Technical Writing and Cloud Technology

Cloud technology is huge in the technology world right now. Most experts predict that it’s only going to increase in market share. In this article, I’ll look at cloud technology from the perspective of technical writers. So I won’t be talking much about business objectives and advantages. Rather, I’m focusing on how cloud tech differs from traditional server technology. Then, I’ll look at what technical writers need to know in order to work in and with the cloud. And, for that matter, how we can future-proof our skill sets.

What is the cloud?

We tend to talk about ‘the cloud’ as though there’s a huge single entity out there somewhere. There isn’t. Basically, a ‘cloud’ is a huge network of physical servers and hard drives. They might be in the same physical data centre, or they might be spread geographically across one or many countries.

The key points are:

  • A user doesn’t need to know which particular server they’re accessing for a specific task. It doesn’t matter.
  • If a single server goes down, this barely affects the performance of the cloud, because it’s sharing work between lots of servers.
  • Because of the large number of resources available – often far more than a single company needs – most companies share a cloud with others.
  • An application on a cloud installation is a lot more scalable than traditional server configurations. Resources are automatically assigned according to need.

What cloud technology is available now?

Almost anything you can currently do on a single computer, you can also do on the cloud. This includes:

  • Store data. There are a lot of cloud storage providers around; the best known are probably Google Drive and Dropbox.
  • Run operating systems. You might once have downloaded VM software and created a virtual machine on your desktop computer, running one of a number of available operating systems. These days, you can quickly set up a similar ‘machine’ in the cloud, and have a lot more resources available to you.
  • Run software. Companies provide software in the cloud, which minimises the load on a user’s computer and (usually) decreases the risk of losing data. Some examples are Quickbooks Online, Microsoft Office 365, and Google Docs.

There are a few different types of cloud services available. There’s already a lot of available information about this aspect of cloud computing. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ve added links to good articles.

The current cloud service types are:

What’s the future of cloud technology?

It’s impossible to predict with 100% accuracy, of course. But there are certain emerging problems and trends in cloud technology. I think technical writers who want to stay ahead of the pack should look at:

Cloud security

This is important now, but I think it will be even more of a focus in the next few years. Many businesses will need to retrofit their cloud solutions with better access and data security. To skill up in this area, look at cloud security and data security courses.

Desktop as a Service

Using thin clients (very basic computers with minimal processing power) and cloud desktops. A few of these are currently available, like Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops. I think there’ll be a lot more, because it’s a logical way for companies to improve security (see above), decrease per-employee costs, and ensure that every employee has access to a standard operating system and applications. Skilling up in this area is a bit difficult, but I’d suggest learning about current Citrix products so that you understand the technology involved.

App integrations

API documentation is a big part of the software technical writing market at the moment. If the mobile apps industry starts to standardise app-to-app communications and integration, we’ll see it take an even bigger share. Think of Facebook integrations within most apps, and fitness apps like FitBit connecting to diet and health apps. To skill up in this area, look for API documentation courses and best practices. Also have a look at mobile app documentation courses.

Cloud consultancies

This seems to be a growing field at the moment, and I think it will continue to grow. Companies will need help not just understanding the cloud options available, but keeping up to date. Technical writers will have opportunities to create technical articles and newsletters, and document boutique cloud solutions. To skill up in this area, I recommend a multi-path approach. Learn about social media, SEO, article writing, and the most popular cloud solutions and providers.

Is technical writing in the cloud too?

Yes. Technical writing is currently being done in the cloud, and I think this will only increase. There are a number of benefits:

  • Easier collaboration
  • Everyone uses the exact same software
  • Lower up-front costs
  • Faster updates (sometimes).

Cloud-based technical writing tools

Most of the big traditional tech writing tools have cloud-based options, like AuthorIT Cloud and Madcap Central. I’m not convinced that these have a big market share now, though, or will be central to technical writing in the next few years.

The primary issue with the traditional tech writing tools is that they bring a lot of baggage with them from the last couple of decades. They’re designed for old-fashioned Waterfall methodology, and they require specialist knowledge to use well.

A lot of companies have been moving to lightweight, easy to learn documentation solutions. Many of them aren’t specifically ‘technical writing tools’ – they’re just knowledge sharing solutions. I really can’t see any specific cloud based tools leading the pack. So instead, I recommend skilling up in the basics: reStructuredText, Markdown, HTML, and CSS. Consider learning JavaScript too.

How can technical writers learn about cloud technology?

A LinkedIn Premium account comes with access to LinkedIn Learning. This offers some great courses on cloud technology, including:

But there are heaps of great options available, on LinkedIn Learning and other platforms like Udemy. You can move from these courses – which don’t offer official certifications – to certification exams in Microsoft Azure, AWS, etc. If you want to, that is – most employers will just want you to know the technology and be able to demonstrate that knowledge.


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