Re: Thoughts on working WITH developers...

Subject: Re: Thoughts on working WITH developers...
From: Eric Ray <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1999 14:35:50 -0700

At 12:59 PM 3/25/99 -0800, Rowena Hart wrote:
>I hope I'm not stating the obvious, but it is our
>job to get information out of SMEs. If I can't get

Is it? Or is our job to provide useful information to our
audience? I think that's a significant distinction.
In my world view, it's not me against SMEs to get's us together to help our users.
And you know...I've met darn few SMEs who didn't
agree with that, and those who did quickly changed
their tune (usually through diplomacy, persuasion, and logic,
on occasion--one--with assistance from their bosses).

At the risk of sounding like an HR cheerleader,
if you're working for a company (as a temp,
contractor, or regular employee), you'd better be
on the same team as everyone else and going in
the same direction.

>One or two bad experiences with an SME who
>refuses to "work with" technical writers is usually
>what gives tech writers that defensive, edgy
>attitude that is mocked so brilliantly in Dilbert

Well, I've been yelled at, cursed at, and told to
"get the hell out of my office and don't come
back" when trying to get information from a
particular developer, so I think I'm familiar with
the concept here.

A defensive, edgy attitude is likely part of a
cause and effect sequence though...every
tech writer bearing a defensive, edgy attitude
makes my job harder at first, then makes me
at my worst look like a pretty good alternative
to the defensive, edgy ones. I'd venture to guess
that most of the developers who are hard or
impossible for tech writers to work with were
well trained in those ways _BY_ tech writers.

>I don't know about you, but good interviewing skills
>are a job requirement that have been written into my
>job description. How many SMEs have the reciprocal
>"good communication skills" actually written into their
>job descriptions? The need for good communication
>skills may be implied, of course, but is it demanded?

"I demand good communication skills" sounds like some
of my favorite education faculty members...if you have
to say you're in charge, then you're not.

>Good interviewing skills include the "working with"
>skills that Eric and several others described in
>earlier posts. However, I still believe that in order
>to have a well-rounded interviewing toolkit, we have
>to acknowledge (and expect) to use interviewing
>techniques that are, at times, confrontational, tricky,
>coercive, and deceptive. I don't advocate using
>these interviewing techniques in your first salvo, of
>course, but if push comes to shove and you need
>to get your job done ... it may be time to change your
>interviewing approach.

Hmmm...that's possibly true, but using working
with techniques, I've rarely had to be confrontational,
and never deceptive or tricky.


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_

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