Yahoo has no staff tech writers

Subject: Yahoo has no staff tech writers
From: "Chuck Martin" <twriter -at- sonic -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2002 00:12:55 -0700

I was just told this interesting piece of information today, and I think it
quite remarkable if true. I was at this small job fair in downtown San
Francisco this morning (are there any job fairs in this economy that aren't
small?) where Yahoo! had a booth. I asked if they hire tech writers to work
on their extensive help/user assistance system and was told no, they have no
tech writers of staff. The person said that they either hire contractors
when they need some writing done or they just have engineers write content.

I was rendered pretty much speechless.

I was mulling about this afterward, wondering how to sell the advantages of
have a staff technical documentation department, wondering how any of the
arguments I might come up with would carry any weight in an engineering
culture that doesn't even see technical communication as an engineering

Although I've never been impressed by job titles, I've come to think that a
better job title for what I can do, and do do, is "User Experience
Engineer." The job so often is so much more than "just" writing. (And I'm
almost never twiddling fonts and spacing.) I mean, following in the
footsteps of Donald A. Norman, I've learned that *everything* in an
interface--a hardware interface, a software interface, a web interface,
everything that people use--communicates to its users. Whether the correct
information is communicated to the user is certainly the purview of a
technical communicator. It's so much more than "just" writing a Help system,
a User Guide, or an API reference.

The attitude I perceived from this person is that the writing part of
technical communication can easily be done by people brought in at the last
minute to create content, with no history and understanding of the product's
design and no clue as to users' needs. More often than not, the role that
this person plays is that of clean up, writing content to compensate for
programmers or marketing people designing things. Or even writing some of
the content themselves. And then they wonder why people get frustrated with
the information that is there, and end up trying to contact technical
support anyway, costing the company more money.

I worked at a company once that charged for technical support (as well as
for training), something that is becoming more common. Technical support was
seen as a profit center. What I realized about this is that when a company
uses this business model, there is absolutely no incentive whatsoever to
improve the products' usability. Meanwhile, customers and users suffer.

OK, this has gone down a few paths; I guess I had to get this off my chest.
I can't help being passionate about what I do and about wanting to provide
the best experience for users. I firmly believe that a more usable product
will in the long run outsell a flashier marketed product--and I've seen
research that bears this out. This passion of mine has been appreciated--and
used--by some companies I've worked for before, including my last one. I
sure hope I can find another one. Soon.

"[Programmers] cannot successfully be asked to design for users
because...inevitably, they will make judgments based on the
difficulty of coding and not on the user's real needs."
- Alan Cooper
"About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"

Chuck Martin
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

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