Re: More on Validating documentation

Subject: Re: More on Validating documentation
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 09:12:50 -0800 (PST)

--- "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com> wrote:
> So, in your experience, are relationships with developers
> really as non-existent or dysfunctional as some threads on
> TECHWR-L would suggest? Is there really no sense of
> "we're all working together to make this overall product
> as good as we can make it"?

I've worked in four different environments as a Technical Writer. In my
experience, it depends on a number of factors. One place I worked, the writers
were glorified copy editors. Now, there's nothing wrong with copy editors; some
of my best friends..., etc. The problem was they had a long-established staff
that was really no longer meeting the needs of the overall department. Being
the dumb ignorant fool that I am, I took it upon myself to get out of the
cubicle and learn the product and work with both developers and testers to make
the documentation as nearly accurate and useful as possible. I didn't have any
problems with the SMEs, but I had nothing but problems with my coworkers,
especially after I was promoted above them while having the least amount of
seniority in the group. The others didn't want to work the way I did and/or
didn't like me and/or didn't trust me. I moved on.

The next two places, I worked as an integral part of the development team. I
was involved from early in projects, did a lot of testing of the system to
validate the documentation, and they tested my docs as part of their
development effort. As a development team, we worked well together. The problem
I had here was that there was an entrenched documentation organization, and I
was an outside contractor hired in because the development organization didn't
like the results they got in house. You can readily understand that the in
house folks didn't like me even a little bit. After running this gauntlet a
couple of times, I got out of contracting and went to work where I am now.

I was hired in as the first full time writer. They had contractors for limited
work in the past, and these folks were invariably copy editors and formatters.
So my new employers had limited expectations of what I would be doing. So far,
they seem to be happy with me. Happy enough that we've added staff (not enough,
boss!) since I've been here. We're making headway. Our processes are not
mature, but I have always operated on the theory that getting it done and
getting it right were more important than following a process. I think I get
along with all the SMEs here.

But these are are/were different situations with different expectations. So I'm
back to my original answer; Your Mileage May Vary.

> If so, are _you_, as a tech writer, part of the solution,
> or part of the problem, or both? Why?

I've been both. I don't suffer fools very well and probably created some of my
own problems at these other places by not working well with writers (or SMEs) I
didn't think were worth wasting time on. I made my share of enemies, and I've
learned that enemies will find a way to get you if they can. So far, I've been
more diplomatic here, and perhaps I've been better protected by management,
too. I dunno. I do try to learn as I live.

> Is this really as unusual as discussions on TECHWR-L
> make it seem?

I think that on TECHWR-L you have to factor in the signal to noise ratio. I've
worked for bad bosses. I've worked with bad SMEs and bad writers and bad
project managers. And I've worked with good ones.

Probably the hardest people for me to work with are those who already have
their mind made up that they can't trust their people to do a good job. If I
can identify such a person ahead of time, I can avoid working with or for them.
If I can't, as soon as I find myself in an intolerable work situation, I go
somewhere else. I don't think you can ever turn a boss who doesn't trust her
workers into one that will trust his workers. It's not worth my effort.

I doubt that the situation is as bad as it can seem on the list sometimes
because not all of us want to participate in a discussion that will have a high
noise to signal ratio. Frankly, Eric, if YOU hadn't posted on this topic, I
would not have bothered with it. Well, okay there are a few others who if they
had posted I would have read their posts, but there are a number of people in
this list who just aren't worth my time to read. So I miss some actual
worthwhile comments; I can live with that. But if only those with agendas
(employers are slackers...SMEs are jerks...all bosses are idiots: you know who
you are) post, you'll get that kind of noise and form erroneous impressions.

So, you say, I should post more to raise the level of discourse. Nah, I think
I'm pretty well cured of my Don Quixote complex <g>. Besides, I've noticed that
questions are usually thoughtfully answered within the first hour that I see a
post, even on a controversial topic. I can restate things I already agree with,
but why waste the bandwidth?

Well, I've rattled on enough. I think I'll go back to work now.

Tom Murrell
mailto:tmurrell -at- columbus -dot- rr -dot- com
Personal Web Page -
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More on Validating documentation: From: Eric J. Ray

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