On Writing, Tech, and Other Loquacities

The collected works of Lana Brindley: writer, speaker, blogger


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SMH scaring elderly Type 2 patients about NDSS changes

I got a letter from the NDSS the other day.

And then yesterday, I saw this article in the SMH.

My first thought on reading the article was “I don’t remember the NDSS letter reading like this”. My second thought was “Hold on, how are they getting test strips for $1.20?!”.

TestStrips

But they had a picture of a lovely older guy looking concerned, so I decided to do some fact checking, which Harriet Alexander clearly was not able to do, in her hurry to write a complete beat up designed to scare elderly Type 2 patients.

So, here’s the facts:
* If you’re on insulin, you will continue to get subsidised strips (regardless of what Type you are)
* If you’re newly diagnosed as Type 2, you will get subsidised strips for your first 6 months’ supply (that’s 900 strips)
* After that, your doctor can write you a letter to continue to get subsidised strips for another six months
* There is no limit to the number of subsidised strips you can get with your doctor’s letter

Speaking as someone who was diagnosed as Type 2 and not on insulin for nearly a decade: if you are unstable enough to need to test regularly, then you are unstable enough to need regular checks with your doctor, at least every six months. Get them to write you a letter already. End of problem.

Haidee-Merritt-Diabetes-FingerPricks-5-400x299

The real news that got buried in this beat up? Insulin pump supplies are now going to be available from NDSS pharmacies, instead of only through DA. And I’m not a pump user, but I think that’s a massive step forward. Well done, NDSS and DA. Thank you for all that you do to support diabetics.

And if anyone works out where to buy 100 strips for $1.20, let me know?


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How Did I Get Here? Good Question!

Fitness First have been displaying a fairly bewildering advertising campaign over the past few months. The first ad in the campaign I saw happened to be this one:

ffbride

I felt compelled to drag a hapless staff member off the reception desk to explain it to me and, to her credit, she tried, but in the end had to admit that it didn’t make much sense to her either. I pointed out that I had found myself in similar situations, but going to the gym had very little to do with it. I had to look further afield. When the campaign launched, the advertising journal Mumbrella got this quote from Sam Bragg, head of marketing at Fitness First Australia:

Yes, fitness is a hard sweat and you’ve got to work at it, but the end result can lead to a range of emotional and physical benefits. That’s why Fitness First exists, to get you to that moment.

Which is all well and good, but if you need it explained to you, then I think the campaign has, to use a technical term, failed miserably.

So I decided to do the only thing a truly sarcastic gym junkie could do: answer the question.

ffbride
Got drunk, went home with a random, grabbed a burger on the way. Turned out the guy fell asleep before there was any action, but on the upside, the burger was tasty. Luckily, she can hold a plank for over two minutes and her extraordinary abs helped her sneak out without waking the neighbours.

ffgrandma
Her grandchildren slipped psychotics into her dementia meds, she went wandering the streets of Sydney, stumbled down Oxford St in a haze, and was crowd surfed into the nearest club. She has no idea what’s going on now, but this guy here has lovely pink suspenders on, that her grandson would probably adore, and can you please tell her where you bought them? I’m assuming she can also bench 80kgs. At least.

ffdrummer

He drove to the venue in a black van with his kit in the back, it’s been a really long set, and if doesn’t get to the bathroom at the end of this song there’s going to be Incident that probably get him kicked out of the band. Again. Thank god he’s been working on his glutes!

ffmumjump

The family has been at this secluded swimming spot for hours, the kids won’t quit complaining about having no wifi, and their father pissed off in the car on some pretext about icecream over an hour ago. If she climbs far enough up the rock face maybe she’ll be out of earshot. Luckily, she has six months of Pump class to thank for her extraordinary upper body strength.

Spotted any other ridiculous “How did I get here” ads? I’d love to caption them for you!


