RE: Where do we belong??

Subject: RE: Where do we belong??
From: Marguerite Krupp <mkrupp -at- cisco -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2001 09:14:06 -0400

There's recently been a discussion of the same subject on the FrameUser's
list. Those who've seen my reply there might want to delete this now.

In 34 years in the computer industry, I've seen tech writing groups in four
generic organizations:

* Engineering/R&D
* Marketing
* Support (along with Training, QA, Field Service, etc.)
* Independent

Each has its plus side and minus side. If you stick around long enough, you
can see several cycles.

Of the lot, I prefer being connected to Engineering. You have the best
pipeline to information there, and as a former systems programmer, I have no
problem with "hard-nosed engineers." As my father (an instrumentation and
calibration engineer for NASA) used to say, we need people who can
understand the technology and explain it to the rest of the world." So
that's my bias. As always, YMMV, depending on the bias of the organization
for/in which you work. The downside is that tech writing often doesn't get
allocated as much money as the engineering groups, but you can often get
what you want by "engineering" the situation. Good engineers really value
good communication.

Marketing groups often have a different slant on the products - more user
focused. If you're in a marketing organization, the emphasis may be on sales
support collateral, somewhat to the detriment of the more technical stuff.
The idea here is to save money and "leverage resources" by giving the same
access to the people who write the "hard core" manuals and who do the
marketing stuff. After all, they're all writers, right? Seldom works that
way, though. In a marketing group, the rewards typically center on what's
perceived to be the core "mission" of the group - that is, marketing
materials. So you may find yourself doing marketing stuff just to survive.
OTOH, though few writers seem to like doing both, there IS that opportunity.
And typically, marketing groups have more money for toys. My take on that is
that the further you are from the company's real work (manufacturing
products or providing services), the more you need the symbols and toys to
maintain your group's identity with the company (or, you can read that as
"to show that you're important").

Being in a support group can be the pits! The upside is that you can get a
wonderful feel for the customer's real problems because you're lumped with
the groups charged with either heading them off or answering/fixing
questions as they come in. The downside is that there's never any money,
little respect, and you're off in a corner. It would help if the Training
people would teach customers to use the documentation you provide, but NO,
they write their own materials (which is valid) and often tell customers to
disregard the manuals because they're never right anyway. (True story!) Net
result is stress and tension, plus unsatisfied customers. It would be very
nice, not to mention cost-effective, if training and doc people could work
together to do even primitive single-sourcing, but so far, at least, that's
not widely practiced. And Marketing and Engineering will ignore you.

And now, for the "independent" doc group option. NOBODY is your friend, but
that lets you build a little empire with little interference... at least
until someone needs a few more bodies under him/her to justify a loftier
position. Then the empire gets subsumed into another organization. Still,
it's fun to watch, and a strong leader can get you the resources you need.
You can often do some really innovative work in the way you create
publications in this kind of organization just because of the critical mass
that can accumulate. But it doesn't usually stay that way. The downside,
other than the above, is that your group becomes regarded as an easily
outsourced appendage when things get tough. And Marketing, Engineering, AND
Support ignore you.

OK, that's my $0.02.



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