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.