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Lean the hell out of the way

During the Summit in Austin, I had the privilege to attend Upstream University as a mentor for the second time (my first time was in Vancouver in 2015). Between this, and some other stints as a mentor in varying capacities over the past few years, I’ve started to develop some opinions on what makes a good mentor. And the main one that has stuck out for me is probably the opposite to that white women screed of Marissa Mayer’s, Lean In. In the case of mentoring, it’s less about leaning in, and more about leaning the hell out of the way.

It’s important to connect with your mentee, and really understand where they’re at. Not just in terms of their grasp of the technology, but also in their general maturity (many of my mentees recently have been quite young, and not necessarily very worldly wise), understanding of community groups, and ability to ask the right questions. In many cases, the questions your mentees ask are not the ones they require answers to, and so it’s important to be able to dig down to the real problem before you deliver an answer that will just further confuse them.

Once you’ve done all this, you’ve outlined their task, and you’ve given them the tools they need to succeed at that task, it’s time to get out of the way. Go and check your email, do whatever it is you do all day. Feel free to check in if you haven’t heard from them in a while, but don’t be hovering over their shoulder. They will never learn if you’re there, ready to catch them before they fall. Just like with children, once they’ve fallen help them up and put a plaster on their skinned knee, but above all make sure you teach them what it is to fail, and what they need to do to fix the problem. If you’re doing all that work for them, then they’re not learning anything. And incidentally, neither will you.


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OpenStack Newton Summit – Docs Wrapup

Everything is bigger in Texas: including the conferences!

DSC_1078

This Summit was a homecoming of sorts. OpenStack started in Austin with 750 people, and returned six years and twelve conferences later with 7500 people. Even the baristas in the downtown coffee shops noticed us the second time around.

For documentation, this conference was bigger than usual as well. We had a total of eight sessions, in addition to the contributor meetup on the last day, which is more docs sessions than we have ever had before.

And we had a lot to talk about! The biggest thing on our minds was the future of the OpenStack Installation Guide. The Big Tent has changed the way that projects go about joining the OpenStack ecosystem, and with Foundation having an increased focus on ensuring new projects have sufficient documentation, we needed to change our approach to documenting the installation of an OpenStack cloud. There is no ‘right’ way to install a cloud any more, and there is certainly no ‘right’ set of components you should be installing when you do it. But with a small documentation team, and a seemingly endless parade of new components requiring documentation, we were faced with a big technical challenge, where everyone had some kind of skin in the game. Despite some differences of opinion, the session itself was extremely productive, and we came away with a solid set of deliverables for Newton. First of all, we’re going to create the infrastructure to allow projects to write their own installation docs in their repos, and then publish them seamlessly to the docs.openstack.org front page. This means that projects have responsibility for their own docs, but the docs team will provide assistance in the form of templates and infrastructure support to ensure that all projects are treated as first class citizens. Secondly, the existing Installation Guide will change focus to be more about an installation tutorial, giving people a highly opinionated and completely manual installation method to learn the ropes, but not to install a production cloud. Thanks to the OpenStack User Survey, we can safely say that most production clouds are installed using some kind of automated tool, so having manual installation instructions is useful as a training tool, but not in a real world scenario.

With the big question more or less settled, we got on to the fairly long laundry list of other things that needed to be done, which all ended up focusing mostly on streamlining some of our processes, being clearer about the way we operate, consolidating guides that had (for obscure historical reasons) been in their own repos into the main one again, and general editing and tidying up. A full list of the goals can be seen here: Newton Docs Deliverables. And, for historical interest, here’s the whiteboard from the Summit session:

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During the Mitaka release, docs had a focus on Manageability, aiming to work more effectively and efficiently, with a focus on collaboration. For Newton, while manageability themes are still very much present, the focus is more on Scalability, and making our documentation efforts scale out to represent a much greater proportion of products, contributors, operators, and users. From empowering projects to write their own documentation with our support, to making our processes simpler to find and understand, to ensuring our documentation is as accurate, up-to-date, and effective as possible, it’s going to be an exciting cycle for docs!

I leave you with one of my favourite Texan big things: a bathtub margarita!

