The myth of “dangerous docs”

Back in March, the excellent 99% Invisible podcast did an episode on the Giftschrank, the “poison cabinet,” a locked box (and later room) where books considered dangerous were hidden from the public. They could be read, but on a very limited basis and only with approval. The libraries controlled access to these books, the fear being that the dangerous, poisonous ideas in the books could cause great harm to the general public.

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We need to kill some dangerous myths (programmers can’t write; writers can’t code)

This is a rant. It’s not a well-reasoned argument with tons of supporting links because I’m just going to start writing until I’m done ranting.

The idea that programmers can’t write docs is a huge load of crap. It’s a very common view shared by technical writers, and it’s time that we killed this idea. Because it’s not true. Because we’re putting down our coworkers as a way to justify our own value. Because it’s a dangerous generalization that pits Us vs. Them, that draws artificial distinctions between “what we do” and “what they do.” It keeps us isolated by emphasizing false differences, and it kills the very idea of collaboration when collaboration is becoming more important than ever.

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Where do your docs fall on the documentation spectrum?

I read an interesting article (which is itself a response to another article) that discusses how data analysis companies define themselves (or are defined) by the software-consulting spectrum. Basically, will the company be more focused on training users and sending them off to analyze their data, or will the company focus on a high-touch model where consultants do most of the work?

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How I finally understood and overcame “You’re not good enough!”

Almost 17 years ago, I had my last annual review at my first job as a technical writer. My manager was on maternity leave, and months of bad news about the company (caused by illegal financial manipulation) led to poor morale and attrition. But this post isn’t about that.

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TCCamp 2016

Two weekends ago, I attended the fourth TCCamp (the third I’ve been to). As always, it’s a great chance to meet with fellow tech writers at an informal “unconference” that relies on the attendees to choose the discussion topics.

I volunteered this year, and I’ll admit that I was having second thoughts about that. Not only because I had to wake up early to be there before the morning sessions started (although I’m never very fond of waking up very early on Saturdays), but also because I was worried that I would miss most of the conference. Fortunately, I was wrong. It was a great experience, and I don’t think I missed anything.

So, let me tell you about moving tables around…

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There’s no excuse for withholding information

I was recently approached by a company that recognizes that they have a knowledge management problem. They’ve just realized that there’s a lot of information held by individuals, and they need someone to solve the problem of insufficiently distributed information before it gets too big to handle.

This is great, and I love it when companies realize this (not least because it keeps me employed). But then I thought about times I’ve encountered people who zealously guard the information they’ve collected. This is bad. This is expensive. And there’s no excuse for it.

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It’s not my job

I hate the phrase “it’s not my job.” It’s something I’ve heard in the darker corners of large companies, and it’s a big reason why I exchanged security for the chaos of smaller companies. That phrase is loaded with a lazy, irresponsible attitude and flags the shiftless lout uttering those words as a roadblock as clearly as any safety orange traffic barrier festooned with flashing lights.

It’s also a mantra that I’m trying to embrace.

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Fulfillment and change

Empire State Building at nightAt the beginning of the year, I reviewed the goals that I set for last year. The results were hugely disappointing. I hadn’t fulfilled any of them to the degree that I’d hoped. I had started making progress on a few of them, but I was never able to make enough progress to consider any of them a success.

I was in a career situation that wouldn’t allow me to succeed in the way that I wanted to. I was frustrated and looking for a change, and found an interesting opportunity.

But not as a technical writer.

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