RE: Contractors: Local jobs, out of town recruiters?

Subject: RE: Contractors: Local jobs, out of town recruiters?
From: mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
To: techwr -at- genek -dot- com, mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com, richard -dot- combs -at- Polycom -dot- com, techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2006 11:17:37 -0500

Gene Kim-Eng [mailto:techwr -at- genek -dot- com] had bad things to
say about any company - and any "writer" who'd debase
himself so thoroughly as to work for them - that would
schedule customer documentation for when the product
was mostly developed and getting ready for testing:

> This sort of arrangement means the writers have no input
> into the product development, and just document whatever
> comes out of engineering. Might be a good arrangement
> for a writer who's a "glorified secretary" with no technical
> knowledge, but if the writers actually know something
> about the product and what it's supposed to do it robs the
> development process of a potential resource for identifying
> areas that need improvement. When documentation happens
> all through the development process, it can add visibility to
> things that don't work long before anyone in QA ever sees
> the product.

When I read that, I hear Gene relegating all remote writers
to the status of glorified secretary (along with me,
of course).

Reading this list, I had the impression that lots of people
took contracts for some number of weeks or months, often
at some distance from their homes, and that those people
were dropped in very late in the product process and
expected to get up to speed on something that they'd
only just met, then write instructions and explanations
to the end user... whom they'd likely never meet.

There are far fewer secretaries in the world than
there once were, and most of those remaining tend
to be very smart people working for senior execs
(who tend to be a demanding crowd),
and still I don't think that most of them would be
up to the task I just described.

Others of us live in-house at our employers and handle
customer documentation for several product lines.
While juggling interleaved schedules - that often overlap
when they slip - we have little time to attend all the
engineering bull sessions, or to go off-site when the
product features-to-be are being negotiated with Big
Customer... along with a punishing schedule to be enforced
by penalty/bonus clauses.

Instead, we spend our time more judiciously, by getting
involved with the product as it becomes relatively solid.

By the way, I hope you weren't basing your denigration
on the assumption of pretty GUI interfaces - where of
course I agree that writers should be involved very
early. Our product line is used by technical people
in server rooms, far from the madding user-crowd, and
has been exclusively command-line. As we are now
part of a much larger company that has many dozens of
other products, we may soon take on a standardized
interface (GUI, webbish... not decided yet), but one
which will have been developed and mandated elsewhere
for products that are related only by industry. If/when
our developers go GUI, they'll be bending the operation
of our various products to play nicely with an
interface that's not owned by our little division.

Anyway, my impression from reading this list is that
techwriters in the computer/communications-related
industry work in a range of environments.
Some are part of the design team, and good for them.
Some are brought in - or choose to dive in - when
the product has largely solidified.
Some (whether contracted or captive) don't really
get involved until the product is nearly ready
for market and is probably just going into QA for
formal test.

I think that most of us are in the middle category.
Correct me if I'm wrong.

I think that only SOME products and industries are
conducive to having the writer take part in the
design stages, and I'd be surprised if the majority
of us - regardless of how smart we are and how
well we are steeped in our industry - would be a
whole lot of use in the technical design of a technical

I think that anybody who _is_ so fortunate as to
be in an industry and a company where the writer
gets to help drive design should consider themselves
a rarity, and maybe consider how much of that
condition derived from luck, and perhaps not from
their inherent superiority as writer-gods.

Has there been a Techwr-l survey that explored how
many of us routinely help design our employer's products?
Did it differentiate between hardware-ish and purely
software products?


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