Re: Satisfaction (was ... Re: The value of technical writers)

Subject: Re: Satisfaction (was ... Re: The value of technical writers)
From: Lydia Wong <lydiaw -at- FPOINT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998 10:20:39 -0500

I like Eric's idea of pointing out the positive stories in our profession,
rather than dwelling on the negatives, so here's my positive story:

I work at a company that values our opinions, makes us writers part of the
development team as much as possible, and where I learn new things every
day. I feel (for the most part), that our work is taken seriously, and even
appreciated a lot of the time, and we writers are encouraged to develop our
diverse skills and to follow our interests.

FarPoint Technologies is a small software company. We develop controls for
interface designers who create application interfaces in Visual Basic, C++,
and C. I don't know C++ and C, and I had never used VB until I came here
(can't say that I *know* it now, but after 4-1/2 years, I'm getting pretty
cozy with the basics of it).

We writers feel that we are learning new things and challenged by new things
all the time. There's always more to learn about our customers and their
needs, about programming and programming tools, and yes, about our tools
(they do come out with new versions, and there are better ways to use
them--you'd expect a carpenter to learn to use a new saw, so we must learn
our new tools). Then there's developing our writing skills (there IS more to
writing than knowing the little rules about on-line vs. online--for that,
use a style guide). Working on my writing skills (not to mention editing
skills) could be a lifetime's work, considering the many excellent examples
of technical writing I run into all the time. Then there are our products:
we could keep learning about those for years!

Just as in any profession, there will be people who are only adequate at
their job, who don't enjoy the work, and who are just in the wrong place.
But for those of us who feel that at least for now, we've landed in the
right place, it's nice to feel proud of our accomplishments. I know I look
back over the 6+ years I've been a tech writer and feel that I have come so
far, but there is always more to learn. I'm glad I'm in this field, and I
hope that if at some point I feel it isn't right for me, I'll have the
wisdom and the opportunity to move on to something else.

There are great places to work out there--sometimes you have to work to find
them, and sometimes fate brings you to the right one. But the bottom line is
that there has to be a common feeling of teamwork and support for good
documentation (from management, the developers, tech support, QA, . . . ) to
provide a great working environment (IMHO). I'm lucky to work with a team of
great people--we respect each other's work and our many talents. I can't
program, but I can write. I can't test a product thoroughly, but I can truly
appreciate someone with the patience to do that (who also checks the docs
while testing!). I certainly couldn't be as patient as our tech support
staff who answer so many questions a day, but I can be really glad that they
do it (well!), and I don't.

I hope all of you out there get to work in such an environment someday. It's
stimulating and rewarding--oh, and we get paid pretty decently, too.

Thanks for asking for positive stories, Eric, and for sharing yours. I'm
eager to see more. Happy New Year, everyone! : )

Lydia Wong
Technical Writer
FarPoint Technologies, Inc.
-----Original Message-----
From: Eric J. Ray <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Tuesday, December 29, 1998 6:32 PM
Subject: Satisfaction (was ... Re: The value of technical writers)

>At 12:03 PM 12/29/98 PST, Melissa Schauder wrote:
>>Yes it is unbelievable! I experience (nearly always) the same treatment:
>>basically, whether I am developing manuals, creating online documentation,
>>etc., I am considered someone who "doesn't mind doing the boring stuff." I
>>was once told that being a Tech Writer is really just being a Secretary,
>>with less contact with others in the company....
>>My current employee has said that I, as a Tech Writer/Electronic
>>means that I'll never be able to "advance" because writers are simply
>>"production personnel."
>Note: I'm writing this only partially in the context of
>bragging or gloating--it's actually mostly an attempt to let
>some of the students and relative newbie tech writers
>know that it doesn't have to be like this.
>Ahem.. A recent contract project.
>As many of you know, Deborah and I have been kicking
>around from one short project to another for a few months.
>Here's the scoop on a recent (and ongoing) contract I've
>been working on.
>I walked in two weeks before the beta deadline
>with the assignment of developing online help
>(HTML-based) for this new application. Code
>freeze was slated for the same day as my
>deadline--the final code freeze and beta build
>times were the same. As you'd expect, everyone
>was WAY behind, the other two writers on the
>project (doing various hardcopy manuals) were
>busy with those, and the list of show-stopper
>bugs wasn't shrinking. New software builds were
>happening every couple of hours, and the QA
>team kept filing bug reports nonstop.
>I found that every engineer I contacted was happy
>to take all the time I needed to explain the technology,
>application, or their roles in developing it.
>When I needed some help to implant the help
>hooks (context ID equivalents for a
>creative HTML-based help endeavor) so the
>app could bring up the browser, I told the engineers
>what I needed and they did it--often within the
>hour. (After one of the hooks changed a few times,
>one engineer gave me access to her source files
>so I could change it to my heart's content.)
>When I needed access to different builds or special
>access to certain aspects of the software, I was
>immediately given access to people's individual
>workstations to look and learn.
>When I had questions, doors were always--ALWAYS--
>wide open and answers were forthcoming.
>I had a completely free hand in design, organization,
>look and feel, and structure for the help. I had some
>loose standards to reference and style guides to follow,
>but also flexibility in adapting to the particular situation.
>When my plan clearly differed from one of the lead engineer's
>vision, he said "you're the online help guy--just
>tell me what you want, and we'll do it."
>The lead writer on the project pointed out to the
>project team that we had to have a documentation
>code freeze, beyond which point UI and
>functionality changes wouldn't be documented.
>We got the freeze scheduled for--and implemented on--
>the second day after she asked for it.
>(Reminder: This isn't fiction.)
>Made the deadline for beta and still working on the
>project for the 1.0 release.
>No, not all of the projects I've been on have been like
>this, but this isn't terribly uncommon, and it's certainly
>quite possible to walk into a tech writing position and
>have/earn/not screw up a solid working relationship
>with most people. Additionally, after showing that you
>"get it", don't ask the same questions twice, learn from
>your mistakes, and are respectful of other's time and
>efforts, you can generally even improve on a good
>situation. In other words, while some companies or
>organizations are simply dysfunctional, many others allow
>you to control many aspects of your corporate
>Food for thought...if anyone else has wonderful job
>stories, it might be nice to hear some of those for a
>Eric J. Ray RayComm, Inc.
> ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
>*Award-winning author of several popular computer books
>*Syndicated columnist: Rays on Computing
>*Technology Department Editor, _Technical Communication_
>From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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