RE: An observation about the writer-engineer relationship

Subject: RE: An observation about the writer-engineer relationship
From: SIANNON -at- VISUS -dot- JNJ -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 18:50:26

OK, I'm trying tominimize the quotes, but they help continuity, so please
bear with my decorative insets while I attempt decorous insights (yes, I've
been working on my current document too long, and the caffeine drip is
running into Dali-drive).

Dick asked:
# So the question I want to throw open for discussion is this:
# What is the relationship between these two very different
# ways of being in the world and what does it teach us about
# the way writers should approach engineers qua SMEs in order
# to have a successful working partnership?

Just to throw a philosophical beat in to begin with, I'd suggest that every
unity is defined by a duality (every coin has two sides), so to achieve
depth in the communication of a concept (which is what writing does,
especially tech writing), the interplay of the two perspectives is
necessary for "depth perception". The relationship is a symbiotic expansion
of our perceptions beyond the capabilities of our original equipment. If an
engineer looks at the bark of a tree, he can describe to me things I cannot
see from my perch within the branches of selfsame tree. I, on the other
hand, can see the bird in the branch over his head in time to warn him to
step two paces to the left.

and Rowena replied:
$ One of the things that really amazes me about
$ programming is the complexity of the interactions
$ between elements in the system. One of the effects of
$ thinking at that level of detail is that you immediately
$ think of 142 different things that could have caused a
$ problem. Writers, on the other hand, aren't exposed to the
$ intricacies of the relationships between elements, and
$ how the system is handling the data. We deal with a
$ very limited set of possibilities.

...sorry about that. You'd probably have to see the convoluted system I'm
working on right now to understand why I laughed like that, but basically I
have to disagree with that thought as an absolute. It is correct in many
instances, don't get me wrong, but as a lone tech writer for a team working
on multiple high-pressure Frankenprojects, I've found I'm often the one
tracking those 142 different little things, and their inter-relationships,
and bringing them to the attention of the developers. Just the other day I
had to explain to one programmer how a change to a database schema required
and implemented for another programmer's app. affected his own app.'s
interpretation of a specific dataset needed for one of his screens' display

Dick pontificated:
> The engineers here are a great bunch of people.
> They are available resources and real team players.
> So this is not about arrogance. They aren't shirking
> some menial task so one of us lesser beings can handle
> it. No, that isn't it at all. They are genuinely
> oblivious to the details of how stuff works.

The color printer in the middle of the IM department (the only common
printer for the department) was out of order for about 2 months before it
was fixed. The only one who knew how to change out the toner modules was
the secretary.

Bruce responded:
* I suggest that it illustrates the difference between
* specialists and generalists. To become an engineer or
* developer, you have to focus your studies and interests
* fairly narrowly. By contrast, writers, especially if
* they have Arts degrees, are encouraged to be generalists
* in their education, and, if they want to thrive, in their
* jobs as well. Writers can't afford a narrow view - they
* have to understand both experts and non-experts. But
* engineers and developers don't have that necessity.

Agreed and seconded! (I can't convey that point better, so I'm just going
to hush now.)

Shauna Iannone
"You're out of your tree." -- Joon
"It's not my tree." -- Sam

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