"That's not my job"

Subject: "That's not my job"
From: Shmuel Ben-Artzi <sba -at- NETMEDIA -dot- NET -dot- IL>
Date: Thu, 25 Jul 1996 23:52:35 +0200


Many more years ago than I would care to remember I was hired as a tech
writer trainee by a California-based manufaturer of high-grade electronic
connectors for aerospace applications. I reported to the head of Technical
Services. As a trainee, everything that I did was closely monitored and
edited. Within three months, I was sent to a three-day AMA tech writing
seminar, "trainee" was eliminated from my title, my work was much more
lightly supervised, and I was accepted as *the* authority in my field.

Then an amazing thing happened. My boss came to me and said: "You will never
progress much further in tech writing with our company without getting more
experience in the engineering section. We'd like you to switch over to one
of the product lines." I agreed to the shift. Overnight, I had gone from
being *the* technical writer to being a *very* junior draftsman, whose every
line on paper was subject to the scrutiny of the product engineer, the asst.
product engineer, and the designer to whom I was assigned. Another had moved
into *my* writing position.

I didn't know at the time that the company had a unique policy of allowing
anyone who could pass the California Professional Engineer's (PE) exam to
become any engineer, even without a BS in engineering. I now had a second
career option set before me, while still retaining the first. I did know,
however, that I was not, at that time, at tech writer. I was an engineering
*trainee*. And I decided to make the most of the position. I became the
shadow of the designer and the product engineer. I bugged them mercilessly
about not only the "hows" but also the "whys and why nots" of the design I
was working on. I learned about the interfaces between engineering and
production, engineering and marketing, engineering and....

Two months later, another amazing thing happened. The company's chief
engineer came to me and said: "We have decided that we need to create a new
product design manual, something that will guide an engineer from initial
new product concept through prototype. I'd like you to write the manual.
You'll still continue with your present duties and take this on as a second
assignment." Well, what was I now? In title, I was still a draftsman
trainee, but I was also doing the work of a senior technical writer.

Needless to say, now I *really* bugged not only the product engineers but
engineering checking, assembly, plating, testing, the jig makers, the mil
spec librarian, marketing, even the vice president of product development.
To me, there was only one way to get this (eventually thirteen chapter)
manual completed, and that was by adopting a very hands-on approach. I got
in the middle of six product engineers, each of whose little fiefdoms had
its own discrete part numbering system and got them to adopt the
revolutionary concept of company-wide part numbering. I learned how to
assemble a connector (an actual new product which I had done some of the
drafting for), plate it, and set up the jig to proto it. I researched and
wrote the qual testing procedure for it and monitored the initial testing. I
helped to write the proposed mil spec for the product as well as some of its
PR hype. The list goes on.

Was any of this really my job? No. Given the press of time caused by my
added duties and a "draftsman trainee", could I have taken a less hands-on
approach to the manual and still have turned in a credible tome? Well, I
couldn't have, but others with different work styles most certainly could
have. And in considerably less time than I took me to do the work. I suspect
that, fortunately for me, the chief engineer knew that I would adopt this
approach and didn't even wince when I told him a month into the assignment
that I wanted double the original time alloted to finish the job.

It all started when I accepted what I might have looked upon as a step down
on the prestige scale. To me, though, it was a matter of perspective. I
simply decided to use my new "position" to best advantage. In the end,
within less than six months time, every department head in the company and a
majority of the line personnel knew me by sight and by name. Each of the
individual fiefdoms accepted me as one of their own, as one who was really
concerned about the individual contribution that they were making to each
new product. The chief engineer (Wow, one of those exalted white badge
types) became my regular lunch-time bridge partner. I only left the company
because the great aerospace crunch led me toward the computer field.

So if you're handed the assignment to be the "minute taker" (but *not* a
transcriber), then step back, get a virtual reality 3D perspective on the
situation, and try to find a way to make it work to your advantage. If you
use your note-taking *status* as a way to become *the focal point*, the one
who tries their darndest to understand everyone else's point of view, will
it make a difference? Will you become a more valuable member of the *team*?
If so, then you and everyone stand to gain big time. If not? Well, there's
always Kinkos.

Shmuel Ben-Artzi
Data Services Manager, Ulpan Akiva
Netanya, Israel
sba -at- netmedia -dot- net -dot- il

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