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Building a 'Developer Doc' Portfolio

Are you interested in writing documentation for software developers, but haven't done it before and are having trouble convincing hiring managers that you can?

In our Catch-22 article, we recommend that would-be 'dev doc' Technical Writers create their own porfolio samples, demonstrating

  1. familiarity with technical subject material
  2. an understanding of the audience's needs
  3. a working knowledge of their authoring tools, and
  4. the motivation and initiative to learn about and create documentation for complex products.

Specifically, we suggest using public-domain online software manuals as the basis for documents that you create. If you can show short (no more than 15-page) 'before-and-after' samples of conceptual, procedural, and (most importantly) reference documentation at an interview — and discuss which refinements you made and why — many managers will hire you and consider themselves lucky to have done so.

By contrast, a candidate who insists "I can learn anything" (but refuses to prove it before or during the interview) will remain frustrated, as will one who claims to have a wheelbarrow full of exactly what the hiring manager wants, "but it's all proprietary and under NDA."

The ability to rewrite (and, presumably, enhance) existing commercial documentation isn't conclusive proof that you can create this kind of material from scratch in a busy software-development environment. It provides strong evidence, however, that you:

  1. are interested in creating effective developer documentation
  2. know the tools of the trade
  3. have enough self-discipline, curiosity, and tenacity to be good at it

And in many cases, that's all the proof the hiring manager needs to see.

So where should you look for good "before" material for your dummy developer-doc portfolio?

Here's a list of leading Bay Area software companies' online documentation sites, where you can find good grist for the mill in Acrobat or HTML format:

If you would like to see other companies' documentation sites listed here, email us their (public) URLs

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