Are technical communicators the “fall guys”?

Sometimes, I think being a stunt person would be easier than being a technical communicator.

Sometimes, I think being a stunt person would be easier than being a technical communicator.

While plugging away at the big project I’m doing for work, a problem arose from how some features worked, and developers cluttered up the CMS architecture of the site I’m working on. When I tried to clean it up, the developers rolled out more content that either created duplicates, triplicates, and overwrote pages without my knowledge. This mucked up the whole thing even more, making it worse.

I ended up having a call with my manager explaining the situation, and showed him what happened. He was aware of some of it, and he knew I was trying to fix things, but he was unaware that the latest roll-out complicated the situation. After a good discussion, he came to the same conclusion that I did–it’d be easier to start from scratch with this section of the website than to try to clean it up. I took responsibility for my part of the mess, and was more than willing to put the time in that’s needed to get it right again.

In order to do this, we’ve had to work with the people in the global corporate office to help us wipe the slate clean on that section and resend the new information. Well, this turns out to be easier said than done, due to system issues and communication issues (we’re not sure, even with images demonstrating the issue, if we are explaining what we need correctly to non-native English speaking people, and we are having some trouble understanding their replys). It’s turning into a sordid mess that I didn’t mean to happen. Some of this is my fault, doing some things unknowingly, but it’s also Corporate’s fault for not staying organized with the information rolled out on the various servers and not informing me of these changes in a timely manner, as that’s what is complicating matters. My hands have not touched that section of the website for 2 days because I’m afraid of mucking up things even worse, and so I’m patiently waiting for the correct content to be rolled out so I can move forward.

In this type of instance, my experience has been that no matter what part I played, even a minor one, I needed to take the blame for the whole thing. I needed to fall on the knife for what’s happened, even if I’m actually the victim in this instance. I’m fortunate that my manager hasn’t viewed this as something that I needed to take the fall for, and he’s been incredibly supportive through this small ordeal. I am grateful to have him as a manager and it provides me with some relief. But in past positions, even if I was correct in the midst of something that had gone wrong, I’d have to take full responsibility even if full responsibility was not mine. I’m willing to take responsibility if it is truly and completely my fault. Yet, I’ve had many instances where it wasn’t my fault at all, or I played a minor role, and I’d still be blamed entirely. And it would be one thing if I was a manager taking the blame for someone under me, but I’m always the gal at the bottom of the totem pole! If I stood up for myself in the past, I’d be severely reprimanded, even though I was justified in standing up for myself. So, you can understand why I’ve developed a bit of a complex and learned to take the role of the scapegoat in these instances unwillingly yet necessarily.

It got me to thinking about technical communication and where technical communicators will be given the blame for something that’s gone wrong.  Sometimes the blame is justified, and sometimes it isn’t.  If a manual has incorrect information, is it the fault of the tech writer, or the SME who didn’t provide accurate information, or the editor? In my case, the developers were being sloppy. I was the one being responsible enough to realize there was a problem and clean it up, initially following their directions for the fix, and they made it more difficult adding a fix to my fix without communicating that they were going to make a fix on their part. So why am I feeling like I need to take responsibility for the problem I didn’t cause instead of taking responsibility for realizing the solution? Is that just me and the conditioning I’ve been put through over the years, or is that a common problem?

In my current situation, like I said, my manager has fully supported me, and he’s about to leave on vacation confident that everything will be fine, leaving it up to me to take care of things. This is a reversal of most experiences I’ve had, and it definitely bolsters my confidence that I do know what I’m doing, and I appreciate that I’m recognized for that.

Technical communications is not for the weak or faint of heart, for sure. There is no question about that. However, technical communicators are being encouraged, as a field, to assert themselves more to show that we do have the solutions and know what we are doing, and to play a greater role in communications. I’m sure you’ve heard the “Break down the silos!” battle cry by now. If that’s the case, how do we do that if we have introverts like me who have been pounded down enough times that they are fearful of losing their jobs for asserting themselves? Is that just me, or do others feel this, too?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Why These Neuroscientists Are Prescribing Video Games

Video games as therapy? While most virtual reality falls under the category of mindless entertainment, a group of researchers believe the gaming world may offer some benefit to those on the autism spectrum.

