Saturday, November 13, 2010

Farewell to my static Web site!

A couple of months ago, I made the decision to drop the Web site I had set up and maintained to promote my freelance writing. It was a static site, rather boring, and not all that convenient to maintain. In addition, I had to pay an annual fee to keep it running, and this year, I realized I was getting absolutely no return on that investment.

When I set up the site in 2004, there really weren't many options. Blogs were still fairly rudimentary and Facebook was in its infancy. Twitter wasn't even on the radar! Web domains were the "thing" and I jumped on the bandwagon, setting up several sites for my various interests.

It's amazing how much things have changed. Today, we can use any number of free blogging platforms, including Google's outstanding services, and promote our blogs via Facebook or Twitter. My "resume" is now a page on this blog and it's incredibly easy to update. Best of all, it's free!

Farewell You served me well, but we're moving on into a new age!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How do they do it?

I've been working for more years than I care to admit and consider myself a hardworking, dedicated employee. I tend to stretch the limits of my job, learn as much as I can about other jobs, and help out when I can. I don't like to be bored and generally manage my time quite well. I try to stay out of office politics, and while I'm certainly friendly with co-workers, I avoid gossip and try to take the high road in certain situations. This is who I am.

Despite all this, I always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to promotions and company awards. It seems as though it's always someone else who gets the recognition or promotions, despite my efforts.

Nowhere was this more apparent that at a previous employer. A woman with whom I worked was constantly rewarded with promotions and awards despite being a bully in the workplace and having what I would consider a poor work ethic. I was called upon to assist her from time to time, but my contributions were never recognized nor was I even considered for the types of monetary awards she received regularly. She is still doing the same thing, getting awards, and working what seems to be a part-time schedule. I just don't understand.

What did I do wrong? Was there a point in my career where I should have stepped differently? Would it have made a difference.

I continue to ponder this question even though it does me absolutely no good at all to dwell on it. I am currently managing an important project at my current place of employment, hoping once again to finally get that long-awaited promotion. That's just who I am and what I do!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Connecticut shooter alleged racist bullying prior to incident

Was Omar Thornton the victim of workplace bullying? Is this what led him to go on a shooting rampage at Hartford Distributors? In a call to 911 just prior to turning the gun on himself, Thornton said, "This place is a racist place. They treat me bad over here and all the other black employees bad over here too." And, although the company's CEO, Ross Hollander, denies these allegations, Thornton's girlfriend, Kristi Hannah confirms Thornton's co-workers had been harassing him regularly.

"He said every day when he'd come in, there'd be new stuff on the [bathroom] wall," Hannah said in an interview on Good Morning America. "One was a hangman with a noose around his neck and underneath it said, 'Kill the n-word.'"

Hannah said Thornton had shown her cell phone photos he had taken of the racial slurs written in the bathroom.

Certainly, there's never an excuse for someone committing such a heinous act. But everyone has his own breaking point. If this man had been systematically harassed for months and his employer was aware of this, something should have been done. The company said he turned violent after having been presented with evidence that he had been stealing beer from the company and reselling it, and was about to be fired. That would certainly give them reason to let him go and it appears these charges are true, which would somewhat undermine his reasoning for the shooting rampage.

Still, workplace bullying affects everyone differently. One person may simply turn their anger inward, while another may react violently. There are even cases where bullied employees killed themselves rather than face another day of abuse. Laws need to be in place to set a process in motion that would encourage employers to investigate charges of bullying in the workplace. As it stands, employers tend to take the side of the bullies, who are most frequently in a management position. A law that would allow abused workers to sue a company would ensure employers take these charges seriously, and hopefully, deal with the situation before it explodes.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Going mobile

I just got an LG Ally phone and am reveling in all its capabilities! I actually wanted to see if I could post a new entry to my blog using this device. And I did. Not as fast as using the PC, but it would do in a pinch. I love modern technology!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why do we blog?

I have a confession to make. I spend an inordinate amount of time working on my blogs, especially Music in the 'Cuse. I recognize this endeavor won't make me rich, but that doesn't stop me from scouring the Internet looking for the latest live music events in CNY and compiling an exhaustive list of club dates and special events every day. That's right, I haven't missed a single day since I started Music in the 'Cuse in February, 2009. In fact, before I had my own blog, I compiled the same data for for two years - again, every day.

