Re: New writer needing advice

Subject: Re: New writer needing advice
From: Sandy Harris <sandy -at- storm -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2000 12:58:19 -0400

Lori Lake wrote:
>
> Hello All,
>
> I would really, really appreciate any advice with this situation.
>
> Situation
> I am woking for a small software development company who has decided that
> the documentation department is too costly, so they've let 4 out 6 people go
> and the 5th person has quit two weeks ago--that leaves me. This is my first
> job as tech writer and I've only been with this company for a few months.

If I were you, I'd make sure my resume was up to date and would tell a few
friends I'd like to hear of any interesting jobs going by. Those are cover
your butt actions. I wouldn't be actively looking to bail yet -- Andrew is
right, this is an opportunty and a challenge -- but I'd be trying to make
sure the parachute was ready to go if needed.

>
> Problem
> I am not being included in the weekly Manager's meetings,

Why should you be? You're not a manager. Developers' meetings, yes. Get
notice of what's decided at manager meetings, yes. Waste time at them,
no! If they need someone to take minutes and fetch coffee, they can use
a receptionist or secretary type. If not, you have no role there. Either
way, you don't need to be there.

(A senior writer or documentation manager who can tell the development
manager he needs to change his interface or his schedule, and be listened
to, might have a role, but you don't.)

> I don't have access to the latest build of the software,

That sucks. Talk to your manager.

> the next release is only two
> months away, I'm not sure when, if at all, another writer will be joining
> the department, and there has been some major changes to the interface.
> Oh yeah, the biggest problem I'm facing--I'm a newbie!
>
> Question
> Where do I start? What is the best way to determine whether or not I'll meet
> the deadline (there are two 1,000 page manuals--printed, pdf, and online)?
> Without having access to the interface, should I document what's in the
> external designs and verify later?

I'd be sending email to my manager, so that I had a record. On one project,
I sent two messages in rapid succession with titles "time" and "money".

Among the things I'd say in your shoes:
------------------------------
I can write the docs, but:

I'm a junior person (reference to salary & time with company). I cannot
yet judge scheduling accurately. Nor can I take responsibility for triage,
deciding what to neglect when not everything can be done in time. Those
estimates and decisions have to be your problem.

My guess is there is far too much work here for me to do in the
available time. It appears we may be headed for a disaster with a
product that is not adequately documented by the release date.
Again that has to be your problem. I can see it coming, but I
have neither the experience nor the authority to deal with it.

I might even be wrong about its existence. If so, then I need a lot
of guidance in getting the job done in the time frame. I currently
don't see how it is possible.

If I'm right, that raises several other questions.

traige and priorities: what gets dropped? Who needs to be
informed? Development? Marketing?

additional staff (reference to people we need to replace)
Are we getting any? Who? When? What parts of the work can
I leave for them?

Me. If I'm doing the work that was formerly a team of six,
most of them senior to me, how large a raise can I expect
and when? If the schedule goes to hell, how am I compensated
for overtime?

Then there is the most serious problem. I cannot do the work at all
without access to the latest product version ...
-------------------------------
If such email causes an explosion in the manager's office, then it
is time to start actively looking for work elsewhere.




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