bookmark_borderAlways learning

Next week the first of two new recruits joins our team. Both are graduates and whilst neither graduated from a Technical Writing based course they both have a good mix of skills, coming to the position through different routes. It’ll be a challenge for them, and a challenge for us, to integrate them to the team smoothly and successfully. I’m sure they will both do well, but to give them the best chance I’m preparing a few weeks of training for them, in various aspects of the job.

I’m trying to anticipate what they need to know, and when they need to know it, and whilst I’m very wary of letting my own experience get in the way it does mirror what they will be going through as my route into this profession was via an Electronic Engineering course, and I too had no experience in Technical Writing.

Training on our authoring tool (Author-it) is straightforward enough, and we will be mentoring each of the recruits as well so day to day questions we can handle.

We will likely use the IBM book “Developing Quality Technical Information” to provide a grounding in the basics of Technical Writing, along with an eLearning book titled Basics of Technical Writing that we purchased from CherryLeaf a few years ago.

They will have to learn how we do things, our specific processes, and learn how the overall Development team works so they understand where they fit, and they will receive a series of training exercises to complete before they take our product training course. On top of all that they will have a week long company Induction.

I’m a great believer in people learning by doing, so I’m planning a set of small tasks which will be checked and reviewed, and which will ultimately find their way into our documentation set.

Beyond that, I’ll be looking for them to ask questions, try things, make mistakes and learn from them, and then ask more questions. This industry is too varied to try and learn everything at once, and ultimately it’s down to them to decide what areas they want to push into… user experience? content design? API information? Who knows.

I do know it’s a challenge, for everyone involved, and that’s one of the things we, as a company, do best. There is a saying we have about being two feet outside your comfort zone, that’s where you learn best, that’s where you grow and start to understand your capabilities, so we will see how our recruits get on!

For me it’s doubly exciting as this is only the second time I’ve taken on graduates. I learned a lot the last time, both about how to train them and about my own foibles and attitudes to my profession so I’m brushing up my own knowledge to make sure I, and the rest of the team, give them the best change they have. In saying that, the first time I did this I was in my first ‘senior’ position, that was 10 years ago so hopefully by now I’ve gained a little bit more experience!

After all, you learn something new every day.

Have you brought a graduate into your team? Or are you involved in training or mentoring new recruits? If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them.

bookmark_borderIn the mood


Yes, right.

I think, yeah I’m pretty sure, well as much as I can be, that my mindset is in the right place.

I pick up my bike on Saturday (finally) you see, hence the change of mindset this week, in preparation.

Hmmm, I’m waffling. Let me explain.

For a long time, many many years, I’ve been overweight (clinically obese at times but what do doctors know!).

I’ve dipped in and out of various fitness attempts and diets, with varying success. Play 5-a-side football, hit the gym at 6am, got down to 15st 10lbs at one point which is, as far as my ailing memory serves, the lightest I’ve been in my adult life, then put it all back on again.

Jogging seemed to be working for me before I injured my knee, and recent visits to the gym have dropped off, bad habits returned and I managed to get all the way up to 17st 12lbs.

With 18st approaching, I realised I had to do something so I’ve been a bit more sensible with my diet, and have slowly, oh so very slowly, gotten down to 16st 12lbs. I went to the gym a few times but seem to have plateaued.

Then I heard mention of a cycle to work scheme and, having moved to within cycling distance to my work (it’s about 8 miles) I realised there was maybe something I could do and would enjoy. The number of cyclists I see on my way to work seems to be on the increase and that only encouraged me further.

I’m not great in the gym, I don’t find it stimulating at all and whilst I know that, for health reasons, I need to go, it’s not something that fills me with great joy (yeah yeah, I know, nothing unique there). However, give me something outdoor, that I can, in my own head, turn into a competition (can I catch the guy in front? can I beat the car to that junction? what was my time yesterday, can I do it faster?) and my interest level rises and I really start to apply myself.

With the arrival of my new bike imminent I’ve actually started to be a bit sensible, rather than leaping on it and doing my usual (overdoing it and injuring myself). I went to the gym last night, will go for a swim tomorrow night and back to the gym on Thursday, and I’ve just ordered all of the fruit and veg in the world to be delivered later tonight (thank you Tesco!).

What I don’t fully understand, but I’m not really questioning, is how my mindset can so quickly change. Last week I was all about the pizza and the chocolate and the ‘fuck it’ attitude. This week, healthy, healthy, exercise, exercise. I’m not prying into that though, I know I’m best to look forward and set myself some goals.

So, whilst it’s not easy it does appear that I’m in the mood to do this so I’m doing my best to stay focused.

I also apologise in advance if the next few blog posts are slightly “cycle heavy”. And, of course, when I say “cycle heavy” I mean “cycle gadget”… no, I’m not buying a trip computer just yet, but I do have a couple of apps on my iPhone at the ready!

It’s also only fair to mention, now, that I do have a goal in mind for all of this. In September I will be cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I will be raising funds for charity. You have been warned!

bookmark_borderWhen is too many, too many?

When is too many, too many?, originally uploaded by Gordon.

I may have a problem.

In this photo there are 11 sets of headphones.

  • 3 – Sony MDR-ED 21LP
  • 1 – Apple iPhone set, with inline mic
  • 1 – generic headset with mic
  • 1 – Sennheiser PX100
  • 1 – Sennheiser PX200
  • 1 – Sennheiser EH1430
  • 1 – Sennheiser PMX70
  • 1 – Griffin Tunebuds
  • 1 – a-JAYS Three

I have a further 2 sets of generic iPod (white) headphones, and one set of Bose In Ear headphones which I use at work.

That’s 14 sets of headphones.



