WriteTheDocs NA 2017

The long wait is over and I’m finally back in Portland. Similar to last year’s trip I’m in town for two conferences: WriteTheDocs and PyCon. As this might also be my last trip to the US for a while I wanted to get the most out of that trip. This means that Ulrich and I planned our flights to attend all of at least WriteTheDocs this time around. This includes also the hike πŸ˜€

Eric Holscher welcoming everyone to this year's WriteTheDocs NA.

The hike

I had heard about an organized hike through the forests around Portland prior to last year’s conference but, sadly, arrived too late to participate. Not so this time! On Saturday afternoon before the conference we started in the Lower Macleay Park and made our way to Pittock Mansion without any trouble through beautiful woods. Then the weather forecast caught up with us and we were greeted by a thunderstorm with hail right before arriving at the mansion. Perfect timing for a break and a quick snack πŸ˜‰

There were so many little gems along the path like this overgrown tree-stump...

Once the storm had subsided we continued the hike all the way to the Oregon Zoo. At one point the sun even came through the clouds and the whole forest became one giant steam bath. Just amazing ❀️

…but also exhausting πŸ˜‚ We managed to return home, take a shower and somehow even grab so food at a Mexican restaurant next to our apartment before falling asleep in the living room. At least this way we managed to get enough sleep for next day’s “Writing Day” πŸ˜‰

Writing day

Writing day is a one-day sprint on documentation related topics. This year, groups like MDN, Kubernetes and Wikipedia were looking for people to improve their respective documentation. There was also a table dedicated to improving the WriteTheDocs website itself, which was what I decided to work on.

There was a task in the backlog about adding a video archive to the site that I’d been eyeing for quite a while but had never found the time to actually work on. While we still don’t have a working prototype yet, Leonardo Jimenez created some great sketches while Manuel Kaufmann and myself improved the data available about the talks. For instance all speaker data files now hold a YouTube ID referencing the recording of the respective talk (NA 2015 and NA 2016) and I’ve converted all data files from JSON to YAML, which should make maintaining the talk abstracts much easier.

Before focusing on the actual archive I’m currently working on moving the meetup data into YAML files but, in general, I think this was a very productive sprint despite again not ending with a working prototype for the archive πŸ˜€

The conference

As with every WriteTheDocs event over the last couple of years the main event was a two-day marathon of talks in a single track. Alongside that there was an unconference with sessions usually related to earlier talks at the conference.

Out of all the wonderful sessions during these two days I probably one by Lyzi Diamond the most, where she described how Mapbox is automatically testing their documentation using remark and retext. I just love talks where I get some new toys to play with πŸ˜‰

On the second day Carl Parker talked about reproducible code samples within the documentation which also included some tools coming out of the R community I hadn’t heard of yet.

There were also quite a few talks about handling feedback, which is a topic I’m really enjoying right now.

In general, I liked the new talk format that was used this time: 30min time slots with optional conversation starters at the end for the short break between the talks. Only, that break was a bit too long for me, but that’s just me being an introvert πŸ˜‚ There we’re also surprisingly few projector issues and everything just went fantastically smoothly!

Social events

Beside the hike there were also two social events on the evenings of the first and second conference day. The one on Monday was again the official party taking place at Jackknife just a few blocks away from the conference venue. Great food, great cocktails, sadly, too loud for me though πŸ˜”

The second event was sponsored by New Relic and took place at their offices on Tuesday. The view from their recreational room in the 27th floor was just amazing. Big thanks for inviting us up there 😍

The view over Portland from the New Relic offices was simply stunning.


As you can imagine from what I’ve written above, the trip to Portland was once again well worth it for WriteTheDocs alone πŸ˜‰ The event simply has an awesome atmosphere and fosters a level of community that you don’t want to miss if you are doing anything that is even just related to documentation. Huge thanks to Eric and everyone else involved with the event for simply great four days! And if you are in Europe or don’t mind taking a trip there, there will be a WriteTheDocs Europe again this fall between Sept 10-12 in Prague πŸ˜€ Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to be there again.