kind of have to be tech savvy in some sense, and you have to be willing to learn. You have to be open minded that things are going to change and that you have to kind of be up and current and to — you know, whether it be the current authoring tools platforms that are available or the other kinds of ways that you can make your documentation better. And it’s just to get out there and try to create something. Take online courses or tutorials and just do what you can. Because this is just how you can learn.
PAIGE: Do you have any courses you might recommend for technical writing?
ANGELA: Maybe not yet. I think you’re probably in the early stages of figuring out what it is that would have been helpful?
JAMI: Yeah. And I mean, back when I was starting to learn six years ago there wasn’t — I don’t think there was a whole lot free online, you know, tutorials like there are now. But there are books out there that you could look in technical writing. I believe there’s a site called, if that’s still available. I”m not sure. BUt I think that’s a community so you can share ideas and things like that.
PAIGE: We’ve had some people give the advice before of people who are even just looking to get into development to — if they wanted to kind of dip their toes in open source that actually doing documentation work for open source projects is valuable. Do you think that would be valuable for a technical writer as well?
JAMI: Yes, definitely. If you really want to just get your experience, get your foot in the door, and if you’re willing to either volunteer your time or something like that, it definitely — definitely find — or a startup. Or something like that, that really could use some documentation help. ANd if you’re open to learning along the way with them.
PAIGE: So just like development, just get your feet in and do the work and it will pay off.
JAMI: Correct.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Don’t forget you can find the full transcription either in the YouTube description or on Find the Women’s Tech Radio dropdown and you can also listen to our back catalogs. We have a lot of amazing shows on there.
PAIGE: So many great women have been on this show. You can also find us on iTunes. If you have a moment, leave us a review. We’d love to hear what you think. You can also contact us by dropping us a line at or followng us on Twitter, @heywtr. Thanks so much for listening.

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter |

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