DSC_1074


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OpenStack Mitaka Summit – Docs Wrapup

Tokyo is a city that is all about contrast. From the neon lights of Shibuya and Akihabara (“Electronics Town”), to the shrines and temples dotted in green spaces around the city, old and new Japan come together in Tokyo in a surprisingly harmonious way. While OpenStack Summit, like the people of Tokyo, is focused on new technology and moving into the future, it is important to note the atmosphere of community, fellowship, and camaraderie that underpins the conference.

Tokyo_CityLights

I am privileged enough to be the documentation PTL for Mitaka, having taken over the reins from Anne Gentle after the Kilo cycle. This time around, we have three main priorities to achieve, and I think it’s a  lovely blend between the technical and the community.

First of all, we will focus on improving the usability of our documentation, making it easier to navigate the docs site and find relevant information quickly. The main way we want to address this is through a different model of data typing, and moving away from a role-based architecture towards a task-based one. This is easier to do for some guides than others, of course, and we intend to start with the user guides. The other component of this is reorganising the index page, and adding some more guidance on what each book is about. You should start to see those changes rolling in shortly.

We also want to continue converting our books to RST. A lot of our books have already been converted, but we still have quite a few to go, and determining which books are to be converted in each release and who is responsible for doing so can take quite a bit of planning. This time around, we’re looking at the Architecture Design Guide, the Operations Guide, and the Configuration Reference Guide.

Finally, a fairly small thing that should have a big influence on our work is tweaking the way the docimpact tool works. At the moment, it creates a lot of noise in our bug queue and makes it harder for us to find the real work that needs to be done. By changing the way this tool operates, we hope it to make it much more responsive and useful both for the docs team, and for the OpenStack developer community.

Tokyo_Shrine

This release is about having docs work more efficiently and effectively as part of the OpenStack development community. With OpenStack moving to the big tent, we need to reevaluate which projects we document, how we go about communicating with other development teams, and we need to ensure we’re being good community citizens. I also want to ensure we’re working closely with enterprise writing teams, and valuing the input that our corporate contributors provide to the documentation.

Liberty was my first release as Docs PTL, so I’m still learning what makes a good release. It was great to hear feedback from the docs team on what went well and what didn’t go so well, so I can learn from this to improve in Mitaka. I’m very grateful to have a team that has supported me in my new role, and I am honoured to be leading them again into the next release.

Finally, we always need docs contributors. If you are a technical writer, then we have plenty of projects that can use your writing expertise. If you’re a developer, even if you don’t think you’re a good writer, then we could definitely use your technical prowess to test and improve our documentation. Remember, the documentation is developed exactly like code within the OpenStack system, so if you’re an ATC, you already have the skills required to contribute, and to improve the docs for all our users.


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Content as a driver of change – Then & Now

Humans have always written things down.

Those of you reading this post, with your laptops, and mobile phones, and iPads, and vanity email accounts, and your single sourced, content-reuse, DITA-compatible Docbook XML toolchains, with all your fancy Javascript elements and mind-boggling CSS overlays. You are just the latest in a long line of human beings who have been doing the same thing for millennia. Albeit with different tools.

Panel_of_simple_figures_with_boomerangs_-_Google_Art_Project

The original owners of the land we are standing on today are the Wurundjeri people. Australian indigenous art is the oldest unbroken tradition of art in the world. These weren’t just the pre-history version of hanging a Monet print on your loungeroom wall. Indigenous art exists on all manner of things: paintings on leaves, wood and rock carvings, sculptures, and of course cave drawings. This art gave early Australians a way to record the things that mattered most to them in their lives: they often involve scenes of hunts or special ceremonies. In the case of Australian art, many include megafauna and other extinct species, and even the arrival of European ships. More than a record of events, though, they were probably also a method of teaching. Each indigenous tribe had its own mythology (collectively known in English as ‘the Dreaming’), which used stories to convey morals or other educational information. Most children who grew up in Australia would be familiar with the Dreamtime story about Tiddilik the Frog, a fable about greed and about finding humour in bad situations. Indigenous art and the stories that lie behind them are really just an early technical manual for life itself, especially in a world where living for any length of time could be quite difficult.

