Techie or Writer?

Subject: Techie or Writer?
From: "NIVA Inc." <niva -at- MAGI -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 1996 12:58:27 -0500

On Saturday, February 17, 1996 3:00 AM, Guilden wrote:

>>Hence, what's the scoop? Are you engineers-turned-writers or
>>writers with a technical bent/experience/talent-for-learning-a-new
>>-piece-of-software-on-a-familiar-platform-in-no-time-at-all (has to
>>be a word for this somewhere :)?

and Kent replied:

>Interesting question, Guilden.

>I am a writer with no formal technical training. I do have a talent for
>researching a product (through reading specs, testing the product, and
>interviewing SMEs), synthesizing the relevant information, and
>communicating that information in a simple, straight-forward way for
>non-technical readers (like myself). For many products and users, this
>approach would be inadequate: they require detailed technical knowledge.
>You would not want me to write the repair manuals for Boeing 747 jet
>engine, for example. But I could probably write the manual for a Boeing
>747 flight simulator software package.

This, to me, is one of the most important aspects of my day-to-day job:
defeating the notion that I have to be a subject matter expert (SME) in
order to adequately document any given application/process/thingy. Our
company is one of the few in Canada dedicated to documentation (not system
development, not computer consulting, not word processing); we have been at
this for about 18 years and have, I think, effectively demonstrated that we
do not need to hold the SMEness to be effective. We document financial
systems with no accountants; we document 4th generation programming
languages with no 4GL programmers; we document system development
methodologies with no system developers. That's not to say that we have
absolutely no exposure to these disciplines, but we are by no means experts.

That's where our clients come in. We rely on them to be the experts, to
provide us with the information. They rely on us to properly and
effectively communicate the information. Kent said that "you would not want
me to write the repair manuals for Boeing 747 jet engines...". Well, Kent,
assuming your a good writer ;-), I would much rather have you write it than
the designer who built it. Presumably, that designer is good at engine
design, but does it follow that he/she can effectively communicate that
design to those responsible to maintain it? The SME might make assumptions
that you or I would not, and therefore not fully document the procedures.

I come across this all the time when hiring writers for our firm (a process
I am in the middle of at the moment). I get scads of resumes indicating
that the individual has been an engineer for x number of years, so therefore
can easily assume the role of technical documentation specialist.
*beeeeep*, wrong answer. I do not want to hire an engineer who thinks
he/she can write, I want to hire a writer (with demonstrated talent and
desire in the field of *writing*) with a bent for technical issues, with an
interest in computers and procedures and the like.

Not to put too fine a point on it, our job is communicating for those who
can't. Our goal is to make the complicated simple (not simplistic, mind
you, because the material most often isn't), to ensure that all the
appropriate information is communicated in the proper fashion, to the
correct audience, at the right time. It is not to design, or invent, or
account, or program. If you want to be a journeyman, then be a
programmer/engineer/writer/graphic designer/page layout person. If you want
to be considered an expert, hone that expertise in the area in which you
shine; become the best at your best skill, and leave the "good enough" to
someone else.

Boy, what a preachy guy, huh?

John Collins
Group Manager

___ _ _ _ __
| \ | | | | | | / \ *******************************************
| |\ \| | | | | |/ /\ \ * CANADA'S PREMIER DOCUMENTATION FIRM *
|_| \___| |_| |___/ \_\ *******************************************
-------------NIVA Inc.-- ** niva -at- magi -dot- com ** (613) 737-6000 **
**** ****

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