RE: Technical Writing Tests

Subject: RE: Technical Writing Tests
From: MList -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2003 10:01:33 -0500


When I was hired here, I was given a grammar test.

The VP of engineering and I talked about this'n'that
for a while -- he'd already seen my resumé -- and we
both understood that the systems I would document
were a rare breed in the world (so almost nobody had
experience) and that I just had a general appreciation
of, and facility for things technical. That is, if hired,
I (or anybody else they could get) would learn both
the general field and the specifics of the company's
offerings in that field -- what we call HSMs (hardware
security modules) today.

Mr. VP-Eng was a good writer (who had been doing the
company's docs up until that time) and had interviewed
a few people, and really, really wanted someone who
would avoid certain grammatical and stylistic faux-pas
that irritated the hell out of him... :-)

He handed me a sheet of examples (sentences and paragraphs)
and then we went through it together. "What would you
change, and why?" Most of my responses agreed with
what he wanted, I caught all the obvious stuff, and
I defended any choices that didn't agree with his.

We shook hands, and I started working a few days later.

It happens that he COULD have given me a sample of the
first product that I documented, but in general, since
I've been here, the working samples become available
only in the final few weeks (or less...). My method of
work is to try to scope out the documentation requirements
and then sit on it. Over the next weeks and sometimes
months, I keep an eye on the project, paying particular
attention to bug reports and their resolutions (or lack of).
Near the end, I start writing and borrowing time on other
people's prototypes, when possible, or sitting with testers
and developers as they run through the setup and operation
of the system. If I'm lucky, I get a box of my very own,
which I keep updated, and with which I refine the first-pass
instructions that I developed earlier. The "box of my own"
thing happens only in the final days, and it's usually an
early prototype that's been freed up by the arrival of some
"production" machines, a week or two before release (those
are grabbed by engineering and testing, or by Marketing
and Biz-development for customer demos).

If I'm really lucky, the marketing-graphics guy gets
a sample and takes the pictures that I need (he has
the only digital camera in our little company).

Near the end, PV (product verification or QA) people are
integrating our new product with customer software and
systems, so I participate as much as possible or get
notes from the testers and dress them up for customer use.
Sometimes the integration stuff is farmed out to our
Customer Support or Customer/Sales Engineering crew,
because they have a few spare cycles and some familiarity
with outside-world stuff.

Then the docs are reviewed and there's a last-minute sprint
to get them altered and signed off, and we all breathe a
sigh of relief for a day or so... and it starts all over.
Of course, there might be several projects on the go,
so I may not get that sigh-of-relief time.

Most of what I do would not be easily tested over a couple
of hours in an interview session.
But, I could *talk* a good game... :-)

Also, while I think of it, most of the questions that
a knowledgeable interviewer would ask would be answered
with "It depends..."

"How do you interact with SMEs?"
Well, that depends on the SME. They are all quite approachable,
but they have different styles and preferences. Only a couple
want to work by appointment. One or two do really well via e-mail.
The rest just work in interrupt mode.
When the supervisor is around, I stop by his/her cube first,
otherwise I just head directly for whomever I need. If there's
a "tie", then I just stand in the corridor humming or juggling,
and the first one to make eye-contact... er... loses... :-)

I try to have a bowl of pistachios or something by my desk,
and if I bring in any baked goodies, I make sure to do the
rounds and not require people to search me out.

Not sure how all that would be reflected on a test...

/kevin


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