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Digital Garden Tending and Tech Comm: An Interview with Rick Sapir
2015, Q3 (June 24, 2015)
By Bryce Arghiere, Chapter Member

Rick Sapir
Rick Sapir
Carolina Chapter webmaster and STC Associate Fellow Rick Sapir kindly agreed to spend time on June 18th answering my questions about technical communication, website content management, and online help. Rick has published two guide books on Tiki Wiki Content Management Systems (CMS) and is an active Carolina Chapter member. He has leveraged his experience with Tiki to enhance and launch several websites and mobile apps for the Carolina Chapter.

Most recently, he led the way as a developer and administrator for the Carolina Chapter’s Triangle Employment Network and Triangle Mentoring Database. Both sites are Tiki-based, so check them out for examples of how one looks and functions.

Question: Could you talk about your work experience with website management and content management systems (CMS)? How did you get interested in developing those skills?

Answer: Some colleagues of mine started a nonprofit nine or ten years ago called KeyContent.org. Bill Albing was the other cofounder of that. We had started when the Web and content management were somewhat new. We were looking to do a wiki-based website where people could collaboratively write articles, post information, or just access a news-center type of site. We realized that we needed some sort of content management system, so we started looking for open source content management systems. I found Tiki Wiki—it’s not one of the big players—it’s not Drupal, WordPress, or Joomla—but the community was really nice. The community was very open, and they invited me in almost immediately. I became very involved with the Tiki community, was appointed to their nonprofit board, and became a contributor to it.

Question: How do you see technical writing and website content management as complementary, if they are? How do you see them reinforcing each other?

Answer: I don’t necessarily think that every technical writer needs to know the ins and outs of WordPress, but I think every technical writer should have an understanding of how a content management system can help them. Even if you’re not delivering for the Web—if you’re still delivering on paper, for example—if you have a content management system, it’s easier to collaborate with other writers or other sources of your material. One of the really good things about a robust content management system is that instead of having one writer for every book, for example, every contributor can contribute little parts of it. And then it’s another person’s job to actually pull all of the parts together and produce the deliverable. I’m real big on collaboration, tearing down the silos, and not necessarily having one writer per book, which is the way I think a lot of departments are structured.

Question: If you were talking to someone who had done a lot of writing but who had not done any website design or worked with a CMS, what advice would you give that person about beginning to develop those skills?

Answer: Volunteer! For example, STC is a great place to do it. Doing work for the Carolina Chapter has allowed me to play with stuff and build actual useful Web applications that I can now put in my portfolio. Get involved, whether it is with the STC or an open source community.

Question: What types of deliverables could a technical writer contribute to in an open source community?

Answer: The deliverables could be traditional user guides, manuals, online help, produced videos, or online documents, such as an online help knowledge base. he developers I know would love to have someone produce a really good quality user guide, online help, demo, tutorial, or things like that. And it’s something great that can be added to your portfolio.

Question: What suggestions for getting involved would you give to people thinking of joining the STC or to new members?

Answer: The big benefits we always tout are networking and camaraderie, being with people who have a similar background. Networking is always good if you’re looking for jobs or even just looking for resources. The Chapter does great training programs too. One of my favorite things has been talking to people who have jobs similar to mine, but are doing different things, to see what else is out there.

Question: Where do you see your work with website management, wikis, and CMSs heading in the future? Do you think there will still be opportunities to do that type of work?

Answer: Many companies and technologies have LinkedIn groups, user groups, forums, mailing lists, and things like that. I think there’s a need for someone to step up and say, “I’m going to be the garden tender for this group.” Not necessarily to lead the direction or enforce a specific path, but to keep people involved by sending out weekly or monthly updates and working on ways to improve the internal communication within the group.

Bryce can be reached at bjarghie at alumni dot unca dot edu. End of article.

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