Re: TW on the development team (long)

Subject: Re: TW on the development team (long)
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 3 Jan 1996 11:05:52 -0800

Gary Merrill responds to my post thusly:

Re: having a place on the development team:
>Not necessarily. I know many technical writers who prefer to work
>in as much isolation from developers as possible. Most frequently this
>is a result of the inability of the writer to grasp technical details in a
>timely fashion.

Funny, Gary... I've been in the profession for almost 13 years now,
and I've never met a writer or worked with a writer who preferred
being isolated from the development team. Where did you meet these
people??? I do not prefer to be isolated from the development team,
but I do prefer to be managed by someone who better understands the
documentation process.

>> But...
>> When we join the development team, we sign away our rights.
>> As a part of the development team, we're resigned to be players,
>> never leaders. While it's possible that a writer could effectively

>Well, to a significant degree this is the nature of a *team*. You don't
>sign away your rights. You simply acknowledge that others have similar
>rights as well. And they, in turn, acknowledge your rights.

You're right, there, Gary. In a perfect world, all team members would
be respected and given equal weight in the decision-making process.
They would all be respected for their skills and the experience and
point-of-view that they contribute to the team.

If this had been the case, I would have been much more comfortable
with the situation. The "team" that I was a (nominal) part of
was extremely autocratic in nature. The purpose of my post was to
find situations in which this "team" structure worked well. It did
not work well for me. I do not live in a perfect world.

>> lead a software project, especially if the main effort was an
>> improvement to the user interface or if the product targeted

>This, I must say, is simply a conceit. Why do you, as a writer,
>suppose that you have a better feel for the user interface than
>I, as a programmer, do? User interface design is really quite
>complex and, in my experience, requires a great deal of trial
>and error -- as well as listening to the ideas and advice of a
>diverse group of potential users.

Why do you, as a programmer, suppose that you have a better feel
for the user interface than I, as a writer, do? Technical writers
have traditionally been placed in the role of user advocate. It
is up to the writer to point out inconsistencies in the program
and to target trouble spots (if it's hard to explain, it's hard
to use). Many of us (myself included) have experience in software
training, in customer support, in programming, and in other
pertinent areas of the industry. Why, then, cannot we put that
experience to good use?

>I have worked with writers who
>simply had no clue what the appropriate interface should (or
>could) look like because they had such parochial experience.

Funny, I've worked with programmers about whom you could
say the same. ;-)


>> We rescind our rights of ownership to our documents. We place
>> ourselves directly under the control of software developers.

>Not at all -- in a correctly organized team. I have worked on at least
>one such team where the writer was a *major* contribution to the
>development and testing of the product. Of course, she was
>sufficiently competent technically to understand the product.

And this is what I was wondering, whether such "correctly
organized teams" really exist. Rather than belittling me for my
observations about a bad experience, why can't you contribute
positively to the discussion with a description of your "good"

>> There is no one who understands the communication process (such
>> as a doc manager) to come to our defense when the lead programmer
>> demands that we change the wording or delete a cautionary note
>> because we point out a defect or cluge in the software.

>Just poor managment and organization. Nothing more insidious than

Perhaps it was just poor management and organization. But I believe
that it's an indication of a basic flaw in the design of the
team. To put a programmer who has a proprietary interest in the
product in charge without any checks and balances is to foster an
autocratic management style (IMHO).

>> OK, granted, I had a particularly bad experience, working under
>> a lead programmer who had little respect for anyone who didn't
>> aspire to be a programmer themselves.

>Perhaps he also had little respect for someone who claimed to be
>a writer but who committed obvious errors in grammar and usage.
>Although I have worked with several technical writers who were
>superbly competent in their field, I have also worked with a number
>of technical writers who not only have distorted the technical sense
>of the draft I provided them, but mangled the English or the style into
>something obviously inferior to that with which they were provided.
>And I have worked with others who when given a draft about which
>I said *explicitly*, "This is a rough draft. I haven't had time to polish it
>or add the sort of examples and fleshing out it needs," made simple
>copy-editing changes and called it a day. In terms of respect,
>you most often get what you deserve.

Are you referring to me here, Gary? Then, emphatically, no, this was
not the case. My first project for the company won an award in the
Southern California STC tech pubs competition. I was responsible for
introducing beta test cycles and usability testing to the company. I
was very well respected by the other project architects I had worked
with in the company. The programmers did not provide me with "drafts"
that contained all the information I needed. I wrote everything from
a prototype design, access to the program's resource file, and the
various incremental builds that were provided.

Although I had made significant contributions to other projects
within the same company (redesigning a user interface completely to
accommodate a different target audience, contributing to the design
of the user interface for another product), I was totally shut out
of the design process because of my occupation, not because of my
demonstrated abilities or declared interests. Autocratic decisions
were made about the user manual against my recommendations. All in
all, it was a terrible experience.

The purpose of my post was to see whether others would confirm my
bad experiences or counter with good experiences of their own, Gary.
Your contribution is of dubious value.

Sue Gallagher
Expersoft Corporation
San Diego, CA
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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