De_Architectura027

Who here remembers the story of Archimedes and his bath? It’s a demonstration of how Archimedes used water displacement to measure the density of an object (in this case, the king’s crown). Of course, the bit we all remember of the story, though, is that Archimedes, having made his discovery in the bath, went running naked through the streets of Syracuse, crying “Eureka! I have found it!”. This story comes to us from one of the oldest surviving technical manuals in existence, the “De architectura” by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, which was published in around 15BC. Of course, the Ancient Greeks & Romans were well known for their literature, their scholars, their philosophers, and perhaps above all, their library. The Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt was the largest repository of knowledge in the world between the 3rd century BC and 30BC. The famous fire that destroyed it was probably set by Julius Caesar himself in 48BC, but the library continued in some capacity until the Roman Emperor Aurelian destroyed what remained in about 270AD. This was of course a massive blow to literature, but it also an incredible loss of technical data as well. Thankfully, the Ancients managed to keep going even after the library was destroyed, and we now have surviving copies of wonderful pieces like Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, which is essentially the world’s very first Natural History encyclopaedia, and which set the stage for many more technical manuals to come.

Gutenberg_Bible,_Lenox_Copy,_New_York_Public_Library,_2009._Pic_01

Jumping over to Europe, Gutenberg did his thing with the printing press in the mid 1400s, but printed books were still a terrifically rare and expensive thing until well into the 15 and 1600s. Up until that period, if you were a fairly ordinary person in a fairly ordinary European town, you were probably aware of the existence of almost exactly one book: the bible that your local clergy had sitting on a plinth in your church. You probably couldn’t read yourself, or if you could probably not well enough to be able to read and understand a book written predominantly in a particularly stuffy version of Latin, and even if you could read that well, you wouldn’t be allowed to touch it. No, the bible was the word of God, and as such could only be read and interpreted by men of the cloth. They didn’t really want people going off and reading the Bible on their own and drawing their own conclusions about things. Of course, this got really interesting once the Reformation really started to get underway in the mid 1500s, and people started to read the Bible for themselves. In fact, for a little while there in England, Henry VIII decided that ordinary folk (and all women) were banned from reading the Bible. All this running around reading things and learning by everyday people was just a little too much for him to bear, especially when they started disagreeing with him.

Marianne_Stokes_(1855-1927)_-_-The_Frog_Prince-

Still in Europe, with better access to mass printing, publishing written versions of early verbal history became the thing to do. We all know the Brothers Grimm were writing fairy tales in German in the early 1800s, but they certainly weren’t the first to try and document the oral history of early Europeans. Charles Perrault is considered the original author of many of the Disney favourites, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty, and he was writing in French over a century before the Grimms, in the late 1600s. But even he was just writing down stories he’d heard from others. My favourite version of Cinderella comes from Giambattista Basile, published in Neapolitan in 1634, some years after he died. These stories, gruesome as they were before Disney got a hold of them, were intended in many cases to be fables for children, with a moral story, but were also used as cautionary tales for adults. In Basile’s version of Cinderella a husband is warned of the horrors of not being too picky about your second or third wife, he gives a general warning to the household about choosing your housekeeping staff carefully, a warning to parents about treating children fairly, and a warning to young women about being proud. And that’s before we get to the bit Disney likes: “if you’re a good person, good things will happen to you”. Some versions of the story also slam home the opposing moral: “if you’re a bad person, bad things will happen to you”, with both the step-sisters either mutilating their own feet to fit the slipper, having their eyes pecked out by birds at Cinderella’s wedding, or some equally terrible combination. As for other horrifying fairy tales, anyone who has read anything by Hans Christian Anderson will know that they often got worse before they got better. There’s a reason Disney never took on “The Little Match Girl”. For a long time, what we now know as fairy tales were the easiest and most entertaining way for a largely illiterate population to record and share moral stories and warnings.

