Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A technical Writer who Read Minds:

I once managed a group of writers and support people for a large, vaporware computer system. (In the software biz, "vaporware" refers to software that simply does not exist, despite claims, demonstrations, schedules, delivery notices, reviews, progress reports and even sales to the contrary.) At one point when it seemed possible the developers where actually going to write some code, I was authorized to hire another technical writer for a desperately needed user manual. One engaging middle-aged man I interviewed addressed a common concern. Since the developers had written nothing down, he might have to spend hours talking to them to figure out how the system might work, to document it.

Now you might think that's a good idea. In fact sometimes the user manual is written first, and no code is designed until the user manual makes good sense. But in this more common case, the development mamagers were very jealous of their developers' time, and would begrudge very little of it to any writer for any reason.

"But that's Okay," my interviewee explained, "I can read their minds and figure out what they're doing without talking to them!" It won't surprise you to know that I reacted to this statement by thinking: (if he can read people's minds, why can't he read my total disbelief at what he's saying?) Well in fact he launched into an explanation of how his mind-reading might work. In the process he drew similes from classical music, religion and humor, mentioning ideas I agreed with in just about all my main areas of interest. And he'd never met me before. I was quite impressed.

I did not hire him for that job. My feeling was that on a totally chaotic vaporware project, with most people acting quite irrationally already, if he COULD read what the developers were thinking he'd go crazy. A few years later I was on a different project where I really wanted to give this guy's skills a try, but unfortunately I was no longer able to find him.

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