Re: Value of TW's...

Subject: Re: Value of TW's...
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- SIMPLYWRITTEN -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 1998 09:53:15 -0500

My observation has been that, unlike programmers and engineers, our
contributions and improvements have been made "in the back room", not
out-front, on stage. A feeble engineer is soon revealed to his colleagues as
a buffoon, because his product is visible and *quantifiable*. Tests reveal
if he's a boob or not. It's much the same with a programmer. His colleagues
can usually detect instantly if he's incompetent. Maybe the boss can't tell,
but the word gets around. By their work products ye shall know them.

The rapid changes in technology, interfaces, and public tastes help winnow
out the halt and the lame too, as the new Turks quickly challenge the old
guard, in their turn making sleeker and cheaper items than ever before. All
of this contributes to making it readily apparent to bosses, coworkers, and
end users which products and producers are good, and which are pretenders.

By contrast, the manuals we typically do today are still ink on paper, and
still look much as they did 20 years ago. To the uninformed, it looks as
though we haven't moved much. We still use the same language, the same look,
and often the same media (despite the rise of online, most of us still work
toward paper). So it shouldn't surprise us that the outer world still thinks
of us as stodgy and unmoving.

What's not apparent to bosses and SMEs is the immense change taking place
behind the curtain. Today we have more research on human communication,
faster and more powerful tools, project management capability, and formal
training. One true professional (not a wayfarer on the road to some other
assignment) can now produce more useable material, more accurately, and in
more media, than a single individual ever could before in the history of
mankind. The contrast with a decade ago is staggering. There are, of course,
still stodgy and unmoving technical communicators who haven't learned
anything new in decades, but thankfully they're being displaced by a more
aggressive and knowledgable breed.

The problem we're having and discussing here is that such upheavals haven't
shown themselves on the surface, where bosses still see ink on paper. If the
bosses aren't willing to acquaint themselves with operations, relying
instead of vague impressions, the technical communicator can't get
credibility no matter how hard she tries. This is one of the universal
problems that come with the job, I suppose. It's partly why I prefer working
in my own company.

Tim Altom
Adobe Certified Expert, Acrobat
Simply Written, Inc.
The FrameMaker support people
Ask about Clustar Method training and consulting

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