Re: Do techies really know what other techies need?

Subject: Re: Do techies really know what other techies need?
From: "Walker, Arlen P" <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 21 Mar 1997 12:12:17 -0500

So, does anyone have any clever techniques for dealing with this
argument? BTW--he really does *not* appreciate discussions about
good writing technique.

Do techies know what other techies need? Well, let's couch it a different
way: Do asians always know what other asians need? Do <insert ethnic group
here> always know what other <insert same ethnic group> need?

The answer seems obvious: No. Programmers are no more monlithic than any
other group of human beings; they think differently and have different
approaches to solving problems. While I'll be cheerfully willing to admit
that all other techies who happen to have the same programming style and
thought processes as this programmer will have no trouble understanding
what he wrote, that is far from the global statement he's making.

In my life as a programmer, I've often had to follow another programmer on
a project. Sometimes it's been easy; my predecessor and I shared many
habits of thought and coding so I could quite easily pick up the code and
know what was going on. However many times I've picked up code and
scratched my head for hours, trying to figure out why my predecessor did
some of the things he did. Most of the time there was a good, though
perhaps obscure, reason for it which I eventually found. But not without

And there's the rub. Sure, a programmer with different thought processes
than his will eventually be able to figure out what he's saying. But, if
I'm that programmer and I have a choice between two similar packages, I'll
take the one that's easier for me to use. (Hey, I admit it; I'm lazy. I'm
not going to work at understanding your docs if someone else has something
similar that I *don't* have to work at.) I'm already going to have to work
to *use* the package; I'm not all that inclined to work harder than I have
to *before* using it.

Will that convince him? Probably not. Most programmers with that attitude
are convinced that anyone who doesn't think and code exactly like they do
aren't worthy of being called programmers.

But it's a step out from under for you. Your business folks will understand
that argument quite well, and see that his approach as limiting the
potential market for the product. And *that's* a direction they'll be
nearly unanimous in avoiding!

Your best bet of dealing with the recalcitrant programmer will come along
the lines of "I don't tell you how to code, you don't tell me how to
write." This is only possible if your management doesn't see tech writers
as glorified secretaries (if they do your best course leads toward the

Give him the respect he's due, but politely insist on the respect *you're*
due. He's the best judge about how to talk to the computer; it's what he's
paid for and what he does best. *You're* the best judge about how to talk
to people; that's what you're paid for and what *you* do best. Good
progammers understand about coding standards: Structure, comments, even
layout of the instrauctions on the screen for clarity (BTW, if he's *not*
one of these, then your cause is hopeless; let management drop a rock on
him if necessary to get him out of your hair and theirs). Your mission is
to convey the idea of written documentation standards to him. (You can
along the way point out to him that even though the product may be aimed at
techies, it won't necessarily be techies that are making the decision to
buy it. Nothing turns off a suit faster than obfuscated docs. They tend to
equate those with "complicated product," which in turn is linked with "high
training costs." Which means your job is to convey the information the
T-shirts will need in a manner that doesn't scare the suits. That's perhaps
a point of view he can

A piece of advice: Don't be so quick to assume his reaction to "selling" in
the manual is simply an unjustified reaction to good writing. Techies have
a finely developed sensor for hype and bluster; after all, the entire
computer industry spews it forth by the Imperial Firkin every hour of every
day. Their survival depends upon sensitive hype meters. It's quite possible
you're unconsciously putting something of that into the manual. See if
there's a middle way. If he sees you're not saying "Don't meddle with my
deathless prose," then perhaps he'll back off a little as well.

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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