Chris Cowell

Chris Cowell

Eight Hours to API Literacy: A Fast, Fun On-ramp for Writers


Chris is a technical trainer and writer based in Portland, Oregon. After developing and testing software for two decades at Puppet, Jive, Oracle, and Accenture, he discovered that he likes people more than computers and now focuses on helping less-technical folks feel comfortable and confident in technical roles. He's especially interested in addressing impostor syndrome and working with non-programmers as they onboard at software companies. Chris studied computer science at Harvard and philosophy at Berkeley, but really learned to teach by showing his aging parents how to use email.

Talk description

Writers are experts at dealing with ambiguity. We do highly technical work, frequently without formal CS education. We find ways to make content out of wireframes, code strings, Jira tickets, and spit. We especially fall back on these skills when documenting APIs, where the information is often scarce and our understanding of the APIs and how they’re used can feel abstracted from the product. But APIs aren’t just for reference anymore. With an update to our New Relic developer site in the works, we needed to up our game. In February, we hired Chris Cowell to teach members of the Tech Docs and UX teams REST API basics. The class was a huge success because it covered the topics we needed to learn, but also because Chris created a lively, interactive, accessible experience. Even those of us who have been documenting APIs for years came away with deeper understanding and greater confidence.

In this talk, Chris Cowell and Michelle Fredette discuss high- and low-level knowledge gaps the training addressed, and how the class has enriched our docs and UX work, as well as our relationships with SMEs. We’ll share some basic tips and finally, we’ll talk about how classes like this one—which a participant called, “the single most effective technical training I’ve ever received”—are fundamental to the expanding complexity of our careers.