SoD: experiences and tips for participation
Have you ever heard about a program that lets technical writers contribute to open source documentation? Towards this effort, Google launched its pilot program for Season of Docs (SoD) around April 2019. SoD immediately caught my attention because it is the first-ever program that seamlessly brings tech writing to the open source world. By carefully selecting open source organizations and their projects, SoD allows seasoned or aspiring technical writers around the world to work closely with an open source organization, and understand their open source product, processes, and tools.
Luckily, I discovered SoD 2019, submitted my application—and after being selected to work for Tor—started my journey into the world of open source. I successfully completed my project in March 2020, and my project report was called out on the Results page for SoD 2019 that lists all successful contributions.
Now in its second year, SoD has gained momentum and is the talk of most technical writing communities and student circles. For the benefit of SoD aspirants, I am recounting my participation experiences along with useful tips in this blog post. I have included answers to questions that I am frequently asked, along with some simple tips to help you successfully complete your project.
- Firstly, all aspiring participants for SoD 2020 must go through the program and its timeline hosted on the Season of Docs website. Make sure you read the Technical writer guide to understand the different phases of the program.
- It’s a common myth that only seasoned technical writers who have coding knowledge are at fit for this program as SoD 2019 saw a lot of students participating in the program. Experienced technical writers or even students, who can show their interest in tech documentation are free to participate. From the highly to moderately technical projects available, you can opt for a project depending on your expertise and knowledge.
- During the application phase, try to shortlist organizations closest to your domain knowledge and work area, and submit project proposals for two or three organizations. This increases your chance of being accepted by an organization. I shortlisted Tor and Hydra because of my interest in anonymous communications and my experience of working with APIs.
- Before submitting your proposal, it’s a good idea to establish interaction with the org mentors to understand if you’re going in the right direction with your project proposal and most importantly to break the ice for future communications. I found some interesting project ideas and reached out to the mentors to understand their expectations of the project before submitting my application. In hindsight, this proved to be extremely valuable, as I was able to fine-tune my proposal in collaboration with my mentor, and I had already built a rapport with them.
- Build your project proposal based on whether you’re opting for a three- or a five-month program. Break down details by months and weeks, which will testify your commitment to the project. I had chosen a standard three-month long project and detailed my work by months. When scoping your project, always allow time for roadblocks and unforeseen situations.
- After your proposal is selected by an organization, it’s community-bonding time. Take this phase seriously and use this time to get to know your peers in the organization, build a rapport with your mentors, set up a communication channel with them, and prepare your work environment. My project proposal for Tor was accepted, and my mentors reached out to me to quickly get me up-to-speed with their communication tools, meeting timings, and smoothly inducted me into the networking team that I was going to work with. Even before I started working on the project, I was attending their weekly meetings and learning more about the work they do.
- During the doc development phase, try to accomplish everything you promised in your proposal. At the same time, don’t feel bogged down by any changes that arise due to the complexity of your proposal. I faced hiccups during this phase because some of my ideas were not possible to implement and I had to rescope my proposal. Thanks to the invaluable support from my mentors and my peers at Tor, I was able to overcome all the obstacles and move forward with my project. The key to overcoming hurdles during your project is to keep your mentors updated about your work with frequent communication.
- Once the work’s done complete your project report which will serve as the final assessment. Ensure that this report clearly shows all the work you’ve done; nothing is too big or too small to highlight in this report. A well-written report is more important than your project proposal as this decides whether your project has been successful. Based on this report, your mentor gives you a pass or fail mark for your project.
- If your project is successful, you receive a stipend at the end of the program if you opted for one. Choosing to opt out of the stipend does not increase your chances of being selected to the program. This depends solely on your project proposal and your efforts at bonding with the chosen communities before applying.
For any more questions or concerns that you may have at any point in the program, I’d suggest looking up the FAQ for technical writers. You can also give a shout out to the extremely helpful program admins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope I have inspired SoD 2020 applicants to make their participation successful. I wish each one the very best.
By Swati Thacker, guest writer from Oracle
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