bookmark_border11 years

Without wanting to have you all reaching for the sick buckets, I do want to take a moment to confirm to the world that I am married to the most beautiful, caring, sexy woman in the world.

She makes me laugh when I need it, she listens when I moan, she knows when to leave me alone and when to start baking. She is my best friend, my companion, my centre. She is everything, she is home.

But she knows all that. I tell her almost every day.

11 years ago today I was standing in a room full of friends and family, slightly nervous, and slightly unsure of what the day would hold. That much I remember. The rest of the day is a blur, but if I concentrate hard enough I can recall snippets of conversations, dances, and speeches. Memories flood back, a happy day.

I can’t remember if Louise said “I do” or “I will” or “Ohhh I s’pos..”, all I know is that she agreed and made me, then and now, the happiest man in the world.

Happy Anniversary darling, I love you.

bookmark_borderapple uk tv shows

Fire up your iTunes Store, Apple have started selling episodes of TV shows. All your favourite stuff from US TV that you’ve… umm.. already downloaded and watched because why SHOULD we wait until it airs on UK TV?! Idiots. This does not stop piracy. When WILL they learn.

bookmark_borderOn being global

Apparently I am a global citizen, indeed we are all global citizens these days.

OK, so my current train of thought is heading down the route largely blazed by Naomi Klein in her book No Logo. Large companies like, say, Starbucks, are able to push smaller local competitors out of business. Which is true and I’m a big supporter of our locally run cafe which, as an aside, makes the best chicken pesto panini EVER, and would hate to see it close down.

That said, Starbucks coffee is generally pretty good and is always reliable, and so we begin the inner conflict.

You see when I venture into Starbucks (I do wish my fingers would stop typing Satrbucks) I immediately know that the environment I’m in is manufactured, and yet despite that knowledge I do quite enjoy it. I’m sure there is a phrase for this effect, and no it’s not “gullible fool syndrome”, but whatever it is, it works. I enjoy the Starbucks experience, the sofas, the gentle music, the calmness that seems to ooze from the walls. And while I’m guessing the latter is just down to the seating arrangement, I certainly rarely feel that I have to shout over other peoples conversations… but that’s all beside the point.

Generally, if I hear someone saying something negative about the Starbucks experience I get quite defensive.

Yet when they challenge Starbucks the ‘global company’ I tend to agree.

See, inner conflict. My desire to be seen as a valid person within my demographic fighting against … ummm… something that I know isn’t right but largely doesn’t impact me all that much.

This is a bad thing. Or at least so I’m told.

Fast forward a decade or two and the only coffee house in town will be Starbucks, all local economy disappears into their vast coffers and the realisation that we need to change things arrives just a little too late. You know, like that whole global warming thing, we’ll REALLY get it as the rising oceans lap at our doorsteps. And no, not an ocean of coffee, that would be silly as it would just taste of fish.

Everyday the internet opens up the entire world, although admittedly most of it is skewed towards the USA. However it’s easy to convince yourself that you are part of a global community, should such a thing exist, and, after all, sharing the simple experience of ordering a coffee is part of being in a community.

Admittedly most of this makes me feel slightly uneasy but, as time marches on, that feeling is squashed underneath a Lemon and Poppy seed Muffin, and washed away with a Venti Skinny Latte, hold the sprinkles.

Globalisation is bad and evil. I’ve read it in numerous blogs so it must be true but the thing is, it doesn’t seem to be happening. Whilst there are numerous Starbucks in Glasgow, they seem to have sprouted competitors with the number of cafes suddenly, visibily, increasing. Even that crap sandwich place now has an expensive coffee machine, and I’m pretty sure the staff don’t get trained as barristas.

I guess my point is this, for every large global company, there is a smaller, more dynamic, competitor and it seems like they are multiplying. I could be wrong of course… on the other hand, only a few years ago, Internet Explorer was about the only browser anyone used. That isn’t the case now.

The internet, whilst aiding globalisation on some terms (I can relate to Jose in Brazil as he sits typing on his MacBook in his local Subway) can also hinder it. The realisation that I have more choice is but a click away and as far as I can see, people are still clicking.

bookmark_borderTechnical Writing Evolved

The following is largely focussed on the software industry as that is where my experience lies.

I’ve been an on/off member of the TechWR mailing list for many years now. I dip in and out of threads depending on my current work and knowledge levels. The membership of the list is fairly wide-ranging, with people involved in all sorts of technical communication activites across many different industries. This gives any discussions around our profession and interesting slant as, by and large, the constituent parts of what it means to be a technical writer, and the daily activities involved, are somewhat tied to the industry in which they work. My experience is largely in the software world, but many of the other list members have wholly hardware-based experience, yet others work in highly regulated environments, and some flit from contract to contract, job to job.

A while ago a discussion about how our profession was changing kicked off and the range of responses was fascinating. This wasn’t a surprise of course, the list is full of passionate and intelligent people, but did have the effect of causing me to sit back and reflect a little more on what I do for a living and how, ultimately, it’s a fairly unique profession.

The discussion centred, mainly, around how the emphasis for a lot of technical writing jobs is swaying more and more towards a more integrated approach to the role and how it fits within a team than the historical basis of being heavily centred on writing. The presumption (largely being pushed by those of us in the software environments) is that the skillset a Technical Writer brings to a team extends beyond “just writing the docs”. As a customer advocate, we can (and should) influence UI design and the functionality of the product, and increasingly we are involved in the early design discussions, get hold of early builds and so on. To a small degree, today’s Technical Writer whilst retaining the core function of writing documentation, also dabbles in UI design, functional analysis, sanity testing software (note: this is not QA by any means!) and may even contribute to the software itself.

Some say that this detracts from the role for which we were hired. I disagree.

The role of product documentation is hugely important to any company and its creation will always be the core function of a technical writer. However, as companies push to reduce timescales and costs, whilst ask that productivity is increased, the idea of a closely-knit team with a shared vision becomes all the more necessary. Integrating a Technical Writer into that kind of environment means that speciality becomes less of an issue, and everyone starts doing a little bit of everything else. This extends beyond the Technical Writer, obviously, but uniquely we span the divide between technology and user (application and customer) and so can start to play a larger part in the development of the applications themselves, and also lessen the impact on our own area of expertise.

As I stated in that discussion:

I’ve always presumed that the role of technical writing isn’t really about ‘writing’ all that much (these days) and is why I’ve pushed to change job and team titles away from “writing” or “publications” to “communications”. It’s a small thing, but I think it breaks the “document monkeys” label a lot of people still have in their heads.

What this can mean is that a Technical Writer needs to have a sufficient knowledge to be able to intelligently converse with the application developers, and a good understanding of the business and user requirements that are currently being worked on. Acting as a “user proxy” in early design meetings has the double bonus of improving the application being developed (as most developers have a tendency to think in terms of functionality, rather than task) and hopefully easing the burden on the documentation as the general usability should be improved.

A bold statement perhaps, but ultimately the long-term aim is to have a better grounding in the usage of the application for which you are writing documentation. Understanding the why, and the who, as well as the how, is not a new thing of course, but contributing to the team in a “non-document” way is the real benefit.

A lot of companies still view product documentation, and the technical writers who produce it, as necessary evils to be tolerated and humoured. Most technical writers are able to constructively challenge and change that perception and I’m certainly not suggesting that anything I’ve suggested is the only way to do things. But I do believe that, in software documentation, there is a growing call for more technically technical writers, as opposed to technical writing writers. Becoming the accepted user-advocate in your development team is one path to achieving this, and I firmly believe that it will enhance both your own career and the perception of our profession.

Additional links: TechWR Mailing List.