Over the years, surveys have shown the importance of good documentation in how developers choose and use open source.

In the inaugural Google Season of Docs (GSoD) program in 2019, the program received nearly 450 technical writer applications and over 50 technical writers were accepted.

As one of the technical writers who were accepted to participate in the Google Season of Docs program, I thought to share some insights on how to prepare and create a strong application for the GSoD program.

Table of Contents

  • What is Google Season of Docs?
  • Who is eligible to participate in the program?
  • Benefits of Participating
  • 5 Tips to ace your GSoD application
  • My GSoD experience
  • Useful resources

What is Google Season of Docs?

Season of Docs is an annual program organised by Google. Its goal is to bring technical writers and open source organisations together to foster collaboration and improvement of documentation in the Open Source space.

This initiative is extremely important because the documentation of an Open Source project provides an avenue for users to not only understand the project but also make contributions to it.

During the program, accepted technical writers spend between 3-5 months either building a new doc set, improving the structure of the existing docs, developing a much-needed tutorial, or improving the contribution processes and guides of an Open Source organisation.

Who is eligible to participate in the program?

According to Google's rules, you must be at least 18 years old at the time of registration. You must also have prior experience as a technical writer and be eligible to work in your country of residence.

If you meet these qualifications, then you can apply to participate in the Google Season of Docs program.

Benefits of Participating

There are so many benefits that come with participating in the Season of Docs program. Some are:

You can get a stipend

After you've completed the Google Season of Docs program, you get paid a stipend by Google. It is important to note that this stipend is optional so you have to indicate that you want to be paid during the application phase.

The stipend amount is calculated based on your location. See here for full details about the stipends.

You improve your skills

Another obvious benefit of participating in the Google Season of Docs program is that it allows you to improve your skills as a technical writer.

You expand your network

Other than improving as a technical writer, you also get an opportunity to work with people doing amazing things in the Open source space.

In my case, I got an opportunity to work with the VideoLAN organization and that meant I had to work closely with the president of the organisation and major contributors to the projects.

You can get recommendations and referrals

When applying for any job, having a good recommendation letter often helps to strengthen your application.

Working closely with a mentor on the Season of Docs project presents an opportunity to securing a rich source of recommendations and referrals.

You gain access to future opportunities

If you are ready to apply for a technical writing role at Google, including your Season of Docs experience in your résumé gives you more advantages compared to other applicants.

You become an Open Source contributor

Aside from all the aforementioned benefits, participating in the season of Docs program means you get to contribute to Open Source projects. This helps the world debunk the stereotype that Open Source Contributions are only meant for Software developers.

5 Tips to ace your GSoD application

Here are 5 tips to help you prepare and create a strong application for the Season of Docs program.

Create and publish articles on your blog

One of the most important criteria of getting accepted as a technical writer in the Google Season of Docs program is the ability to show that you have prior writing experience.

Google and the proposed mentors of the project you want to work on need to be convinced that you are the right person to work on the project. This means they want to see a good number of well-written documentation and articles you've created.

Thankfully, it is not too late to create a blog or publish more content on your already existing blog.

If you already have a blog, it's a good idea to publish more well-written articles before, during, and after you've submitted your proposal. If you don't have any blog, it is still not too late to create one using Hashnode's Devblog or your preferred platform and publish well written articles as well.

Choose the right Open Source project

Honestly, I can't overemphasise the importance of choosing the right Open Source project. This is because it has a strong role to play in getting you into the program.

Here are my thoughts on choosing the right project:

  • Go through all the approved projects and try to select at least 5 projects you are interested in.
  • After selecting at least 5 projects, scan through again and reduce the projects to a maximum of 3 projects and a minimum of 2 projects.
  • While it may be reasonable to focus on one project during the application phase, I encourage you to apply for at least two projects to improve your chances of getting accepted for at least one project.
  • For each project you choose, join the organizations' communication channel, and let the maintainers of the project know about your interest in that project. That way, you will be able to establish a relationship between yourself and the mentor. Also, note that mentors don't choose people just because they have the necessary skills. They also select applicants because they believe they can work with them as well. So when you send a message to a mentor, be explicit about exactly what you need and most importantly don't get upset that they did not respond immediately because most of the mentors are volunteers who have other full time jobs.
  • Do not wait to be spoon-fed. Carry out a lot of research about the project. Discover and understand everything you need to know and if you have any concerns, reach out to the proposed mentor of that project for help or ask other members of that community.
  • Most importantly, write down anything you discover during your research that will be helpful if you get accepted to work on the project or information that will help to improve your proposal.

Write a proposal

A lot of people don't know this, but writing a proposal is vital. It gives you a clear understanding of the project goal, the timeline it will take for you to complete the project, what you need to know, and so on.

Aside from that, writing a proposal also shows your mentor your goals for the project, why you believe you are the right person for the role, your experience, project timelines, and more.

After writing your proposal, send it to the mentor of the project for review. Their review will help you know the project requirements from the mentor's point of view. I have added a link to my Google Season of Docs proposal in the Resources section.

Make at least one contribution to the Open Source Organization

The Season of Docs program is not like Google Summer of Code where you are required to make at least one contribution to the Open Source project of interest. But making a contribution can definitely improve your chance of getting accepted, so try to do so.

Stay active in the community after the application deadline

After submitting your application, try to stay active in that Open Source organization. This shows the mentors that you are passionate about that project and that Open Source community at large.

My GSoD experience

During the GSoD program last year, I was opportune to work with the VideoLAN organization on the project Modernize (rewrite) the VLC user documentation.

After my proposal was accepted by the VideoLAN organization, my mentors and I agreed on the goals that I was expected to achieve during the Google Season of Docs program.

These were my goals:

  1. Restructure the documentation.
  2. Update the documentation to fit the modern versions of VLC.
  3. Migrate the user documentation to Gitlab using Sphinx and ReadtheDocs.
  4. Remove obsolete images and information.
  5. Rewrite the user documentation to make it easy to understand.
  6. Set it up for translation using Sphinx Internationalization.

I learned a lot more about the VideoLAN organization and VLC, I found out that VLC has more features I never knew about, and I learned how to use the Sphinx documentation platform and restructure text.

My technical writing skills also improved tremendously as well. Overall, participating in the Google Season of Docs program was one of the best things that happened to me in 2019.

Useful resources

Find below a list of useful resources to help you learn more about the Season of Docs program and Technical Writing.

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