The Process

Day 31. 161 pages, 58,131 words.


The Ballad of the Technical Writer

10 weeks before deadline

Me: I’ve converted the source material into a proper manual. There’s a whole mess of stuff missing, here’s a copy for you guys to check.

Engineers:

4 weeks before deadline

Me: Welp, I didn’t get any feedback so here’s the printed drafts for approval. There’s still a whole butt-ton of stuff missing though.

Engineers:

2 weeks before deadline

Engineers: There’s a whole butt-ton of stuff missing here!

Me: Would you look at that! Better fix it then. I can just sit here and make up content if you want – I’m a sci-fi author, you know – but I didn’t design the product so maybe you should give me the basics. Otherwise I’ll probably put incorrect information in there. This screen here, for example, probably isn’t a hyperdrive.

Engineers:

1 week before deadline

Engineers: What’s going on with those documents?

Me: They’re done. Oh, but there’s a few things missing. Here’s a list.

Engineers:

4 days to deadline

Me (standing at engineer’s desk with print-out, blocking access to aisle and coffee machine): Hey, there’s some stuff missing here, let’s talk about it.

Engineer (grabbing print-out in shaking hands): Yeah, this can be cut, this is fine, I don’t know why I commented on this, get rid of that, this is okay, and all of this content has to come from the manufacturers. Escalate it to the department heads and they’ll get in touch with them.

Me: No problem, I’ll send it on. Get yourself a coffee, you’ve earned it.

2 days to deadline

Fellow Technical Writer: Hey, was this weird e-mail meant to go to you? Looks like it’s gone all around the world.

Me (looking at FWDed e-mail, scrolling down, growing steadily more amused): Yep, yep that’s meant to be for me. And they still didn’t actually answer the question. I can’t write this stuff for them, if they want the proper information about these components they need to tell me about them.

1 day to deadline

Me: Hey, here’s a draft where I have written the information for you. Can you tell me if it’s even remotely correct?

Manufacturers:


M-O-O-N, that spells Not My Goddamn Problem.

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11 Responses to The Process

  1. stchucky says:

    Technically speaking, I’m still getting used to having products and engineers all under one roof and accessible, so my own messing around with the machine and blocking access to engineer coffee could have started sooner, say, just after the printed draft stage at T minus 4 weeks. I still have my doubts as to how much use that would have been that far back, based on … well, almost 12 years in the industry.

  2. dreameling says:

    My current software developer SMEs are actually pretty good reviewers. It helps that we sit in the same office space, like a few meters from each other, and are in the same Agile/Scrum team, so it’s not like they can ignore me. (Unless I’m remoting.)

    • stchucky says:

      Yeah, I really like the way I can just walk over and ask the guys. And today I actually took a USB stick over to the training rooms, stuck it in one of the machines, and went through its UI to get screenshots (spoiler: they were completely different to the source material and required me to make up a lot of new content).

    • stchucky says:

      Also, one of the UI buttons caused a pop-up that said [component] Does Not Exist.

      How do you even document that? “This is not the component you are looking for”? “Press the [component] button to open the [component] screen. It probably doesn’t exist”? “[component] is a myth. Open your eyes!”?

      • dreameling says:

        Since that’s clearly a software bug, you wouldn’t document it all, right? Instead, you’d tell the developer to get their shit together and fix the thing. Or you’re just gonna document it as the Hyperdrive Control.

      • stchucky says:

        No, it’s no bug. It’s an actual intentionally-created window like all the others that pop up when you press buttons on the UI, but this one says “[component] does not exist.”

        It’s … surreal. I mean, they could take the button off the UI, except … deadline.

      • dreameling says:

        Whoa. Really? That totally looks like a missing variable value or something in the UI.

      • stchucky says:

        No, no, no. There’s nothing in the code. The feature is there on the main page, the screens are all properly done, but the component doesn’t exist in the actual physical machine so instead of having a screen about the component, there’s a screen just saying that there’s no such component.

      • stchucky says:

        I wound up just showing a little version of the “no such component” screen, and added a note saying this feature is in development and not included in the machine. Also called “this is v2.0’s problem”.

  3. aaronthepatriot says:

    LOL this is pretty familiar as I have to create cost estimates using information from the engineers knowledgeable with each provision in a regulation. I gotta say my favorite part is the spectrum of those saying they have no idea how I do what I do and therefore aren’t easy to get useful information out of, to those who think they know better how I should do what I do so they won’t tell me the information I’m specifically asking for.

    Fun times. In the middle are a lot of helpful folks, don’t get me wrong. But a few bad numbers, and GIGO, you know?

  4. Nobbly Nobody says:

    Us Engs get it too! As a Project Engineer, getting input from the Devs as we stick systems together and discover bits that don’t work is just as much of a pain. All my Devs ended up fitting rear view mirrors to their monitors because they were fed up with me surprising them and cornering them in their cubicles. I was told I was not allowed to nail their feet to the floor until things were fixed, though.

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