As we discussed in last month’s Confessions of a Content Strategist, with Jenny Magic, the need for a new role within content strategy is emerging—the content engineer. Who is that person who can translate for the content marketing teams and the software engineers and keep everything in line for the customer?
Meet Emmelyn Wang, a content engineer at uShip. She’s an API specialist and currently holds the title of “Community Engagement Manager”. Her job is to interface with every department in the company to educate them about the API. For example, Business Development talks to external folks about the uShip API as a powerful tool to build partnerships. Emmelyn creates content for software developers to successfully use the API. That content increases engagement with the API which drives business to uShip.
“I am the liaison between business and technology. Business has a need and technology has to build it—but what’s really important is that the people driving those two things don’t speak the same language. The most important question is: How do we get them so speak the same language? My content helps to influence the design and use of the APIs—both how they function and the data they provide,” she explains.
In her current role, Emmelyn serves three different groups—uShip developers for the web product and both native mobile apps, business development and sales, and third party developers. The main web product gets over 2 million hits a month. uShip.com facilitates the delivery of thousands of listings a day (for shipping purposes) and a portion of that traffic that happens through APIs. APIs are Application Programming Interfaces that allow different data systems to talk to each other and process information securely and with built-in performance implications. Native mobile applications are built using APIs and both the data and functionality are consumed through APIs.
From a Content Strategist’s Standpoint, Why Does an API Matter?
They provide a standardized content and functionality delivery mechanism and structure that is easily consumed, dynamically updated, and scalable. Standards include the HTTP protocol, XML, JSON, and REST.
For example, Stripe API’s documentation found at https://stripe.com/docs/api, built using Ruby (https://www.ruby-lang.org/) and Sinatra (http://www.sinatrarb.com/) facilitates such an efficient process. When developers update the product (Stripe API) code, their documentation and helper libraries are also automatically updated.
Ahava Leibtag: Tell me about your background as a content strategist.
Emmelyn Wang: “I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with an English and Business background with a heavy emphasis on natural sciences and writing intensive courses. I worked in high tech first before I went to get my MA in Technical Communication (MATC) from Texas State University.
My first job out of college was at IBM as a business analyst and it was a great place to network as a young person. Then, I served as a volunteer board member for the Society for Technical Communication, and networked with people who had been doing content strategy for 30-40 years. It is wonderful to have that mentorship and community of professional support.”
AL: How did your work take you in such a heavy technological direction?
EW: “I’m in the field of tech comm because I’m curious about the way things work. I’m a very hands-on learner and am not afraid to dive into source code, make database queries, and learn how to do anything a hardware or software engineer needs to do to understand and use a product. I was the senior technical communication specialist for Hoover Software, a Dun and Bradstreet company, and was invited to consult on products about business intelligence. It was then that I got more heavily involved with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) than I had at other high tech companies. APIs are so dynamic—they are a super form of content reuse, and a very efficient way to deliver both data and functionality. Even though an API doesn’t have an interface, it’s considered a software developer’s interface. Since APIs don’t have the common consumer user interface most people are used to working with, there’s a huge need for documentation to explain how to use it. So many companies are looking for content strategists who can explain APIs, because they drive so much business. For example, at Dun and Bradstreet, their API was their most lucrative product and service known as DaaS (Data as a Service). So much so, that for companies that don’t have an API, other companies won’t do business with them. In general, content strategists need to understand the functionality of how content is consumed by mobile applications and around the web– APIs are one major way that is happening. APIs are not just a ‘backend’ piece. If you want sound data and functionality in your applications, you have to design it into your API first and foremost. Now, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) there’s an even more exciting mash up of software APIs and hardware technology.”
There are thousands of APIs created and maintained around the world. Learn more at http://www.programmableweb.com/.
AL: Give me an example of a project where you were successful in using both your content strategy skill set and your content engineering skill set?
EW: “I worked on one project where we had a product that was called by seven different names depending on which department of the company you were talking with. But the customer doesn’t know that. So I had to explain ‘Here’s what it is in the code, but here’s what we call it in the database, and here’s how we explain it to the customer’. We managed to consolidate seven names into one by really explaining it from the perspective of the customer.
I don’t even use the phrase ‘content strategy’, because the people I’m working with may not understand the implications for the context. I say, ‘Okay let’s talk about the industry terminology and internal terminology.’ or focus on the exercise to implement the content strategy as a guide. We’ve even set up audience-focused glossaries to help in situations like that one.
I think as content strategists, sometimes we need to use different terms to describe the outcomes of what we do to better relate to the people we’re working with. If we don’t, we need to educate our audience and that steps right into UX. It’s not about the importance of the content strategy, rather it’s about demonstrating that setting up a clearly defined process is something amazing that brings value to the company that everyone needs.”
Want to see an example of the difference between an API for communication between companies and the standard website that’s used to communicate with customers? Check out:
As Emmelyn explained: “When you ship something, you can use the API to determine how much shipping will cost and that’s driven by the API on the uShip. There’s always a work flow and a use case. Keep top of mind ‘what does this partner need—what do your users want to do?’ It’s the same conversation we have with the mobile team and the product teams—again, it’s about building the best ways to move content to the right people at the right time so they can accomplish their goal.”
Are you a content strategist who is moving more into the role of content engineer? Let me know and we may interview you next for Confessions of a Content Strategist.
Emmelyn has worked in Silicon Hills for the past 17 years at companies including IBM and SMSC. She is an alumnae of The University of Texas at Austin. While earning her M.A. with a Major in Technical Communication (TC) from Texas State University, she specialized in international and cross-cultural TC.
She champions content strategy, usability, and localization best practices and teaches TC at the college level. She regularly mentors professionals who are entering the TC field. She served as Director of Programs and Education, then VP, and finally as President of the Austin chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC).
Emmelyn first became a Content Strategist at Dovetail Software. Her responsibilities included spearheading information development efforts for the design, creation and, care of content across the company (technical, marketing, and public relations). She worked as the Technical Communications Specialist for the Austin Ventures start-up, Virtual Bridges. She has also consulted for Hoover’s, a Dun & Bradstreet company as Senior Technical Writer. She most recently served uShip and third party developers, partners, and affiliates as the Community Engagement Manager on the API team.
Her subject matter expertise includes documenting software APIs and providing strategic technical marketing initiatives for increased engagement. She’s familiar with various CRM systems on multiple database platforms. Her niche role is working with an API, user experience design, and support teams to improve the customer experience.
Emmelyn is now leading by serving as Director of Web Content Marketing for Mouser Electronics, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Mouser focuses on technical content, tools, and distribution of electronic components to design engineers. She provides strategic direction to the new product introduction team, translations team, and content creation teams in the US and abroad.