Jake Witz

Credentials: Astronomer

Position title: Technical Writer

Photo of Jake Witz

Major: English

Certificate: Digital Studies

Graduation Date: December 2018

How did you end up working at Astronomer?

I started out writing in arts and culture, but at the same time I was trying out open source software for both creative and practical purposes. I was struck by my experience reading the documentation for this software, and realized that good documentation had a huge impact on my experience with a piece of technology.

Technical writing appealed to me because I could continue to write, but in a way that was simple, effective, and constantly read by a captive audience. I started my technical writing career at Epic, where I gravitated towards projects involving more technical products. During this time, I still had a passion for open source tools and communities. After about a year at Epic, I joined Astronomer because one of their main goals was to support and grow the open source community around Apache Airflow.

What does a typical day in the office look like for you?

Everything I do revolves around creating technical documentation for Astronomer products at docs.astronomer.io, so I spend most of my day writing and editing. Before I create a document explaining how a new feature works, I meet with engineers to discuss the feature and how it impacts users. I can then test the feature myself and write steps for how to use it.

I also work towards the ideal of “docs as product,” where the experience of navigating documentation is as important as the words you publish. To that end, I spend time reworking our information architecture and how we display documentation so that it’s as easy as possible for users to find the information they’re looking for.

I’m also responsible for maintaining and designing our documentation site. This involves regularly upgrading the tools we use to build our site and building new tools to automate tedious processes. A great part about working at Astronomer is that our documentation website is open source on GitHub, so you can track all of the work I do publicly on my GitHub page!

How has Digital Studies influenced your career path?

Digital Studies taught me that there is a lot of value in approaching technology from a humanities perspective. I’m able to bridge the gap between technical and non-technical audiences through carefully choosing my words and having empathy for my audience, which are qualities that you can’t cultivate as naturally in a purely humanities or purely STEM curriculum.

Did you have a favorite Digital Studies class?

I strongly recommend Computer Sciences 200: Programming I even if you think you’ll never code in your career. If you’re coming from a humanities background, it teaches you how to approach problems in a new way. And learning the fundamentals of computer file structures and variables will always be an asset both in and out of your career.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Make sure “extracurriculars” also include communities and events outside of the UW system. Cultivate the skill of wandering and getting lost. While classes and clubs are a great foundation for teaching you how to think and interact with the world, you have to go out of your way to find the really interesting stuff happening around you. Did you know there’s a town outside of Madison that is fully decorated with statues of Norwegian trolls? I didn’t either until I happened across it on a meandering bike ride one day. It’s a silly example, but things that will have the greatest impact on how you see the world will be where you least expect them.