Featured TC: Sarah Stubbs of Endace
Sarah Stubbs is Documentation Team Manager at Endace, a networking hardware and software company based in Hamilton. Jim Costello recently caught up with Sarah to talk about her role and her team.
How long have you been a technical communicator and how did you start out?
I did a BTech degree at Massey University, Palmerston North. Midway through my final year I saw an ad for a technical writer at a little company in Marton called PEC. I thought "I could do that". So I got my first tech writing job straight out of university. That was 25 years ago. PEC no longer exists, it was bought by Gallagher, but it did petrol station pumps, controllers, and card access control systems. I was exceedingly lucky to work under two very good senior technical writers. They plastered red ink all over any work I attempted to put in front of them. That was very good training.
What sort of things did they pick you up on?
The order of the information. How I presented the information. What was the layout? Was I consistent with my terminology? Did I include all the information that was needed? The big takeouts that I still teach the people I work with were:
- Know what you are writing about.
- Understand what the audience needs to know.
- Write one topic per paragraph.
- Write one idea per sentence.
- Headings tell the readers what is to follow until the next heading.
What does your current role entail?
I manage the team of technical writers at Endace, which can be up to four people, although currently it is three. So I write, I estimate, I attend meetings, I allocate who is doing what work, I review the content, and I direct my team into a particular style of writing. I also manage the Author-it installation.
Tell us a little about Endace
The company makes very clever, very technical products. Endace started as a research project at Waikato University and became a company in 2001. The first project was to create a very clever network interface card. This card allows you to tap an internet link and take a copy of the data. The technology captures packets of data, at a specific time, to the nanosecond, and is able to extract some information – source, destination, IP address, the port numbers on the card we bought it on and a whole pack of data around that. We now also produce servers that have a web-based GUI interface and come with RAID, storage, a nice box etc. Our biggest customers are Telcos such as Sprint and Verizon in the US and others in Europe.
What things do you enjoy most about your role?
I’ve been with the company now just on 10 years so I have a pool of knowledge. But the company is developing new products that are really cutting-edge. For example, we are designing servers that can look at the data packets in different ways for specific customer needs. When the company created the server that could monitor a 100 gigabyte link, nobody else in the world had done that. We now make the software, hardware, and firmware. That is all designed in-house. So being part of that is really interesting.
What parts of the job do you find particularly challenging?
Understanding the technical side of this job can be taxing sometimes, even though my previous jobs have given me some grounding. We are very, very technical here.
What one piece of advice would you give someone new to technical communication?
Build a good working relationship with the people you are getting information from. Even have them slightly in your debt. I socialise with our engineers. As a technical writer you sometimes need to write something and get it reviewed in a hurry – engineers need to be willing to help you.
Get some background information about their topic before you talk to them. Ask them what you should read up on. This gives you at least a basic understanding of what you are about to discuss.