Re: Integrating Tech Pubs more closely with Engineering

Subject: Re: Integrating Tech Pubs more closely with Engineering
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 5 Mar 2002 22:29:12 -0800 (PST)

"Smith, Martin" <> wrote....
> I've got some issues that I've been wrestling with for some time now as the
> manager of a small technical writing department. I am interested in how my
> fellow list members might handle the following situation.
> Let me start off by mentioning that I have experience with the following
> programming languages: Visual Basic, FrameScript, WinBatch, SQL, and C (as
> well as an obscure pulse programming language used to control nuclear
> magnetic resonance spectrometers). I also work as a consultant and have
> developed and sold custom-engineered software applications. In a previous
> job I was involved in application development which made it much easier for
> me to write the documentation.

You rawk!

> In my current position, I am not involved in application development. Nor am
> I involved in technical support. This is not due to my willingness to be
> involved in these areas. I have been pushing to go on field service trips
> and to become involved in application development for the past couple of
> years. The response to these overtures has always been a firm, no thank you.

Its too bad they won't let you get more involved. That is lame of them. Throw
lizards and small pickles at them.

> I am very much of the opinion that technical writers should have as much
> exposure to application development and technical support as possible. I
> know firsthand how much this kind of exposure can improve the documentation.
> Nonetheless I am suffering from what I've dubbed the "you're not one of us"
> syndrome. The number of C courses that I've taken and the fact that I've
> actually sold applications that I've written doesn't matter. People come
> down with "you're not one of us syndrome," it seems, based on their position
> in the organizational chart.

Yes, they very dumb. Throw pickled lizards at them.

> So my question is, what would you do? What makes a real engineer or a real
> programmer seems as dubious to me as the what makes a real technical writer
> question that we've debated to death. Does anyone have any suggestions for
> breaking down departmental barriers that inhibit the level of cooperation
> essential to produce solid technical documentation.

When in Rome, eat pasta. When in SME land, eat doritos and Mountain Dew.

Its very cool that you acknowledge this as an issue. It is THE key issue for
most tech pubs departments.

You need to start building professional relationships with these people. And
there really is a trick to this. You clearly have the technical prowess to
understand these technologies, now you need to start putting that prowess to
work...but in manipulative ways. (The good kind of manipulation.)

Engineers LOVE to babble. All you have to do is get them going and they will
purr along at a nice steady pace telling you more than you ever want to know.
Just nod your head and say "Yeah, Microsoft sucks!" or "I was totally fragging
this dude in Quake!" and they will love you. You have to learn their weird
little lingo. Each company has a different lingo. I guess after years of doing
this I've gotten really good at picking up "engineerisms."

You also need to find ways to get involved in their work. Offer to do some crap
work for them like organizing a specification or setting up some project plan.
Its crap work, but it gets you inside their infrastructure. It also lets you
get to know the key players. Serve them, so one day they will serve you!

Next, ask questions - wide open ones that give the engineer room to babble.
Like "this is really cool (insert feature here) how did you do that?" Even if
you know how they did it - just let them babble. Another good one is "Explain
this too me, I want to make sure I get this right in the docs, because its a
cool new - whatever."

Once you have some kind of a rapport going with the engineers, start showing up
and asking questions that you already know the answer to. This is key. Because
when they are wrong, you can say "gee, I always thought it was...(insert
correct answer)" and you will look like a genius. You got to start seeing them
as merely a resource that validates what you already know.

Another trick - parrot their words. Engineers LOVE to hear you explain back to
them what they just said. It makes them all warm and creamy inside. "So what
you're saying is...." Watch the smiles form.

The obvious tricks apply as well, take people to lunch, offer to help them if
they need anything, and as always - work on solutions.

Got to remember that most people are complainers. Its natural. Its more fun and
emotionally satisfying to complain about something than to stand up and make a
difference. Its also more satisfying to whine that your needs aren't being
properly considered rather than calmly and logically sit down an analyze a
situation and determine a solution.

Thus, you have to force yourself to take the high-road. Avoid getting trapped
into other people's blame and complain loops. Be "solution focused" and
"service oriented." Serve people and your company with excellent documentation
that clearly demonstrates your firm, logical grip on the facts surrounding your
company's products.

This will consistently and reliably earn you the respect you need to penetrate
department boundaries and form better teams within your company.

Good luck...that'll be $235.00. :-)

Andrew Plato

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