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Why so little focus on API doc at tech comm conferences?

Sep 30, 2015 • api-doc

Although API documentation seems to be a rising trend, not many sessions at tech comm conferences focus on API documentation. This puzzles me and makes me wonder whether API doc is a sub-specialization of tech comm only popular in the Bay area.

Either I’m becoming more distanced from mainstream tech comm topics, or else tech comm conferences are veering away from trending topics. I can’t decide who is moving off course.

I’m interested in API documentation. It seems like API documentation is one of the hottest trends in the San Francisco Bay area and other IT hubs as well.

And yet, in browsing the agenda of the current conferences this season — Lavacon, Information Development World, and Tech Comm UK — topics related to API documentation are virtually non-existent. There’s maybe one workshop and one presentation related to API doc at a couple of the conferences, but that’s it. Hmmm.

The tracks for Info Development World are as follows:

  • DITA summit
  • Software localization summit
  • Content management
  • Content matters
  • Content strategy
  • Medical device summit
  • Content matters
  • Language and culture
  • Content engineering
  • Content marketing

The tracks for Lavacon are as follows:

  • Tools and Technology
  • User Experience
  • Management and Governance
  • Content Strategy
  • Content Production

Tech Comm UK doesn’t seem to have tracks, but in looking over the sessions, I didn’t see anything API related.

The tracks for the upcoming STC Summit are as follows:

  • Profession and Promotion
  • Graphics and illustrations
  • Management/Leadership
  • Writing/Communication
  • Tools/Technology
  • Training/Research

Interestingly, with the STC Summit, “API documentation” is listed as a possible topic for the Writing/Communication track, rather than being its own separate track (as it was last year). For other conferences, it could be that API doc is a sub-category in one of the other main tracks, but I don’t see any sessions focused on APIs there either.

I’m not downplaying these “mainstream” topics (localization, content strategy, DITA, etc.). They’re all good and relevant. But I would’ve thought API documentation topics might have a larger presence at tech writer conferences.

It could be that API doc is mostly a Bay area trend, and not nearly as common outside this area.

To really assess things, I’d need to look at job descriptions across the US (globally would be even better, but an increase in scope) and analyze how many tech writer jobs include API documentation. If API doc is truly a nationwide trend in tech writer job requirements, then I could better gauge whether API doc is a small sub-specialization within our field, hardly worthy of major attention at conferences, or whether conferences are out of alignment with trends for API doc skills.

What do you think? Approximately what percentage of tech writer jobs in your area include API documentation as a task or requirement?

Even if 5% of job descriptions include a focus on API doc, that’s still relatively on par with DITA usage. And given DITA’s attention at conferences, API doc should be equally visible. The difference is that DITA is the tech comm vendor’s favorite problem to solve. But almost no tech comm tools (at least those advertised at tech comm conferences) accommodate API doc.

If you’re thinking of submitting a proposal to the STC Summit in Anaheim next year, consider including a focus on API doc. Proposals are due October 5.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.