geisha_maiko

A ribbon that runs through all of these is the idea of the master and apprentice. These types of relationships began in Europe in the 1300s, and were a way for a trade person to get cheap labour, while a young apprentice got a bed to sleep on, food to eat, and the hope of a trade later on. This system was used throughout England and Europe for all skilled trades: from seamstresses and blacksmiths, to Knights with their squires. However, the general principles of apprenticeships exist throughout the world, with one of the earliest examples being the idea of a Maiko, or a trainee Geisha. Geisha have existed in Japan since around 700, and still take in Maiko to this day. While this isn’t written knowledge, it is an important footnote when we’re discussing the history of content, as this was the main way that specialised technical knowledge was handed down.

JamesCampbell_NewsfromMyLad

Of course, a young apprentice, wishing to remember all the things they had learned, might be inclined to write them down. By the time the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, paper and books had become affordable, schooling was more available to children throughout Europe, and literacy was becoming much more widespread, especially to those bright young apprentices who left home to seek their fortunes. And while young people have written home to their families since ancient times, letter writing really hit its stride around the turn of the century when it became not just a way to record their days and connect with their families, but also a way to explore political and religious matters, and explore emotions: poison pens, love letters, and obituaries are all well represented in letters. Another form of writing more like the manuals we know today of course, is the recipe book. Many household cooks would enshrine their recipes in writing, to be handed down to the next generation. I regularly bake a family choc chip biscuit recipe that has been handed down mother to daughter for at least five generations, and possibly quite a few more than that.

But enough history. The older writers in the audience will probably remember most of these more recent forms of technical communication. Some of the more unfortunate among you may still be working with some of them. In that case, I’m sorry.

oreillybooks

Printed books are pretty all of our yesterdays. In some ways, it still feels as though you’re not a REAL writer until you’ve got your name on the outside of an actual book, made out of dead tree, and sent from some printer. I chose a picture of O’Reilly books on purpose, as OpenStack released yet another of our manuals as O’Reilly dead tree version last year, although we have no immediate plans to repeat that in a hurry. Personally, I’m part of the problem here. I love having dead tree reference books, especially for things like Style Guides, which are somehow easier to have sitting on my desk as I write, rather than relying on an internet search (which can, for me, at least, be very distracting. Hello, Twitter!). As for writing them, though? No, I love the idea of being able to catch and fix errors even after publication. Nevertheless, printed books, especially technical manuals, are our history, our present and, to some extent at least, probably also our future.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

A close cousin of the printed manual, whitepapers are caught somewhere between marketing material and technical documentation. In digital form, they are probably not going to go away any time soon, but the printed whitepaper has almost certainly been confined to the recycling bin these days. My very first piece of technical writing was a white paper. I had a Marketing undergraduate degree and half an MBA, so it was a fairly logical piece of work for me to be doing at the time. I enjoyed it immensely, and immediately set out to become the whitepaper expert, intending to build a career around it. Thank goodness I discovered technical manuals in the meantime, and was saved from a life of writing whitepapers!

onlinebooks

And, finally in the ‘recent’ category, I have a screenshot from my very own project. This is, for all intents and purposes, an online version of a printed ‘book’. It has a table of contents down the side, divided into chapters and sections, and it’s designed to be read from beginning to end: simple concepts at the beginning, more complicated procedures as you move through, with reference information (tables of data, contact details, and a glossary) at the end.

These have all been great methods of getting information out there, but they are all destined to become as archaic as the fairy tales and the cave paintings we discussed earlier. Let’s take a look at those things we’re doing a little differently today, that will drive the way we revolutionise and improve content management in the future.

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First of all, I want to briefly touch on MOOCs. These are the future of face to face training courses. MOOCs not only allow people all around the world to study when and where they choose, but they also allow institutions to create online tool that mimic real world scenarios, and allow students to learn real skills in a safe environment. This is great especially for the tech industry, where students can work on realistic IT setups that they might not be able to recreate in their own environments, but it also works well for teaching other knowledge work skills such as customer service and financial skills.

