Software and hardware companies all over the world hire and outsource technical writers. I suspect, in the absence of a study with hard data, that most of these technical writers compose documentation in English, although much documentation is also translated into numerous other languages. At various events I have met technical writers writing in English who have worked in China, India, the Philippines, Russia, Romania, and Germany, as well as, those working in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. So I was not surprised to find that Poland has a growing technical communication community who author primarily in English. The soap! Conference in Krakow, Poland on October 2-3 offered me the chance to meet many of these technical writers and other IT professionals, and also to give a presentation on API documentation.
Gosia Radymiak, Pawel Kowaluk, and Paulina Dygon, all of whom work at Motorola Solutions, founded soap! conference last year with the theme of “a clean start,” recognizing the need to bring standards and best practices to the new, but growing technical communication community in Poland. This year’s conference attracted some top speakers in the fields of technical writing and content strategy, including Ray Gallon, Rahel Bailie, and Noz Urbina. It was really a privilege to be there. I felt a strong buzz of optimism and excitement, and the attendees repeatedly demonstrated they were enthusiastic to learn and to improve professionally.
Speakers and attendees represented large multinational firms such as Motorola Solutions and IBM, although I also spoke to technical writers who work for smaller companies (working on challenging technological problems) in Gdansk, Lodz, Katowice, and elsewhere in Poland.
The presentations and workshops covered traditional, and not-so traditional topics like content strategy, technical editing, social media, agile methodology, user experience, infographics, and more. The importance of serving the needs of today’s impatient consumers, who want information to come to them, became a recurring theme throughout sessions and informal conversations..
Some presentations had a unique cultural twist, such as the “Legend of Two Towers” presentation by Łukasz Tyrała and Szymon Heliosz. The church of St. Mary’s (which has a gorgeous and awe-inspiring interior, by the way) has two towers of different sizes. The legend, from the 13th century, is that two brothers were building their respective towers, and one was finishing much more quickly. Overcome by jealousy, the slower brother killed his rival, and then ultimately committed suicide. Tyata and Heloisz, who work in the design field, brought this legend into the world of tech comm with their focus on teamwork on projects.
Sarah Fürstenberger is an experienced technical editor who has worked in numerous companies in various subject domains, from literature to automobiles to pharmacology. Her presentation, “Technical Editors: Jacks-of-All-Trades or Deep Divers?” discussed her career path, and described how she manages to edit materials in complex domains for which she is not an expert. Sarah has also had a fascinating career path across at least three countries, which you might not be able to duplicate, but which is nonetheless inspiring.
Check out Rahel Bailie’s keynote “Do you Trust Me Now? Content in the Age of Social Media.” (Note that this recording is the full version, rather than the abbreviated version that she gave at soap!) You can also read the conference-related tweets at https://twitter.com/hashtag/soapkrk.
Few things rival the opportunity to venture outside the confines of a conference in a country such as Poland. There is nothing like seeing history come alive. soap! was held in the hub:raum venue, a startup incubator and co-working space, a couple blocks from the Schindler Factory site (dramatized in the film “Schindler’s List”). The hub:raum building is itself a repurposed Soviet-era factory, and it is indeed a space which is very comfortable for learning and working.
Who could have guessed or hoped, that almost 70 years after the end of World War II, we could have such a conference that embraces communications and technology with such enthusiasm., It may seem sentimental, but it moves me to tears. Despite the unimaginable horrors and loss of life that Poland has experienced, the country and its technical professionals have an optimistic future ahead of them.