Featured TC: Megan Simpson of Xero
Megan Simpson is a Content Developer at Xero Ltd, based in Wellington. She recently caught up with Jim Costello to discuss her role.
How long have you been a technical communicator and how did you start out?
This is my first role as a tech writer. I’ve been with Xero for about two and a half years now. I came from a publishing background and before then I was a researcher at Victoria University. There are quite a few parallels between publishing and the type of work I do at Xero. I had used Xero before so was quite familiar with the product. I was always interested in plain language and liked the style of the Xero Help Centre so the leap into becoming a communicator was quite a natural one for me.
Ok, moving to your current role – what does that entail?
The type of tech writing that we do here is very customer-focused. There are two distinct user groups that we write for. We write content for small to medium businesses who use our products, tradespeople for example, who are producing quotes and invoices. We also write for accountants who are preparing more complex financial returns. So there are two very different levels of technical language. We have two Xero Help Centres to meet the needs of each customer group. Both Centres are publicly available, written with distinct audiences in mind.
So when work comes in, what is the process?
When we are working on new features we first test the product, gain an understanding of what the users are trying to achieve, and from there write and publish the content. We do a lot of independent work but we also work with product teams. The product owners have very clear user stories about why the product has been developed, and what our customers may need to know. Ideally you don’t want customers to have to consult documentation to complete a task, so when they are in the Help Centre you need to make the answers really clear. They need to be able to find the answer they are looking for quickly without too much work.
If it is an existing feature we also work with the Customer Experience team members who have a very detailed understanding of the common questions our customers raise. It is a case of starting with the content and then refining it depending on the feedback we get from customers and stakeholders. So there is a cycle of continuous improvement. We don’t have versioning of our documentation. We use an agile approach, so we are always releasing, always refining. Products are constantly being improved so it is an interesting process.
Tell us a little about Xero
Xero is a fast-growing company that provides cloud-based accounting software for small- to medium-sized businesses. We have a range of products from Xero Web which most people will be aware of, mobile apps, and more specialised accountant-based products. So there is a very broad base of products that we support that are connected to the main Xero Web product. Our help content has to meet the needs of a range of customers from tradespeople through to our partners, who are accountants and financial advisers.
Most of the help team is based in New Zealand, but since Xero has now reached one million subscribers across New Zealand, Australia, UK, and the US, we need to rely on the local subject matter experts to make sure that our content has regional relevance.
What things do you enjoy most about your role?
I really like the process of working on a new feature – breaking it down to what our customers need to know. That process of analysis and collaboration between different teams is the most interesting to me. I really like the style of writing that we have in our Help Centre, it’s all about keeping things really concise with clear customer questions. It shouldn’t matter if you are an accountant or a plumber, it is all about getting your question answered quickly and clearly. There is so much skill in creating a concise, well-crafted answer – that’s essential to the writing that we do. So, I really enjoy that. We do a lot of collaboration which is great too – peer-reviewing between writers. It’s a really supportive environment with lots of really talented people.
What aspects of the jobs do you find particularly challenging?
Since we are growing and changing so fast it is sometimes difficult to keep up. There are so many different moving parts. That can be a challenge, but a good one. Every week is different. We are constantly having to engage with new types of programs and different tech solutions that we are working with. That is quite a different challenge to the actual writing and content development, it requires a different type of technical skill.
If you could give a piece of advice to someone starting out as a technical communicator, what would you tell them?
There are two things I’d flag as important – first, ask yourself and your stakeholders lots of questions, it’s such an important part of analysis and planning. And second, I’d say that you need to be adaptable to the needs of your customer and your organisation. As writers we are attached to process and style conventions, but we need to be open to change and refinement. While the core purpose of what we’re doing remains the same, we should always be focused on meeting the needs of our audience.