Wanna Jump-Start Your Career? 7 Little-Known Secrets to Volunteering!

Written by Leslie Brown

I’m a big fan of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simple ideas, yes, but tough to practice in everyday life. Yet if you can embrace the first habit—Be Proactive—it can propel you into all sorts of life opportunities you never knew existed. This is especially true for any career, for any aspect of life, really. And I am living proof that it works.

It’s a scary process, stepping forward to help others you don’t know (or even know very well). You’re unsure of what you’re doing, asking yourself, “Am I okay?” “Am I doing the right thing?” “Do they like me?” I get it, it’s a total freak-out session. To help calm your fears, I offer the following keys to successful volunteering in the hope that they help you as much as they helped me:

  • You are not alone.

You might be the only candidate offering to help, but I guarantee the fear is shared by almost everyone. I doubt that anyone in the group is feeling super comfortable about the process. Even if you are a perennial volunteer, there is always a little anxiety associated with trying something new.

  • The percentages are in your favor.

This is because so darned few actually see this as a valuable activity to their careers. Like a salesperson cold-calling customers, volunteering is an essential task to your career and you may as well learn to make the best of it. Those who show up are richly rewarded—maybe not right away, but definitely in the long run. So:

  • Step up to the plate.

Being proactive in your career means stepping forward, looking for opportunities, learning new tools—in a nutshell, it’s all about taking action. Everyone is so excited just to have anybody raise a hand that no one cares what you do—at first. This all gets worked out by the number of new recruits who are signing up to help, anyway. Trust me, people will be happy to show you the ropes.

  • You’re accepted for who you are.

People will notice you, and you will be appreciated far greater than you could imagine, even if you just pick up a broom and start sweeping the floor.

  • You don’t have to be an expert.

Experience in your field really doesn’t matter that much. Your willingness to step up and do what others won’t do sets you miles ahead and apart from your peers In fact, pick something you know nothing about. You’ll surprise yourself and others as well.

  • Don’t wait until you graduate/finish your program.

A few years ago, I was working on technical writing and editing certificates at Bellevue College, in the extension program. It is here where I first discovered the organization Society for Technical Communication (STC), and the local Seattle chapter, STC Puget Sound.

Our chapter was hosting the 2005 STC Summit, our society’s national convention (which happened to be its Golden Anniversary), and the perfect time to become involved in my profession as a technical communicator. Not knowing what to do, I signed up to work at our booth during the Summit, and followed the lead of my colleagues in taking in all the great activities—the food, the seminars, the swag, the camaraderie. The benefits were endless.

  • No one really knows what to do when volunteering, anyway.

Really? It can’t be that simple, can it? Well, yes, it can, and it is! This might be the best kept secret of all. Remember this, and just be ready to pick up a broom.

Stack Overflow Introduces Crowdsourced Documentation


A couple of weeks ago, a coworker sent a link to our company’s software documentation team.

“Thought this might be of interest,” he said.

It seemed both offhanded and ominous. When I clicked the link, the blog post’s headline definitely gave me pause: Introducing Stack Overflow Documentation Beta.

Stack Overflow, the eminently popular discussion site where programmers can ask and answer coding questions, is staking out new territory. It intends to be the go-to site for technical documentation. Crowdsourced technical documentation.

As Stack Overflow sees it, documentation “by most appearances stopped improving in 1996. We think, together, we can make it a lot better.” So at Stack Overflow Documentation, people can create and publish documentation that will be continually buffed and polished by the developer community. As on the Q&A site, quality answers can be up-voted, and contributors can earn reputation points and badges.

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Writing Agile


If you’ve documented software over the last five years, you’ve no doubt heard a bit (or a lot) about “Agile” software development. (If not, this Wikipedia page will get you started.) In contrast to more traditional models of development that emphasize sticking to a set plan and following a linear process until the entire project is completed, Agile favors iterative development and regular re-evaluation of the product to assess whether it’s successfully meeting its requirements.

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