Season of Docs fostering open source collaboration with tech writers

Posted by s.aragon on 26 March 2019 - 8:49am

Season of docs logo

By Sarah Maddox, Technical Writer.

This post was originally published at Ffeathers.

Google Open Source has announced a new program called Season of Docs. I’m excited because the goals of this program reflect two passions of mine: to help technical writers get started in the world of open source software, and to help open source projects build great documentation. I’m also excited because I’m on the program development team for Season of Docs.

Season of Docs sets up a framework for open source projects to invite technical writers to work on the projects’ documentation for a few months.

Technical writers bring their documentation expertise to the open source project of their choice. In return, mentors from the open source organisation help the technical writer gain an understanding of their open source community, processes, tools, and code.

A golden collaboration

When technical writers contribute to open source projects, both parties benefit. The open source project gains good documentation and improved contribution procedures. The technical writer gains experience in open source software, developer-focused products, new tools, and the ways in which open source communities work. A golden collaboration.

Open source is great. Some of the world’s most-used software is open source: the Linux operating system, Firefox web browser, LibreOffice, Apache web server, to name but a few well-known brands. Large companies like Microsoft, Google, Red Hat, and IBM contribute to, as well as use, open source code.

Open source ideology is great too. People share code in public repositories, collaborate on making the code better, invite others to join their communities… yet, all too often, people expect those newcomers to understand the product, the code, and the community’s values with very little good documentation.

Why the dearth of good docs? It’s clear from GitHub’s Open Source Survey that open source organisations know the value of good documentation, so why are there so many gaps? Because writing documentation is hard.

But wait… there are people who know how to do it well!

Many technical writers are keen to gain experience in developer-focused products such as APIs, SDKs, and various programming languages and tools. Technical writers look for opportunities to explore cloud computing, machine learning, hardware, and more.

When a technical writer wants to expand their resume or look for a new role, the advice is sometimes to build a portfolio by contributing to open source. But that’s not easy. There are so many open source projects out there. Where do you start? How can you be sure your contributions will be useful to the open source project? Who can help you understand the contribution procedures, the product, and the code?

Season of Docs gives technical writers and open source projects the opportunity to work together within a structured program.

Let’s go build great open source docs!

How does Season of Docs work?

First up, open source organizations apply to participate in Season of Docs. The list of accepted organizations is then published on the Season of Docs website, along with the ideas each organization has proposed for technical writing projects.

Then technical writers explore the list of participating open source organisations and their project ideas.

As a technical writer, you can decide which open source project you’d like to work with. It’s a good idea to get in touch with the open source organisation to chat about their requirements and your own ideas. You can contact more than one organisation if you like.

When you’re ready, you submit your application to participate in Season of Docs, including your project proposal and the name of the open source organisation you’re interested in. You can submit more than one project proposal, but only one will be accepted.

If your technical writing project is accepted for Season of Docs, then you as a technical writer will work with your chosen open source organisation for a few months (starting in September 2019) to complete your project. You work closely with your open source mentor for the duration of the program, to ensure successful completion of your project.

At the close of the program, the successfully-completed projects are published on the Season of Docs website and on the Google Open Source Blog.

When can you start?

Open source organisations can start applying to participate in Season of Docs from April 2, 2019, and the website will show the list of participating organisations on April 30. Technical writers then have the opportunity to examine the list of participating open source organisations and explore the project ideas proposed by the organisations.

Technical writers can start applying to participate in Season of Docs from May 29, 2019.

The Season of Docs timeline shows the key dates and what happens in each phase of the program.

Want to learn more?

Take a look at the Season of Docs announcement on the Google Open Source Blog, or dive into the guides on the Season of Docs website at g.co/seasonofdocs. Join the mailing list at season-of-docs-announce to stay informed about when applications open and other important program events.