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

Subject: Re: Satisfaction (was ... Re: The value of technical writers)
From: Gil Yaker <gyaker -at- CSC -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 1998 10:17:15 -0500

Gotta put in my 2 quid on this one...

Over Thanksgiving dinner I was having a discussion with my uncle about all
sorts of values and artistic worth. So he directed a question towards me:
Would you hire yourself for a job? Although I'm usually a very reserved
person, immediately I shot back an enthusiastic 'hell yeah!' I don't think
we should ever let any single person dictate our worth no matter what the
arena is.

To be fair, I agreed more with the responses that tell things from the
engineer's perspective, but after some thought I changed my mind. I see the
whole issue like this: The more customer-oriented your software is, the
more important a technical writer, separated from the engineers is. For
without you, their product is useless. Can you imagine giving a computer
novice MS Word with docs composed by the developers? Usually, I'm a pretty
fanatical MS hater, but I must admit that their tech writers are usually on
the ball. I'll mostly criticize the program, apart from the docs.

But the more abstract your work gets, and the more technical your audience
is, the value of technical writing artistry diminishes. At this point, the
engineers really just need technical editors and secretaries to clean up
their docs. And most of the time their writing is incomprehensible and
really would need a tech writer to spend a few days on, but the audience
can usually ascertain the information they need. So our time could be
better spent.

Example: at a previous job, I had two managers: the manager of the
technical staff and the user relations manager . One was always
enthusiastic about my work, kept my manuals on her desk and referred to
them constantly, and generally held me in high regard. The other always
joked about how my work was only a formality, that no one ever used it, and
always pushed me to start coding. Can you guess who was whom? :)

Any manager with the least bit of competence knows the value of a good
writer, be it in creating good product documentation or facilitating the
internal transfer of knowledge.

Gil Yaker
gyaker -at- csc -dot- com
Computer Sciences Corporation
Federal Black Lung Project

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