Re: The Covert Interview--Another approach entirely

Subject: Re: The Covert Interview--Another approach entirely
From: Gwen Gall <ggall -at- CA -dot- ORACLE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 5 Jan 1995 17:50:33 EST

In-Reply-To: CNSEQ1:TECHWR-L -at- VM1 -dot- ucc -dot- okstate -dot- edu's message of 01-05-95 13:57

WARNING: Long, sentimental eulogy ahead. Feel free to delete. I won't be
offended. :-)

Dear Tech-Whirlers:

I have wanted to share the memory of a dear friend and great technical
writer with other technical writers, and this thread has given me the
opportunity (she died of a brain tumour in September):

Gayle Lewis hired me into my first "real" technical writing job. When I asked
her what made her decide to hire me over other equally--perhaps more--qualified
candidates, she replied, "You've written and published fiction. That's useful
experience for this job."

One of the first--and most useful--tips she passed on to me was this: "If they
won't tell you how it works, just make something up. When they go to review,
they'll say, 'no, no, no, that's not how it works', and proceed to correct it,
or tell you how it really works."

The downside of this advice is--they really will think you're 'not terribly
bright'. I heard this said of Gayle among the programming set, but I would just
smile smugly and keep her secret.

Besides, she had the ultimate compliment--user satisfaction. When she was near
her last days, only able to see out of one eye, but still able to understand, I
brought her some printouts of postings to an email list.

It was the GIS-L list, which has many, many subscribers, and is very active.
The subject they discuss is Geographic Information Systems. They were
discussing the merits of one particular GIS--SPANS, from Intera Tydac. Several
postings complained that the older versions had had _terrible_ documentation,
but that the new version out had _terrific_ documentation. It had been Gayle's
last, great project, (she had not written the early docs., of course) and she
had poured her whole soul into it. I keep a copy of one of the manuals here
beside my desk, even though I don't use the software, just for inspiration. I
was happy to be able to show her this ultimate compliment, (the printouts) and
happy that she understood them, even if she could no longer read them.

Her husband had her manuals on display among the flowers and cards and pictures
of her--like an alter--at the wake (her family was Irish-American). After many
consolitory drinks, he confided to me, "Sometimes, I look at those manuals and
curse them. Sometimes, I think she worked too hard--that it was her work that
killed her." (At this point, her brother reminded him that she _had_ grown up
in Love Canal--that might have had something more to do with her early,
untimely death--she was only 43 when she first got sick--but that's another
story.)

So, when I'm all stressed out from trying to wring water from stones, and have
it done by 2:30 Friday, I think of Gayle, which reminds me that I have other
things to live for, and more important things to die for.

Sorry for the long post. I guess I'm over-tired from trying to meet an
excruciating deadline, with software I have yet to see, programmers who are too
busy coding to talk to me, no specs. of any kind to work from....(But they're
good guys, I should point out--they're doing their best to _try_ to find time
for me--lunch works great, and many good syntax diagrams have been produced on
paper placemats, and so on....But I babble now. I'm going home...)

--Gwen (ggall -at- ca -dot- oracle -dot- com)


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