RE: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- NO

Subject: RE: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- NO
From: "Miller, Alan" <Alan -dot- Miller -at- prometric -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2003 09:19:42 -0500

>From John Posada:

" appear to be a very knowledgeable technical writer. One of the other knowledgeable writers on this list writes about the Casino Gaming industry, including casino backroom operations."

You silver-tongued devil.

"Now, being a very knowledgeable technical writer, could you write to that audience with equal authority? Would your documents be as inclusive? Could you stand toe to toe with one of his developers as you can with your current peers, many of whom I'll assume have advanced degrees?"

Of course not. It takes time and hard work and study to gain credibility and respect in any industry. Which is why changing jobs from one industry to another is so difficult. As tech writers we forget that. Largely, I think, because many of us have only a superficial knowledge and understanding of the technologies we document. Now, back to your original question: some aspects of gaming I could probably discuss (the math behind the technology, for example), but other aspects (the nuances of casino operation and their regulatory requirements) would take a level of experience I can only speculate over. That's not to say I haven't made my obligatory tithes to the industry ;-{) in the casinos in Atlantic City.

"I'm going to guess not (maybe I'm wrong) However, if I'm not wrong, why not? You have the skills to interview SMEs, you know how to write to the audience at their right level. Seems like all the necessary skills, doesn't it? Oh, yeah...I forgot how the casino gaming industry works. Maybe you might also need to know the requirements of the Nevada, NJ, Conn, etc. gaming commissions. Nah, maybe not...aren't they similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?"

Your guess is spot on. I could, with diligent study and hours of SME interviews, gain a certain superficial knowledge of the industry. Enough to be dangerous. With years of immersion and experience in the industry that would change and like anyone else I would eventually achieve the level of mastery our colleague exhibits. But that's what he did, isn't it? That's what I did in my (former) industry and am doing in my present industry (computer-based testing).

"Maybe, maybe not. OTOH, if you spend a couple of weeks with the gaming commission, you'll be up to speed. And at the same time, I'm sure that it is just as easy to gain that knowledge from the NRC in that same period of time. After all, asking questions is the skill that you obviously have."

Most bureacracies and regulating bodies operate on the same model, the technical details as apply to the regulated industry or activity vary. It is in those details that the pudding is made (or the goose is cooked, pick your favorite metaphor or mix up your own). What I would not be able to pick up right off, would be the potential and/or perceived consequences of the technical requirements (usually called technical specifications) on the industry as a whole and certain segments. Also, much information about the politics and policies of the regulations (and the industry as a whole) do NOT appear in the trade publications or at the conferences. Insiders gossip about each other. If you ain't earned their trust and respect, you'll be the last to know... probably when it appears in the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal.

As for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission... I don't want to offend my old shipmates. I will say just one thing: good hands tied with red tape.

As you can see, John, I agree with your arguments. And the debate comes back to: What constitutes an adequate level of technical knowledge for a tech writer? My answer: one can never have too much, but too little is easily acquired and dangerous.

Al Miller
"Chief Documentation Curmudgeon"
Prometric, Inc., a part of The Thomson Corporation
Baltimore, Maryland

Remember, we're all in this together.
--Red Green


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