Technical writing in the development process?

Subject: Technical writing in the development process?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Gene Kim-Eng <techwr -at- genek -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006 11:52:21 -0400

Gene Kim-Eng noted: <<I think that for most of us things are somewhere in between, and that's not necessarily "bad" or "better.">>

It's certainly true that the situation can be... um... dynamic. I've had both very good and very bad experiences over the years. In one case, I had both: a good relationship with the developers that I developed under their former manager, followed by something of a disaster with a subsequent manager who was (how to say this nicely...) an ignorant, passive-aggressive control junky who knew next to nothing about software design.

This is the guy who once came to ask me why the documentation wasn't ready yet, and was annoyed when I reminded him that I'd been trying for several weeks to actually get the software installed, and keeping him informed of this problem with regular status updates. During this time, I'd given him two choices: Either unlock my computer so I can install it myself, or get your (overworked and incompetent) IT* drone to do the install for me. (No, I couldn't kick the developers off their computers and play with their version. Deadline!) I can't document what I can't see, but somehow that didn't seem to make sense to him.

* A colleague who replaced me at that company noted that nowhere else had he so clearly seen the IT acronym mean "in trouble". This is the guy who decided to install a new version of Windows on a colleague's laptop and formatted her hard drive without giving her a chance to backup any of her files, and who felt obliged to reinstall my whole hard drive (taking 2 weeks to do so) because I'd reorganized the shortcuts under the Start menu and thus, crippled my computer. The same guy who, when given a contractor to help him with a network upgrade, had the contractor storm into the manager's office and insist that this guy be fired. Uh huh. <g>

<<What matters is that you and the company are in synch as to what role you want to play and what role they want you to play, and that you receive the clear direction and support from your management that you need to be successful in that role.>>

Indeed, but in some cases (such as the one noted above), you have to keep your eyes open and your wits about you. Some people will simply never admit that something is their fault, and no matter how well you cover your ass, they'll still find a way to blame you for their incompetence. You need to be aware of this possibility and plan accordingly, and it can be excruciatingly difficult to find a sane middle ground.

<<There is no particular reason why you as a tech writer must or must not be involved in the development process to any particular extent, so long as the extent to which you are involved satisfies your job performance and satisfaction needs.>>

Very true, and nicely said. In terms of satisfaction, I promptly fired the abovementioned manager as a client once I went freelance. (And referred him to a competent colleague with a higher tolerance for stupidity so that no bridges would be burned.) There's a lovely quote I encountered (I believe from the Babylon 5 TV show) that applies to this situation: "Ahh, arrogance and stupidity, all in a single package -- how efficient of you."

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Re: Technical writing in the development process: From: John Posada
Re: Technical writing in the development process: From: Gene Kim-Eng

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