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The main thing that, I think, changed the way we looked at the information we were creating, was DITA. Of course, DITA isn’t new. It was named in 2001, and formalised in 2005, but varying groups have been working on data mapping and the like since the 60s and 70s, and it became especially popular in the 90s, with the publication of JoAnn Hackos’s book ‘Managing Your Documentation Project’ (and later ‘Information Development’) a book probably most of us have on our shelves, and to which I (at least) still refer to regularly. DITA was really the first formal, open standard that let us consistently and accurately categorise data into formal types. And it was simple enough that we could all use it, remember it, and above all teach it to others easily. Even if you’re not using a specific DITA tool, the general principles of DITA–splitting content into one of only three data types–could be used to underpin any tooling system.

Of course, the main driving principle behind DITA (besides the categorisation) is about content reuse and single sourcing. This is another key component of how we’re changing the way we look at content. It’s not about a beginning and an end any more. With this idea, we walked away from the age old idea of delivering a story, and moved towards this critical period of considering what information is required where, and when. This was important mostly because we were actually starting to consider how people consume information, and learned difficult concepts. We no longer assumed that information we gave to people in the beginning of a book stuck with them as they moved through the rest of the content. Sometimes, learners needed to go over information again and again before they actually learned it and could apply that information to later, more complicated, tasks. And, being the inherently lazy writers that we are, we didn’t want to retype that every time. So single sourcing and content reuse were naturally very easy for us to adopt.

And that leads me to perhaps my favourite topic right now: every page is page one. This is a model designed by Mark Baker, and while his model is certainly not the only one out there, it’s certainly one of the best developed. The general idea behind this is that no piece of content is more or less important than any other. It’s not quite DITA, in that a ‘page’ in EPPO terms is much bigger than a ‘topic’ in DITA terms. The best example comes from Baker himself, where he refers to a recipe. A recipe contains, in DITA terms, a concept (some information about the recipe, that describes what you’re actually creating, and maybe some background, where the recipe has come from, and the types of ingredients that you need), followed by a procedure (the actual steps of the recipe), and finished with reference information (serving suggestions, maybe information on converting measurements, or ingredient substitutions). In EPPO, the entire recipe is the ‘page’: it contains everything you need to be able to perform the task, including all that concept and reference info. One of the best ways to think about EPPO is in terms of a Wikipedia page, there are links to further information if you need it (and I’m sure all of us here have gotten sidetracked by clicking those links in a Wikipedia article!), but that page contains all the specific information about a particular topic. There is no beginning to Wikipedia, and there is most certainly no end.

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So this leads me to the big question: what does the future hold for content? I think there are a few main themes we can tease out of our little journey through documentation:
The internet is making things possible that never were before
Control over content is shifting from those producing it, to those consuming it.
Consumers are used to being able to search vast resources for content, and filtering those results themselves. They don’t want us to tell them what they need to know.

Since well before the birth of Christ, in one form or another, we’ve been writing stories. Now the internet allows people to create their own stories, not just have one told to them. In many ways, this shows a maturation in human development: we’re no longer willing to receive whatever is fed to us, we want to create our own realities, and we have the tools to be able to do that.

But that is a massive challenge–and (I would argue) an opportunity–for technical writers. We get to break new ground, and thankfully we’ve been working on the building blocks of this type communication for a few decades now. The challenge now is to start delivering documentation in a completely new way, without leaving our organisations, our management, or our more stubborn clients behind. Nobody said breaking new ground would not require effort, or determination. As we shed old ideas, old processes, old technologies, and old systems, there will be people who decry change, and impede our progress. But even if you only manage to implement a small piece of your grand vision, even if all you ever get to do is plant a seed of an idea in someone’s head that maybe–just maybe–there’s a different way to do things, then you have succeeded. After all, every one of the pieces of content I have mentioned here had its detractors, from every day ‘concerned citizens’, right up to royalty, and the literati.

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I mentioned Archimedes earlier, but now I would like to pick a different quote of his: give me a lever and a firm place to stand, and I shall move the world.