Update: I started writing this post mid-tidy up of some boxes full of cables, about 10 mins after publishing I’ve finished the tidy and found… another set of headphones (silver versin of the Sony MDR-ED 21LP).


I need help.

Anyone wanna buy a set of headphones from me?


You are the quiet ponder behind a secret smile.

You are the couple walking hand in hand, the girl giggling on the phone, the outfits in shop windows. In the coffee shop you are in the corner, legs tucked up beneath you, reading a book. In the newsagent you are the woman behind the counter with her hair pulled back. You are cakes on display, the puddles stepped round, the gentle rain caressing my skin.

You are the slick, swirling colour of a passing umbrella, the click of heels on concrete, the curve of the banister, the smiles and laughter of a small child, the deep red of your lipstick echoed in the passing cars.

Below the fading blue I stand in a field of grass, rippled on the breeze, my hands raised to the sky, reaching, reaching, embracing the comfort found there.

Sitting quietly, sipping coffee, the empty chair across from me, forlorn. Looking around at the quiet glances across other tables, the knowing smiles and comfort found in idling conversations.

Every luxury item, decadence and desire. All the hidden treasures, quietly announcing their wares. The hustle, the energy, the quiet sanctuary found in alleyways. A sparkle of jewellery, a carry and poise. The cute puppy bounding along, the feline stretching her claws, outstretched and unhurried.

A hidden glance, the swirl of a coat pulled round shoulders. A word caught on the flow of the crowd, the tone crackles and sparkles of her.

A gentle hand resting on my wrist.

Woven threads.

You are everywhere.

Happily, I cannot escape you.

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bookmark_borderWhere are the new ideas?

“Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.”

It’s a fine line between imitation and theft but, looking around at other documentation sets recently, it’s interesting to see so many common items. Table of contents, numbered lists, signposts and so on. These things exist, and are common, for very good reasons but as we continue to learn about how best to anticipate the growing set of skills our users have when it comes to using information, I’m wondering what will become of these standard, common items we all include in our documentation sets.

Case in point; Recently, whilst, looking at the Atlassian documentation we realised that there were a few nice touches that we could incorporate into our own documentation set. At the foot of every page is a common set of links, something that we think would improve our offering as well.

The only reason we can look to copy that idea is because we host all of our documentation set online (in a similar layout to Atlassian). More and more organisations are going this way yet, so far, most of us are sticking with the old, familiar, tri-pane view we are comfortable with.

Looking at how more and more people use the internet to find information, it strikes me that perhaps we need to be more radical with how we present our information. I’m not quite sure how, but perhaps there is a need for more question and answer style information? Rather than documenting how to use something, concentrate on documenting what to do if it fails? Move away from the table of contents to a more graphical navigation with clear signposting to where information can be found?

Regardless of how, it’s clear that the expectations of people when they use information is changing and if you accept that this new usage model is only going to get more popular then it begs the question… where are the new information interaction ideas? I’m not talking about having a Twitter account, or publishing information to a Wiki, and I think it’s beyond the “every page is page one” view as we seem to be getting away from the notion of anything ever being on a ‘page’ per se, but instead this is a fundamental shift of how we consider, create, and consume information.

Usual caveats apply, of course, as I’m well aware that not everyone will, or should, be looking at this but for those of you who are, what does your future hold? How will you map what you produce now to how your users want to use it, will it be via Facebook, or Twitter, or the new Google+? Do you think you need to consider this? Or not?

The last few years have seen quite a change to our industry and that change isn’t going to stop any time soon so finding answers to those questions may not be easy or, in some cases, possible. However, from what I’ve seen some people are starting to find better ways to allow their information to be used as part of a larger piece, and for me that’s where we all need to start looking.

How is your information used alongside other, competing, sets of information? Do they integrate well or are they still viewed as separate entities? I think we need to include everything from documentation and training material, to sales collateral and the user interface itself. We all need to look at how more and more people are comfortable shifting their lives online and how it’s now common place for EVERYONE to “just Google” to find an answer to their problem. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how many friends do you have online? and do you trust their opinions more, or less, than your friends when it comes to harnessing specific knowledge?

Quite simply, and this is not a new statement, if you aren’t hooked into the mass of information that is available, you are going to lose out. Which brings me back to my question.

To get properly hooked into people’s online life, I think we may need to change things, so where are the new ideas?

bookmark_borderNo mean city

Indestructible, the death dodging kids laugh as the bus driver rages.

Shards of sunlight slice through buildings, blinding the strolling shoppers as they wander with vague purpose.

A broken voice begging for change from behind dull eyes.

An old man pauses to talk to the African drummer, rich timbre in shared laughter. A real connection amongst a thousand shifting eyes.

The pigeon that walks but never flies, unhurried and unafraid. He knows this city from hazy dawn to blackest night, from pristine corporate headquarters to grime (crime?) soaked tenements.

Through it all I walk. Surrounded by life in all it’s beautiful forms; the ravaged and unloved; the dirt and the shine, the filth and the smiles. Across broken tarmac and old cobbles, past the shiny office blocks and humdrum taverns, constantly amazed by the contrast, dialled to 11. Stark reality meets coddled view. The unshockable, sullied and downtrodden brush past the cosetted, freshly pressed.

All of them existing in their own state of indifference. Suffering their own form of life their eyes speak the same language. But it is not all grey, this city remains indestructible, like the children it bears. It survives, it laughs, it lives.

If you look for them, they are there. The briefest moments that are so easy to miss, skipping past like the sleek blur of a housemartin.

There a smile flashes and is returned. There a daisy grows between the cracks. There an oily puddle dances rainbows in sunlight.

Ask them and they’ll tell you. They will reveal all the beautiful sides of this city, with a proud face, for Glasgow is all of this, beautiful darkness and shuddering light. A soft glow from a brutal heart.

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