RE: Original work [was ...]

Subject: RE: Original work [was ...]
From: "Janoff, Steve" <sjanoff -at- illumina -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, 'Gene Kim-Eng' <techwr -at- genek -dot- com>, Mark Baker <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2011 19:28:02 +0000

Hey Gene, these last three posts of yours have gone exactly down the path I wanted to go down -- great stuff. You've hit the nail on the head. Kudos to Mark for his line of questioning that elicited these thoughts.

There's more to explore in this line of questioning, and I had a whole post developed in my head over the weekend, but deadlines prevail. On the other hand, you've nailed the main concepts. But in the spirit of Edmond Weiss's book, let me try to produce an outline of the thinking, as I'm betting this group is capable of filling in the blanks -- likely producing the same content as I would, but also content I never even imagined, which would have resulted in a better post (but which I won't be writing!).

Herewith, then, an outline of the thoughts:

1. The larger question this provokes is, "What is the individual's contribution to the corporation?"

2. Larger than tech writing, but certainly applies to tech writing.

3. The best example I could come up with was Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates for the role "CEO." (Jobs is sadly gone and Gates is ex-CEO.) Both built successful corporations, both had a major impact on society, both moved the world forward, but I believe Jobs had more impact on the social conscious. And I think Jobs was the guy we all wanted to be.

4. How do you measure, evaluate, value, or put any kind of metric on a tech writer's contribution to a corporation? I don't mean so much compared to other roles but compared to other tech writers. There are many variables.

5. Looking at an analogy from sports, you get the old saw, "There is no 'I' in TEAM." I'm no basketball fan, but I followed the general brouhaha when LeBron James was just a kid and everybody was saying he'd be the next phenom. So you have an individual talent who can achieve a full actualization of his abilities, yet must do so within the foundation of a team. So to some extent it's a compromise. If you just let him go and he can hot-dog it any way he likes, I don't know if the team would do better or worse as far as scoring, but the other people would certainly feel conflicted. So he has to suppress some of his ability in order to work within the team and also allow others to succeed. And outside of the team he couldn't realize his potential because there is no format for a solo player.

6. What abilities does a tech writer bring to the tech writing role? What does the company gain by allowing the writer to bring the full range of their skills and abilities into the position, versus what does the company lose by having the writer fit squarely in the role needed and throw away the rest? Using Gene's example, how could a Stephen King flourish within a tech writing setting? (He's not going to write stories, but what skills could he bring to the position?) In Gene's case, as a manager, he might be looking for someone to plug right into his team and take the place of someone who let's say left for whatever reason. This is to conform to the standards of that particular role. To what extent can the rest of that person's abilities be used to help the department and the company move forward?

I'm not "advocating" anything here, just exploring ideas.

About the whole artisan/engineer thing, I went back and read the two relevant topics of Weiss's book on this. First, he actually equates software developers ("computer programmers" in the jargon of 1985) with writers in that they both engage in creative activities.

The term "engineer" was not being used interchangeably with "software developer." He had a specific use.

The bottom line was the process of writing a manual, let's say (as opposed to today's output of topics, help, etc.). The writer-as-artist conceives, writes, and polishes the work in isolation, only showing it after it is "ready," and then tries to maintain the integrity of it even after the edits come in. The artist doesn't want to lose the structural integrity of the work. The writer-as-engineer approach is about PLANNING, where the bulk of work takes place up front, in planning, i.e., crafting the spec, and then again at the back end, in testing the output. So the writer shepherds the spec through the process of development by a team of individuals who are first trying to get at what the user really needs. Then the spec is beaten to death (it might be let's say a Table of Contents, for example), and once it's been "perfected" in that initial stage, then, says Weiss, the first draft of the manual sort of "drops out of" the spec. Then after some tweaking, the manual is tested, and modified based on the outcome of the tests. (So Weiss is suggesting applying software development models to the process of writing a manual.)

It sounds like this writer-as-engineer approach might take a lot of the fun out of being a writer. But I don't think that has to be true. Consider that the above outline of points could yield a better post than what I had originally imagined. That would then be a collaborative effort, but it is superior to sitting alone and composing.

Oh, but getting back to the original point, how do you evaluate the contribution of a Steve Jobs versus the contribution of a Bill Gates? And these are guys at the top that have more freedom to drive their vision. The role of a tech writer is necessarily more confined, being much further down the food chain. Yet there are still ways, I believe, to leverage a writer's abilities to increase their contribution to the department and company, where by increase I don't necessarily mean increase productivity but rather increase "footprint" or impact on the company, whether that means to the bottom line or to intangibles like goodwill.

But again, I'm not being an advocate here; I'm just exploring ideas.


-----Original Message-----
From: On Behalf Of Gene Kim-Eng
Sent: Friday, October 21, 2011 6:58 PM
To: Mark Baker; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Original work [was RE: STC certification program:skepticalcurmudgeonlyness, part II]

I suppose I must be misunderstanding your point, because a single operator employing standardized methodologies and tools is no less a "technician"
than one who is working on only a bit of a project along with others. It's not how many people are doing the work, but how they are doing it. The difference between engineering and artisan is that the artisan employs processes and skills that are non-standard and which may venture into less objective territory. For example, when I write the teardown manual for an engine, my methods and tools are standardized (there are, in fact formal standards that define them) and anyone following the standard with similar skill levels will arrive at pretty much the same result. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, my use the same word processing software that I use, but nobody who uses the same tools and methods he employs is going to produce exactly the same result he does. I am a technician/engineer; Neil Gaiman is an artisan/artist. And if Gaiman and I both took on a partner, or two or three, the difference between how we work and what we produce would be just as glaring. Also, members of any team I put together will be more or less interchangable and the results will still be the same, but if Neil Gaiman abandons his project and Stephen King takes it over, wave goodbye to standardized results.

Gene Kim-Eng

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
> But what has that got to do with working in an artisan fashion vs. in
> an industrial fashion? Most of tech com today is done in artisan fashion.
> Most of the schools teach people to work in artisan fashion. To work
> artisan fashion simply means to do a small project by yourself from
> beginning to end on the desktop. Lots of people are still doing that
> post dotcom. Nothing to do with natural talent vs. being taught as far
> as I can see.
> Is it simply that you are not understanding the term in the way I am
> using it, or do you genuinely think there is a connection here?
> Marl


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