Torment the Techie

Subject: Torment the Techie
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 18:22:03 -0700 (PDT)

"Sandy Harris" <sandy -at- storm -dot- ca>

> This turned up on another list.
> Eric Raymond on how to ask questions of hackers.

This is an outstanding link. I read this a while back and printed it out
and gave it to my writers.

I think the part I most like is:

"What we [techies] are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to
be unwilling to think or do their own homework before asking questions.
People like that are time sinks -- they take without giving back, they
waste time we could have spent on another question more interesting and
another person more worthy of an answer. We call people like this "losers"
(and for historical reasons we sometimes spell it "lusers")."

"We [techies] realize that there are many people who just want to use the
software we write, and have no interest in learning technical details. For
most people, a computer is merely a tool, a means to an end; they have
more important things to do and lives to live. We acknowledge that, and
don't expect everyone to take an interest in the technical matters that
fascinate us. Nevertheless, our style of answering questions is tuned for
people who do take such an interest and are willing to be active
particupants (sic) in problem-solving. That's not going to change. Nor
should it; if it did, we would become less effective at the things we do

As biting and incisive as this is, a lot of techies (and even myself)
think like this. We have extremely limited patience for people unwilling
to use their brains and do their job...who then expect us to be their
personal mentors. Its frustrating.

<enter typical Andrew rant>

Why so harsh on the non-techies? I always understood my role as a tech
writer to take engineering gibberish and distill and organize it so normal
folk could understand it. That process inherently demands me to be well
versed in working and communicating intelligently with the techies. Which
means I need to know (to some extent) what they know.

Therefore, as a responsible and active member of a team, I owe it to my
co-workers to respect their time, experience, and knowledge. When I
approach them for help, I have done everything I could to be engaged and
prepared. Ideally, I already have a solution, I merely asking them to
refute or deny it.

But if your listened to the rhetoric of some tech writers (and
organizations), they seem committed to erecting bigger and bigger walls
between themselves and "those in the know." They mire themselves tools
and procedures, all the while ignoring (or de-emphasizing) their duty to
their readers to be an effective conduit of information between techies
and non-techies. The substance of their work (content, technical accuracy)
is secondary to controlling and manipulating that substance.

Sure, good tools and efficient business processes have value. No question
there. But there is core-competency that all writers must possess: the
ability to describe and document technical issues. Without that skill, I
dare say you couldn't call yourself a technical writer.

The link Sandy posted is an excellent primer for all writers on how to
deal with SMEs. While it is specific to hacking and programming - I think
it applies in most technical or scientific areas.

Andrew Plato

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