A team comprised of cognitive neurosci…

Source: www.huffingtonpost.com

This is a great article about how gamification works especially well with autistic people. I couldn’t agree more from experience! Read the details here–gamification isn’t a waste of time when done right! 

–techcommgeekmom

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How the US Government is Avoiding Gobbledygook with Plain Language

The purpose of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 is to mandate the use of clear and simple English writing for all federal agencies. Here’s how it’s being used.

Source: www.contentrules.com

This is a fantastic article by Val Swisher of Content Rules. I’m so glad to see that plain language is slowly but surely starting to take over! I never understood the need for writing in a way other than in plain language, especially when it came to legal terms. Perhaps ancient lawyers wanted a way to show off their higher education to sound more important, but it made law more complicated for the common person. This is a step in the right direction. 

–techcommgeekmom

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A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop

Students who used longhand remembered more and had a deeper understanding of the material

Source: www.scientificamerican.com

This article came by way of Adriane Hunt on LinkedIn. While I understand the article and its findings, I don’t think it’s a complete report, because the study is only taking into account typical students, and not including special needs students with learning disabilities. I understand the point they make that handwriting versus typing using different parts of the cognitive brain, and typing tends to be more writing what a professor says verbatim for later retention (although this study says it isn’t so), for people like me, even handwriting was still me trying to get as much written verbatim as possible. My cognitive brain, like many who are ADHD or have Aspeger’s or similar issues, listening then condensing the thought into something smaller but tangible, then writing it down is a more complicated process than for a typical student. By the time that is all done, the instructor has moved on to the next point, or is even three or four points ahead. Typing on laptops or tablets makes it much easier to facilitate this process. 

 

Even today, I was following some keynote speeches at the IDW conference via video, and trying to tweet the information. This is something I’ve been working on for years, but it’s the same concept, and it’s not easy to do at all, especially if the slides aren’t up for long to grasp what was said quickly! 

 

Perhaps a reevaluation of this study is in order, to look at the full benefit. The researchers should look at both students–abled and learning disabled, and professionals who have to take notes during meetings. 

 

I still take handwritten notes during meetings, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not that easy to do, and retain all the key points from the banter happening at breakneck speed. 

–techcommgeekmom

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In our opinion: Technology in today’s schools — Getting an early start is crucial, and costly

Early education in computers and computer programming in some European schools is starting to pay dividends. Utah needs to find ways to stay up to speed as well in high-tech learning — but the h

Source: www.deseretnews.com

This is another great article promoting the argument that coding and other digital literacy courses need to be included in today’s curriculum in schools. I know it’s expensive but some of this stuff is really even just the basics–I don’t understand how the US doesn’t make more of an effort so that it doesn’t fall behind. Even my son’s special education school makes the effort to use technology whenever possible. Read this, and tell me what you think. 

–techcommgeekmom

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Does Job Stability Exist Anymore? | LinkedIn

Source: www.linkedin.com

This is an interesting article that I think would especially apply to the technical communications community. I can tell you that my entire career has been nothing but unstable. Gone are the days where you spend so many years someplace and have the devout company loyalty and the mentorship to help you get ahead in that company. I’ve gotten to the point that while I still crave having a "secure" job (which for me means that I can stay there indefinitely, not be laid off, and am a full-time employee with all the benefits), I’ve accepted that is highly unlikely to happen anytime in the near future, if ever. I think I’m stuck in consultancy limbo forever. I’ve learned to make the most of it as best as I can. I am grateful that the current assignment I’m on is an indefinite assignment for the moment–it will be going into my third year in January 2015, and if I complete that year it will be tied with the longest period I’ve ever spent at any other job. I’m also grateful that I like where I am too. Three years at any one place isn’t much. With the economic turmoil of the past few years, I don’t see this trend going away. As the author of this article says, job stability is a roller coaster, and you have to be prepared for the ride. I recommend reading this article. 

–techcommgeekmom

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Why Typography Matters For Better Visibility – Usability Geek

Expertise in web typography requires creativity that comes with experience but the most important aspect is always ensuring to maintain content legibility

Source: usabilitygeek.com

Rick Sapir shared this on Google+. I became interested in typography more after seeing the movie, "Helvetica" at an STC Summit event this past year. I never really thought about it THAT much, but it really does make a difference! Read this article for some perspective. 

–techcommgeekmom

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