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The Untold Story of Techwriter.pl: A Polish website about technical communication for technical writers, trainers, and translators

Oct 31, 2017 • general, podcasts

Techwriter.pl is an online hub of information for technical writers in Poland. Although it's maintained by volunteers, the site continues to thrive from its inception in 2013 up through today. The following is a guest post by Michal Skowron and Jakub Wisniewski, two Poland-based technical writers who helped shape Techwriter.pl and who wanted to tell the story of the site.

by Michal Skowron and Jakub Wisniewski

A long time ago, in a distant country that most people still relate to Walesa, John Paul II, and vodka alone, the words “technical writing” evoked not much more than fear and connotations with black magic. Today, the awareness of technical communication as a field of knowledge is growing, and here, in Poland, it’s growing faster than ever. So does the sense of community and technical writers’ web presence. Techwriter.pl, a Polish-language portal for tech comm enthusiasts, can be a proof of that.

What does it take to create a portal like this and keep it going for years? The answer: a few people with spare energy and a little bit of patience.

How did it start?

When Darek Drezno, a Polish software tester, manager and lecturer, came up with the idea of Techwriter.pl in 2013 (soon joined by Marcin Gorski, Sabina Szablowska, and Michal Skowron) there was a pioneer’s thrill in the air. Darek saw technical writing as an area with potential that might develop similarly to the way software testing “frenzy” took over Poland. The 21CN company helped with technical aspects of building the website, and it’s been up and running ever since.

Back then, technical authoring was still a relatively new profession in this part of Europe, clad in mystery, saved for the chosen few and sounding vague to mere mortals. Of course, people had been doing this work long before, but many of them wouldn’t even think of themselves as technical writers. They didn’t have the feeling of identity, individuality and professional pride they have today, when technical writing hits the mainstream of Poland’s IT market.

Why write in Polish?

Techwriter.pl is not the first technical writing portal in this part of Europe, with at least one predecessor to it: the TCPIP portal (which was around for about 2 years). But it seems to be the first tech comm portal of this longevity that tackles the subject matter in a local language — Polish. Why is that?

The idea behind it was to create a meeting point, knowledge base, and professional hub for people who work or would like to start working in tech comm. There are plenty of well-made, vibrant and professional tech comm conferences in the world, and at least twice as many blogs and websites — but most of them are in English. This is obviously great, but the idea behind Techwriter.pl being in Polish was to help create a tech comm community on a local level. It’s a simple example of the think-globally-act-locally rule.

The aim wasn’t to create a separate source of esoteric tech comm knowledge encrypted in one of the most difficult languages in the world, but to create a local gate that would point new and existing Polish writers to other great sources of knowledge and connect them with international communities. So far, it seems to be working.

What topics does the site cover?

Technical communication is quite a wide discipline and it’s far from being the easiest thing to write about. One of the biggest challenges is choosing the right topics.

At first, we simply followed our interests and everyday experience, supposing they might be useful and inspiring for others. There wasn’t any pre-designed “content plan” or a five-year scheme to follow. Each author came from a slightly different environment, so we didn’t have to worry about the topic diversity.

For the last four years, Techwriter.pl has been sharing everything there is to share about tech comm. News, conferences, event coverage, book reviews, tool overviews, good practices, knowledge sources. Since its inception, the website grew from a simple blog to a mid-size portal covering such events as Prague’s Write the Docs, the Polish soap! events, the Californian MadWorld 2017 or, most recently, the Write2Users conference in Copenhagen.

A good deal of articles published on the portal are … free job ads. Recruiters hunting for tech comm heads know that it’s the right place to find them. And they don’t have to pay for it, because for every published job offer, there’s one person who gets the job — it’s a fair exchange.

Another series of articles include interviews with tech comm practitioners. This is a great way to both tighten and open the tech comm community in Poland, bring people together, and exchange knowledge. The idea behind the interviews is that they’re not supposed to focus on industry celebrities but real-life people who share their knowledge and career history. After all, everyone is a bit curious about their anonymous neighbors’ work life!

Is there any profit from the site?

Financially speaking, there’s none. Because there’s no money involved. Techwriter.pl is a non-profit website fueled only by the drive of the editing crew, and, when necessary, their own financial input. There are no commercials (job ads are free) or sponsored articles. Reviews are as objective as possible. Press coverage of events is a simple barter exchange with the organizers.

Why do it then? To meet new people, stay motivated and keep learning new things — there’s no better way to learn than explaining things to others. Co-creating a web portal of this sort is simply rewarding. It gives you a feeling of adding real value to the community, creates lots of opportunities, brings tech comm folks together, and is simply fun. Of course, it takes time and effort as well, and finding those two is not always easy when you do it “pro publico bono” only.

But it pays off. Techwriter.pl may not be the largest tech comm portal in the world, but it’s being recognized in various areas, be it Poland, Ukraine, or the UK. It may not have zillions of visitors a second, but it’s building its own brand and reaches its goals: establishing technical authoring as a separate branch of knowledge and building the community — achieving both goals on a local level in Poland.

Why are we telling you all this?

Although we run Techwriter.pl in Polish, we decided to come out and tell our story in English. You’re probably wondering why. The reason is quite simple. We’re not writing this to show off, but to show you that it doesn’t take huge resources and a few decades of labor to get inspired and come up with something that’s inspiring for others. It’s a call for action!

We want to get a message through to all tech comm folks that contribution to the community isn’t that hard and that everyone has something interesting to say. Writing blog articles or recording podcasts isn’t reserved only for the “chosen” ones, e.g., experts, leaders, and managers. Your knowledge, skills, and perspective can be very beneficial to someone, even if you’re at the beginning of your tech comm career.

It would be great to see similar local portals in different parts of the world — it’s a great way to keep up with professional trends, reach out to people in your area, and inspire action.

Based on our experience, the key is to find a few individuals willing to leave their comfort zone behind, and the rest can be summed up as “technical details.” If you’ve ever thought of doing something for your tech comm community, go out, inspire others, and do it together. The rest will fall into place with time.

And if you feel like joining the Techwriter.pl crew, just let us know! New faces are always welcome, no matter the language.

About Michal Skowron and Jakub Wisniewski

Jakub Wisniewski is an English translation studies graduate, fiction writer and musician. An ex-translator, receptionist, actor, waiter, teacher and Santa Claus. In 2016, he joined 3di Poland as a Junior Technical Writer. A PhD student at the Department of Linguistic Pragmatics and Theory of Translation and Interpreting and an editor at Techwriter.pl.

Michal Skowron’s adventure with technical communication started in 2012. Along with his colleagues, he tries to grow the Polish tech comm scene. Currently, he’s as a Technical Lead at 3di Poland, a co-admin of Techwriter.pl, and a trainer for ITCQF.

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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. You can also contact me with questions.