Right now it seems to me, that where we could go next is almost infinite. People have always created and consumed content. As long as we continue to put the information out there, and give people the tools to find it, they will continue to do so. We are not at the end of a journey, nor at the beginning of one. We are merely at a step along a very long road. Let’s find out where it leads us.


References: https://docs.google.com/document/d/10meNxWpeiyYprcQjOFIBZJlm3xEiWgarN5GVk1uhJOM/edit?usp=sharing

This was originally presented as a keynote at the Australian Technical Writers’ Association Conference in Melbourne on 23 October, 2015. No video recording exists of this talk.


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linux.conf.au 2015 – Day 3

Started out in Marco Ostini’s security talk, where he scared the pants off us all. Like we weren’t all paranoid enough by default. Then the scaring-the-pants-off-us theme continued with Leslie Hawthorne discussing patent trolls.

After lunch, I headed over to the big lecture hall to hear Brenda Wallace talk about the Christchurch earthquake response, which was incredibly fascinating. I recall when the earthquake hit, and I (sitting in my very safe house, in my very safe street, a very long way away) was glued to Twitter for days watching the crisis response unfold, including the amazing work of the Catalyst team and volunteer army. It was great to get more insight into what was really going on.

Then it was off to hear Leslie Hawthorne’s amazing talk on privilege. There’s a whole heap more blog posts and thoughts in there that I need to unpack a bit more yet, but for the record here are the five experiments Leslie wanted us all to try:

Experiment 1: Change your speech defaults (gay, crazy, lame, guys, like a girl)
Experiment 2: Listen to people who aren’t like you (socmed. #notallmen)
Experiment 3: Change your online persona (woman, PoC, person of size)
Experiment 4: Speak up for others (recenter convos, bring convo back to people ignored or interrupted, use respect)
Experiment 5: Ask for help and accept it humbly (apologise sincerely when you make a mistake)

And the main takeaways for me personally were to

    Ask more questions, make fewer assumptions

, and most of all:

    Stop interrupting

. Feel free to pull me up if you notice me breaking these 🙂

Tomorrow: my turn!


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linux.conf.au 2015 – Day 2

Eben Moglin kicked off the day with a fabulously inspiring keynote about openness, during which my swag-provided coffee cup decided to demonstrate its grasp of ‘openness’ … all over my laptop. My favourite quote from the talk was his assertion that we need to invoke Asimov’s first law of robotics, and we need to do it NOW. We all carry, essentially, robots in our pockets in the form of smartphones, and they are inherently designed by their creators to harm us. Our technology is working for its creators, not us. This brought back fond memories of Scott Ludlam speaking at the Penguin Dinner at LCA in Ballarat, referring to the fact that we’re all carrying tracking devices around with us. How like LCA to continue to make me paranoid about my devices 😉

Next up was Dr Pauline Harris, who gave a fascinating talk about Maori Astronomy. I knew nothing about Maori history, but had noticed how ingrained Maori culture was in modern New Zealand culture during my last visit over here. Dr Harris gave me some great googling points, and if you’re at all interested in Australian Aboriginal history, then reading about the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907, the Maori Wars, the Native Schools Act of 1867, and the work that has been done in modern years to reenergise and support the Maori community is absolutely fascinating reading. I always come home from LCA having learned something I never expected to learn. This year, who knew I’d come home with some basic knowledge of the Maori pantheon and how important astronomy was to their culture.

I spent the rest of the morning at the Community Leadership Summit, which I hope to return to later in the day. Fabulously diverse range of topics within this sphere, and I’ve drafted at least three new blog posts as a result of the conversations, so I won’t go into greater detail here. Suffice to say: if you’re in an open source community (in any position, not just leadership), then it’s worthwhile checking out the videos from this miniconf, and I really hope it returns in future years.

The afternoon I spent at the OpenStack miniconf, run by my esteemed colleague Michael Still, shown here opining about Nova. Apparently he’s a big deal in OpenStack networking.

