Re: Active Ownership (was getting information)

Subject: Re: Active Ownership (was getting information)
From: Chris Kowalchuk <chris -at- BDK -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 11:33:56 -0400

Andrew Plato is dead on with his advice concerning taking ownership of
the information. This has always been my approach as a matter of course.
I don't even need to think about when to say "Wow, that is really cool,"
because it just pops out naturally. Being genuinely interested in your
subject matter not only makes you competent (because you will learn and
understand it) but it also makes you one of the team. I've almost never
had a problem with an engineer in my life--I like and admire them, and
they like and respect me.

However, outside of the R&D or, let's say "heavy technical" environment,
things seem to work a little differently. Having worked so often on my
own, it came as something of a shock to me to work with a team of
writers (usually I'm a writer for the programmers or the engineers--part
of their team, not a writer among writers--part of the "writing team").
The other writers seemed perfectly happy to bang away at whatever the
SMEs provided them, without even looking at the technology or ever
leaving their desks. When I inquired, I found that they always worked
this way, and made a pretty good living at it to boot. I couldn't even
understand what it was that they were doing. I guess they were
"wordsmithing". The SMEs must have basically written everything
themselves, and the technical writers were more or less processing it,
making it look a little better, cleaning it up, etc. There was no room
in this process for the active role that I was used to taking (very
similar to that described by Andrew), and I soon rationalized myself out
of a job. We were all more or less working on the same thing from
different angles, which case I made to my boss, pointing out that I
could most efficiently serve him by not serving him at all. He thanked
me. I tidied up and handed off my work, and left. Value added? Well, I'm
sure they didn't replace me, so I saved them about three quarters of the
money they were prepared to pay me. Stupid? Maybe, but I can't bring
myself to do useless work (to clarify, part of my job was to assess the
scope of the overall writing requirements, which I did; having done so,
I found that they required considerably less than they thought, and
volunteered not to milk it).

Where does all this rambling lead? Well, one of the lessons I took away
was that the other technical writers seemed to get a lot more regular
work than I do. The fact that I can and have learned everything a writer
needs to know to participate on the R&D and production teams in a
variety of different technologies, say experimental physics lab
equipment and bond trading software, does not seem to impress recruiters
for the telecommunications industry. For one thing, they can't measure
it; it could all be BS. They can probably tell whether I know how to use
Frame or not (I don't, yet). I've always felt that tools don't matter.
I've always been able to learn a tool in very little time. But these
days "very little time" is often not good enough. It has to be no time.
So while I think that Andrew is absolutely correct, I would add on the
flip side that it is not a "know technology/don't worry about tools
affair." You will be truly valuable if you can know the technology, but
if you want a job, you'd better have the common tools down too.

Chris Kowalchuk

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

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