I have written a few manuals for companies in the wafer fab research and development space, e.g. , Silicon Valley companies that actually do something with silicon! These tend to be older industries, with older engineers and conventions. They like their technical manuals delivered in MS Word. I deliver in Word to these folks, but the documentation usually starts getting written in something more modern.
While I love projects that touch real silicon, I have become more interested documentation that crosses my system administration and software roots in the DevOps world.
DITA is still popular
A lot of technical communications departments are using XML. Docbook has largely given way to DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture). DITA is custom made for Tech Pubs and Reuse. Topics, Concepts, Tasks, References & Glossentries are strongly typed and validated snippets of technical information which are assembled as manuals, help systems or other documents as needed via a book map or map. The XML transforms into whatever content type or style is needed. The benefit is highly resuable technical writing.
This method has both benefits and costs. The agility of snippet reuse does not alway translate into agility of writing, or of being in sync with developer flow. It also tends to isolate Tech Pubs from overall development. The trend in development is agile teams using tools like GitHub, and integrating technical writers into agile teams.
DocOps will take over in 2017
The latest expression of this trend was demonstrated by Andrew Etter of Palantir, who gave a talk on Modern Technical Writing at the Society for Technical Communications Silicon Valley Chapter last month and also published a book with the same title.
Etter’s approach anticipated my own: Write Snippets in a lightweight markup language like Markdown, use the same git or GitHub repositories as developers, and transform/convert the documentation into whatever formats are needed. This approach creates the same benefits as formal DITA, without the added expenses, isolation or bottlenecks (of course even markdown can be converted to DITA topics).
The agile development in technical documentation is getting called DocOps, to match the blurring of lines between development and IT in Devops. Check out this article on the DocOps trend.