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linux.conf.au 2015 – Documentation Miniconf

Day 1 is drawing to a close at linux.conf.au 2015 and we’ve just wrapped the documentation miniconf. There was an interesting mix of talks today, and as the first documentation miniconf at an LCA, it’s given me some great ideas for growing the miniconf in future years.

As for me, after doing the Agile Documentation Lego talk at LCA in Perth in 2014, I felt I needed to give a good follow up show, this time focusing on Every Page is Page One. To do this, I devised a game based on the children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, and using Play-Doh to make it a little more hands on.

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Three thoughts on hiring, from my couch

Last Thursday morning I tore my calf muscle at the gym towards the end of a boxing circuit, which put me on crutches for three weeks. Now, at the end of my second weekend on the couch, and eleven days cooped up in my flat, I feel like I’ve got some observations to make. Nothing like an enforced extended period on the couch to turn even a self-confessed hermit into a philosopher, huh? So here I present to you: three thoughts on hiring, from my couch:

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Everyone knows the IT industry has a diversity problem. A large reason why we have that problem is also one of the things I love the most about it: we hire through referrals, not job ads. Believe me, this has caused no shortage of anguish in my fevered mind as I’ve lolled around with my leg elevated. I’ve been working on a presentation for linux.conf.au in January and one of the main points I talk about is how we go out and hand-pick great people then work out a role that suits them, rather than creating a job and then going out and finding someone to (more or less accurately) fulfil that role. The great thing about this approach is we don’t have to hire the least mediocre person available, but can wait for a superstar. The problem is who we recognise as superstars, because history and statistics tell us that the people we think are superstars are going to be uncannily like ourselves. Which is how we end up with a whole industry full of white American men aged between 25 and 35 with an unhealthy passion for Mountain Dew.

Let’s imagine for a second that you work in IT, and you would, at some point in the future, like another job in IT. Looking at the ads on seek.com.au isn’t going to get you too far, but there are several things you can be doing now (and should be doing now, even if you’re not planning to change jobs soon) that can help you when you do decide to make that change:

1. If you work for or notice a manager that you really like, then strike up a personal relationship with them immediately, not when you need a job. You know the smelly kid in school who no one liked, until his parents installed a pool in their backyard? Hiring managers hate feeling like the kid who just got a pool for Christmas. People you respect and admire will rarely offer to mentor you, so if you respect them enough to want to be mentored, then go up and ask them. They’ll probably be flattered, and a casual friendly coffee once a month or two is enough to make sure they don’t forget who you are when they have a suitable role come up.

2. Network, network, network! Look, I’m as much of a hermit as the next nerd, and to boot I’m a single parent, so getting out is hard sometimes, I get that. But put some kind of effort in. If you can only make one conference a year, make sure it’s a conference where the people and companies you want to work for are going to be, then dress nicely and go out and talk to people. If you can’t make evening networking events in your city, then take time out of your day to go to lunchtime meetups (assuming it’s within your industry, your boss should be happy to let you go). If meeting face to face is completely out of the question, then be active in online spaces instead: mailing lists, IRC, Google+ and LinkedIn Groups, and relevant Twitter hashtags. Just don’t be an arsehole, because that stuff will come back to haunt you later.

3. Don’t email hiring managers to ask for a job and expect them to fall over themselves to hire you. You’re not that great. Always make a point of asking in person if you can (over a coffee or lunch, or in a private conversation at a conference or other social event). If that isn’t possible, then at least try for a Skype chat or Google Hangout. I love the solitude of working from home fulltime, but I will always appreciate someone going to the effort of seeking me out and talking to me like a human being, rather than just a job-giving robot.

And a bonus especially for hiring managers, just for good luck:

4. Take on mentees, especially if they’ve gone to the effort of asking. And try your very best to take on mentees with skillsets or from backgrounds that are different to yours. It’s easy to mentor someone just like you, but when you get all “oh, I was once young like you” with them, you start to turn into a bit of a dick. Mentor someone who isn’t like you, and you just might learn something new yourself.