RE: Thank You from new tech writer

Subject: RE: Thank You from new tech writer
From: "Leonard C. Porrello" <Leonard -dot- Porrello -at- SoleraTec -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 6 Mar 2008 11:51:04 -0800

I had no idea that tech docs are being outsourced to India or that such
a thing was practical. I've known and worked with many well educated
Indians, but not one was capable of writing professional quality edited
American (or British) English. For all, English has been a second
language. With all due respect to Tagore, how do they get around the
limitation of not having native speakers of English?

Leonard C. Porrello
SoleraTec LLC

-----Original Message-----
From: McLauchlan, Kevin [mailto:Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com]
Sent: Thursday, March 06, 2008 11:04 AM
To: Leonard C. Porrello; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: RE: Thank You from new tech writer

Leonard C. Porrello must work in a more adversarial environment than I
do (more at bottom) because he said:
> In many organizations, technical writers are paid less than
> developers--even thought the technical writing skill set is not
> off-shoreable and, arguably, in shorter supply than development

My skill set is off-shoreable. It happens that it is more cost-effective
to have me do what I do than to send requirements and information and
equipment and software to a nominally less expensive writer in India...
even though we have a division in India that already employs technical

The writing and related aspects of what I do are already done - for
other products of this company - by writers at the India office, in
close cooperation with managers and developers who work on those
products over there.

One reason that it continues to be cost-effective to keep me working
here is that I live in the pockets of the Engineering test team for my
product lines, and around the corner from the developers, and about 15
feet (4-and-a-bit meters) from the desk of my favorite Project Manager.
I could throw a paper airplane and bounce it off the head of one of the
hardware design guys, without doing more than swiveling my office chair
(don't ask how I know that). I attend the meetings. I get to mess with
the prototypes. I contribute to testing, in my own incidental fashion.

The upshot is that turnaround is vastly quicker and misunderstandings
significantly fewer (and caught far sooner) than the same transactions
with somebody working in the antipodal timezone, and getting all their
information a day late and a dollar short, and largely to be deciphered
from cryptic meeting minutes.

> Every now and then, I even see an advertisement on Craigslist in which
> someone wants to hire a "technical writer" for $13.50 an hour. Can you
> imagine anyone posting a similar add for a developer? Who's to blame
> this? Technical writers themselves. Technical writers often accept
> substandard salaries and fail to recognize their contribution to IT.
> often regard ourselves and lead others to treat us as second class
> citizens.
> I agree with Kevin, and his comments make me wonder ...
> ... are developers _expected_ to send thank you notes or
> acknowledgements to QA?

No, no more than writers are.

> ... are product managers _expected_ to say, "I couldn't have gotten
> done without the help of X, Y, and Z"?

No, no more than writers are.

> ... who else is _expected_ to express thanks to others who are merely
> doing what is part of their job description?

Nobody, any more than writers are.

> Acknowledging others is generally a good idea, and I think we have to
> careful never to give the impression that someone has done us a
> favor--unless they really have done us a favor. If a SME is tasked
> working with me to produce docs, he or she is not doing me a favor by
> working with me to produce docs.
> The problem with giving the impression that X, Y, or Z has done us a
> favor (when they are merely doing their job) is that it implicitly
> reduces technical writers to proverbial unwanted bastard children:
> "Thank you so much for lifting your feet so I can scrub the floor
> beneath you with my tooth brush." And that is by no means what we are.
> Good tech docs are essential for the success of any sophisticated
> technical product. Poor tech docs give a bad impression of a product,
> disappoint users, and fail to mitigate calls to the help desk.
> I don't think Kevin was in any way devaluing technical writing or
> suggesting we become groveling sycophants. I like his suggestion of
> including acknowledgements. And, while being mindful of the fact that
> are just one small part of the big IT picture, we must never
> underestimate the value of that small part or send the impression that
> we are thankful for being tolerated.

The point is that it is "a good thing" (pax Martha...) to acknowledge
people who have been helpful, especially if they've gone out of their
way to do so.

It's not a requirement of anybody. That's one reason why judiciously
applied praise and recognition is valued. It stands out by contrast with
the everyday muddle.

To illustrate the reaction to unwonted praise, here's an anecdote.
I've been getting orthodontic work done for the past couple of years,
and I am a trial and a tribulation to the staff, just because I'm
non-standard and therefore break things a lot more than they probably
budgeted for. But that's just the background. There's one technician who
is more skilled and talented than the rest when it comes to creating
tooth-like things out of photo-set plastic and devising workable
solutions from wire and brackets. She's one of those people who not only
built model cars and boats when she was a kid, but often threw away the
instructions and did it free-style, or who helped her dad when he worked
on the family car or fixed the lawn-mower, disassembled clocks and
occasionally got them reassembled enough to work, etc.
I like and respect all the people who work at that office, but this
particular one is a standout. She's also pleasant to look upon - this is
important to us guys... Yet, a session with her is an ongoing
cringe-fest for me.

Why, you ask?
Well, as in any orthodontic clinic, the majority of patients are young.
Really, really young.
The fabulous technician's chair-side manner is aimed at young children.
I absolutely hate being told what a "good job" I'm doing, just holding
my mouth open. She's articulate and engaging when she's having an
actual conversation, but the "good boy" prattle is (apparently) her
unconscious working patter to fill the gap for people who mostly can't
respond more than "gah, guk, ungh". And it goes on like that for forty
minutes... aaaarghhh!

Empty praise is a bad thing (look what it's done to our youth...).

"Expected" or required praise is almost as much a non sequitur and an
abomination as mandated "charity". The expectation or the requirement
destroys it, leaving a hollow, distasteful shell of the real thing.

Anyway, regarding my comment at the very start of this post, I work in
an office of about 40 people, where every last one is smart, pleasant,
capable, hard-working, and always willing to help. In nearly ten years,
I can't remember getting "No" for an answer (unless "no" was actually
the required answer...). When somebody shines among this crew, it's
because they are truly amazing.

Hmm. Like many (most?) people, I really don't like the fact that I have
to work for a living, but given that I do, I seem to have picked the
right place to do it - work-wise, co-worker-wise, I am blessed. Now, if
we could just get a decent internet pipe to the home office, all would
be bliss. :-)

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Thank You from new tech writer: From: Jim Mezzanotte
RE: Thank You from new tech writer: From: McLauchlan, Kevin
RE: Thank You from new tech writer: From: Leonard C. Porrello
RE: Thank You from new tech writer: From: McLauchlan, Kevin

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