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Embracing skilled redefinition | I would Moderately Be Writing Weblog and API doc course

by Tom Johnson on Oct 3, 2023



If AI transforms the tech writing discipline, as many suppose it’s going to, we’ll face a selection of both resisting change and skirting with obsolescence, or reinventing our skilled id. Reinventing one’s id, notably letting go of the sense of being a author before everything, is psychologically tough. We have to dedicate time to redefining our position by means of high-risk, high-reward experiments. However what the experiments must be, precisely, stays unclear.

The obsolescence regime

First, a fast recap from my final submit. In AI and APIs: What works, what doesn’t, I talked concerning the “obsolescence regime.” The gist is that aggressive necessity will drive elevated AI reliance, leading to three phases: (1) First, writers who embrace AI achieve a aggressive benefit whereas AI-resistant friends fall behind. (2) Subsequent, over-reliance on AI results in ability atrophy, making writers unable to supply content material with out AI help. (3) Lastly, AI techniques now not require human oversight and deem writers out of date. Writers are discarded.

Another path

I argued that this dystopian end result doesn’t need to be inevitable. Moderately than resist AI or turn into fully depending on it, technical writers can redefine their roles. As James Bessen explains, new applied sciences usually morph and reshape job capabilities quite than eradicate them outright.

For instance, as a substitute of simply competing with writing documentation, writers can reskill to turn into AI documentation engineers. They’ll be taught prompting, fine-tuning, and collaboration methods to productively accomplice with generative fashions. Abilities like immediate engineering, few-shot studying, and customized LLM coaching can enable writers to optimize and direct AI capabilities.

This level about redefining and reshaping our skilled roles deserves extra reflection, although, as a result of altering one’s skilled position and id is psychologically tough. How you can embrace skilled redefinition is what this submit is all about.

Challenges with skilled redefinition

Redefining your skilled id may be like discarding your previous physique for a brand new one with out figuring out beforehand what sort of physique you’ll quickly be getting. As tech writers who could have embraced expertise from humanities disciplines, struggling to return on top of things technically, we may be cussed about adopting new instruments or workflows. We would choose as a substitute to construct on these expertise we’ve already realized.

Pivoting from hands-on writing to AI oversight poses an id disaster, even an existential menace. If I’m now not the one crafting every sentence, what am I? What’s my position? It’s far less complicated to reject or dismiss applied sciences that disrupt our sense of id. This defensiveness is partly why tech author reactions to AI are all around the map, from dismissive and facetious to cautious and measured to over-embracing and hyper-optimistic.

Letting go of attachments to “being a author”

Let’s assume that to actually escape the obsolescence regime, now we have to reinvent ourselves professionally. How will we do it? For technical writers, essentially the most radical change AI presents is shifting us away from writing experience as our core id.

From my sophomore 12 months in faculty till now (almost 30 years) my id has been related to writing. Throughout my sophomore 12 months, I enrolled in a Writing Fellows program that concerned working as devoted writing tutors for 2 lessons a semester. As a part of the Writing Fellows program, we needed to write our literary biography, describing our origin tales as writers. How do you know you had been a author? That type of essay.

Throughout this system, this concept of “being a author” caught with me. I majored in English, acquired an MFA in nonfiction writing, taught composition on the faculty degree, labored as a advertising and marketing copywriter, after which as a technical author. “Author” has been a continuing thread all through my profession.

Now as AI instruments emerge, they possess the flexibility to write down—intelligently, coherently, and effortlessly. Do I nonetheless cling to my id as a author, though it appears fairly clear that writing jobs (or parts of these writing jobs) will quickly get replaced by AI expertise? That is what I imply by the novel undertaking that’s self-redefinition. It’s not like altering a board recreation that we’re enjoying, from Monopoly to Chutes and Ladders. It’d contain altering our total sense of who we’re.

Increasing our identities

It may very well be that the entire AI wave is only a fad that may fizzle into occasion trick memes and nothing else. Or AI might usher within the dystopian cyborg future that science fiction motion pictures have been depicting for many years. If the previous occurs, skilled reinvention will solely add new expertise to our present ones. If the latter occurs, skilled reinvention will turn into a requirement to remain related.

At the moment, it appears everyone seems to be making an attempt to determine tips on how to use AI in productive methods. I don’t have all of the solutions to that query. At the moment, most AI instruments are closely restricted within the enterprise. Nevertheless, by means of experimentation with the instruments obtainable and with content material on my weblog and API course, I’ve provide you with a listing of 10 duties that you would be able to most likely do with AI instruments.

10 use instances for AI in tech author roles

The next are 10 duties that I feel have robust applicability with AI instruments and documentation. For every of those duties, contemplate not simply the duty you’re performing however the id transformation that may be going down on the within. That transformation of id is the extra necessary objective.

The transformation of our position is determined by our proficiency with every activity. And that proficiency may be magnified and amplified by means of AI.

My level with the id column is that we are able to’t timidly cling to “author” as our solely label. Our new challenges demand elementary id shifts, with the objective of progressing from restricted notions towards expanded potentialities. Every new endeavor can immediate a radical self-redefinition, relying on how far you need to take it.

Letting go of authorship

The core redefinition prompted by AI appears to be to distance ourselves from writing. I’ve struggled to let go of authorship, and to be trustworthy, I’m nonetheless unsure that I ought to. It’s onerous for me to let an AI do the writing as a substitute. My early makes an attempt utilizing AI to write down weblog content material produced poor high quality, however I’ve realized methods to mix AI content material extra easily.

