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Wanted: Excel Programmer Writers in Redmond

Today we have a “guest post†from our Documentation Team â€“ the folks that bring you help, content on the web, etc.  They have a few open positions they are looking to fill.  Enjoy.

I want to relay information from our documentation group today (more specifically its “Data” team) and let you know that we’re looking for 2 programmer-writers to help us build Excel developer content.  If you are as passionate about Excel as you are about its help system for developers, these positions will hopefully be of interest to you. The official position is posted on Microsoft.com, but we can’t really get into a lot of details there, hence this blog post.

You may wonder what it is like to be a programmer-writer and what kind of job it is.  In a nutshell, the Excel programmer writers are the owners of the Developer documentation (Developer’s References shipped in the box and MSDN content) and are responsible for the development of that content.  As the product is being developed, you’re in contact with various product team members, such as program managers, developers and testers, who will assist you in getting the details needed to document the new interfaces. We work from specs, but our writers must go beyond the specs to write good content.  Testers might provide code samples and program managers often do presentations from which we can recycle content.  Programmer-writers on our team are savvy at identifying what needs to be documented and resourceful at creating and acquiring the necessary content.

The bulk of the job is to write the online help documentation for the Excel object model (before the product ships) and to write MSDN technical articles on anything related to Excel development (after the product ships).  The Excel object model has grown and changed quite a lot in this version, so there’s a lot of ground to cover.  The Developer docs for Excel (as for our other COM apps) have existed for a long time and we have to be selective in how we can improve them.

For Office 12, we put the focus on 3 main areas:

  • Visual Studio look & feel
  • How-To: task-based code samples
  • OM delta content

The Visual Studio “look and feel” goals are to have our docs simply look and operate more like the Visual Studio (VS) documentation.  Our docs looked dated, the organization of our table of content (TOC) was far from intuitive, and the feedback from VS users was that they often felt disoriented in Office Help.  Today we have largely resolved this, as the following screen dumps will show.  We converted our help topics to a much stricter DTD and completely overhauled our transforms.

The topics look more like those in VS2005 Help, and the TOC has been completely updated and will allow you to access all the members for a given object immediately as opposed to having to jump through 3-4 clicks in Office 2003.

Figure 1 – Developer topic in Office 12

Figure 2 – Excel Developer’s Reference TOC

Our how-to effort is just getting started for Excel. The idea is to provide code samples, based on a task taxonomy.  Visual Studio 2005 created has used this concept with their “How Do I?†entry points in help.  We want to make sure that if developers knows what they want to do, but have no idea where to look in the object model (as it often the case with new users), we will provide an answer.

We will provide a list of categories (we sometime call them “mega tasks”) such as: working with sheets, working with PivotTables, working with XML, working with data, etc.  Then, for each of those, we will provide subcategories. For instance, “Exporting Data†would be a subcategory of “Working with Dataâ€.  Each subcategory will in turn contain a list of discrete tasks, such as Exporting to CSV, exporting to a tab delimited text file, exporting to XML, etc.  For some applications, we have completed some How-To topics and taxonomies already.

Our OM delta work aims at providing something we have long neglected to do: documenting the changes in the OM version to version.  We always did a fair job of providing content for the new stuff, but we did not systematically document the OM members which had changed or had been deprecated.  In Office 2007, we will really improve this aspect of our content, and in the coming public beta, we will share the results in a project called “10 years of VBAâ€, in which we will detail, from Office 97 to the 2007 Office System (including every version in between!) which OM members have changed, which were deprecated, and which are new.  We will have this information in the form of Help topics first and we may make it available in other formats also.

If you’re attracted by a career in content publishing at Microsoft, and participating in those projects is exciting to you, please let us know.  Apply to the official position using the link provided earlier or contact the hiring manager. We look forward to working with you.

Thanks for your time and attention.

-The Office Developer Docs Data team