With apply, I can most likely get significantly better at prompting and fine-tuning, performing extra of a director position than actor position. Ought to I be doing this? This transformation scares me. Not just for the potential of having my writing expertise atrophy, however even for optics. Will folks see me as a cheat or plagiarist if I take advantage of AI-generated textual content? Will I nonetheless really feel the identical about writing that “I” have produced? What’s going to the content material appear to be that’s half AI-written, half Tom-written? The situation is an id disaster.

However that is maybe the very attachment I want to surrender to evolve. My sense of self can’t be based mostly on writing alone, given how simply AI instruments can write. GPT 4 may sound wordy and Wikipedia-like now, however what about GPT 9 or 10? Sooner or later, most human-written writing may be so inferior that individuals will now not care who wrote it, they’ll simply need the good things.

Figuring out this, I really feel I ought to reshape myself round new expertise like AI prompting and optimization. I want braveness to let go of previous notions of my goal. My id needs to be fluid, not mounted. However that is simpler mentioned than finished. I’ve been constructing and refining my id for many years now. And the present output from generative AI continues to be mediocre, making the entire endeavor doubtlessly a flop.

Pushing my limits

I’m trying some experiments at work to develop new expertise. Some weeks I dive so deeply into construct scripts and publishing automation that the title “technical author” appears mistaken. Throughout these weeks, I’m doing full doc engineering. With AI assist, I’m writing code I don’t all the time perceive. This has led to some difficult conditions. When an engineer vaguely suggests enhancing the code, I’d battle to implement their suggestion. Or when a bug pops up, I’d barely discover it and have bother fixing it. However the scripts work, and so they save me a ton of time.

Working advanced scripts I solely partly perceive—with a view to automate docs—feels dangerous. I’m caught between the tedium of handbook work and the uncertainty of handing management to partially understood instruments.

Upskilling in AI

I’m additionally making an attempt to get extra conversant in Pocket book LM at work. I’m testing its limits and dealing to raised grasp the way it capabilities. My objective is to get good at optimizing and directing Pocket book LM when fixing doc bugs. Lately for a bug repair, I fed Pocket book LM 30 pages of docs and bug thread textual content, then requested it to generate the end result I wanted: a brief abstract of the repair for launch notes.

Pocket book LM produced precisely the replace required, with barely any modifying from me. Engineering permitted it no downside. This felt odd—I wasn’t absolutely assured within the AI’s accuracy, however relied on engineering to validate it. They did evaluation and approve it. Is that this the long run? Is that this a great apply? What about my subject material experience? Was I buying and selling long-term productiveness for short-term good points? Then once more, the wanted textual content was only some sentences, not a whole subject, so it’s onerous to guage the end result.

Relying on AI to distill key data made me uneasy. However as I evolve my position, discomfort is predicted. Constructing expertise in rising areas like accountable AI use, even and not using a clear path, is essential to keep away from obsolescence. The best way ahead stays hazy, however now we have to maintain pushing by means of uncertainty. Or are we operating in the direction of a cliff? In abdicating the content material era to AI, are we numbing the articulate language expertise we’ve honed over a long time of expertise?

Considering extra radically

To actually future-proof myself, I have to suppose extra radically. Actions like coaching customized LLMs or creating chatbots might redefine my position however are onerous to discover whereas doing my present documentation duties, as these actions are time intensive and immersive. And who doesn’t have an countless backlog of documentation to-do’s already?

Regardless of the dearth of time, I’ve to remind myself: The tech author position itself may need an expiration date, so now we have to reinvent regardless of the issue—earlier than that expiration date arrives. Earlier than that date arrives, now we have to determine a brand new plan. However what? We will’t be caught off guard.

After I spend just a few days making an attempt one thing new that flops (for instance, making an attempt to make use of AI for planning and prioritization), I’ve nothing to indicate for it and fall behind in my common work. However on the flip facet, think about the wins when it really works!


To keep away from obsolescence, dabbling in new expertise received’t lower it. We have to dedicate time to redefining our position by means of high-risk, high-reward experiments. However what the experiments must be, precisely, stays unclear. On the identical time, we are able to’t completely ignore our present doc work. We’re shakily straddling not less than two worlds—an uncertain current and unclear future. That is the place all of us discover ourselves in.

writer at crossroads


This essay wouldn’t be full with out acknowledging some AI help. For enjoyable, right here is the Claude thread that exhibits how I used AI to assist with this submit. For the preliminary draft, I attempted to steer Claude paragraph by paragraph by means of the concepts I needed to precise. I’m unsure it saved me a lot time, although, as I ended up rewriting most every part. Apparently, because the essay progresses, I appear to attempt to take again management by injecting more and more private anecdotes and a perspective expressing uncertainty and self-doubt. This will likely have been me pushing again in opposition to the machine. Claude additionally let me go in instructions that I later regretted.

For a podcast on the same theme, see [Podcast] AI and APIs: What works, what doesn’t.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I am an API technical author based mostly within the Seattle space. On this weblog, I write about matters associated to technical writing and communication — resembling software program documentation, API documentation, AI, data structure, content material technique, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and extra. Take a look at my API documentation course in the event you’re on the lookout for extra information about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course part for extra on the most recent in AI and tech comm.

In case you’re a technical author and need to carry on high of the most recent traits within the tech comm, make sure you subscribe to electronic mail updates under. You can even be taught extra about me or contact me. Lastly, observe that the opinions I specific on my weblog are my very own factors of view, not that of my employer.

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