Why am I doing this?

While I'm not a statistic freak, I do check traffic on my blogs most days. I probably shouldn't, though, as it is discouraging to spend so much time working on this and have very few people read it. I've done what I can - linked to Facebook, printed business cards, and talked about my blog, but still, I can't seem to boost it up to a respectable (and even semi-profitable) level.

So what to do? On days like this, I'm tempted to hang it up. Why bother, I wonder. I'm not getting decent traffic, no one comments, and other than a couple of bands, no one seems to appreciate anything I do here.

And then I get a comment... just one, but that makes all the difference! Someone is reading my blog after all. 
So, I guess I have my answer, then, don't I!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Differentiating areas of responsibilities

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that one of the most difficult tasks in technical writing is getting information from subject matter experts and other essential contributors. These people are often both our end customers and suppliers, and as tech writers, we walk a fine line when it comes to getting what we need to complete projects.

This task is even more frustrating when the information we need is actually something we are able to provide for ourselves. However, due to departmental processes and procedures, we must wait for "official" input and in the process, our projects are unnecessarily delayed.

I am currently working on a project and depend on a steady flow of input from another department. Unfortunately, the person who was creating this data for me has been laid off due to a company rule that limits the length of time a contractor can work. The department is already short one person and the remaining staff is having difficulty doing all the work that needs to be done. My data is only one of many projects they are working on, and now, the flow has stopped and I am almost out of work.

What's frustrating is that given access to the database, I could create this data myself. I would, of course, have someone from that group double-check my work, since they own this data, but still, the drafts could be created without their people having to get involved. I have suggested this several times, but this idea has been rejected. "It's their data," I've been told.

The problem is that, as the project coordinator, I am ultimately responsible to see this release is on time. As it is now, I am certainly going to miss my Sept. 1 deadline and there's nothing I can do about it. It's a no-win for everyone involved - the customers, my department, and the company.

What do we do when hard boundaries are set regarding areas of responsibility? Where do we draw the line. I know it's important to pick my battles, but when I find my deadlines slipping and know I could provide a solution, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut!

All in a day's work, I suppose!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What qualifications are important in a technical writer?

Recently, my department has been interviewing to replace one of our technical writers. The company for which I work has a policy to hire from within wherever possible and so far the job has only been posted internally. However, there are only three other technical writers at our site, not including those who work in our department, and none of those experienced writers applied for our open position.

Historically, my company has pulled technical writers from either engineering or drafting. Technical writing as a career path is still relatively new, and the perception remains that technical knowledge is more important than writing skills. This isn't a criticism of my company, simply the way it's always been.

The problem is, with technology advancing at lightening speed, technical writers are being challenged to develop software skills to enable them to create interactive and Web-based documentation. Universities are now offering degrees in technical documentation and the old "anyone with technical knowledge can do this job" philosophy is falling by the wayside.

So what is important when it comes to hiring a technical writer? Certainly, an applicant needs basic word processing and formatting skills, and experience creating some sort of documentation. Ideally, he or she should have working knowledge of some kind of publishing software. A technical writer must also have demonstrated excellent research and organizational skills.

My contention is that it's' easier to teach product to an experienced technical writer than to try and train a technical person to be a writer. There are so many factors that weigh into creating technical documentation that is both accurate and user friendly, product knowledge is only one part of the process. The question should be can the technical person "translate" this information into something that is user friendly, well written, and correctly formatted?

Consider the reverse of this argument. I am currently working with engineering drawings for an interactive parts list and use the drafting database to access these drawings. I pull the drawings from the database, open them in Illustrator and strip out everything but callouts and lines. I then consolidate these drawings on one page, renumber and format the page for ease of use.

I would consider myself an expert at what I do, but does that qualify me to be a draftsperson? No way! I have no training in the software used to create the drawings and no engineering experience. I don't really have a lot of technical knowledge either! So, although I have eleven years experience as a technical writer and have been working with the same product for two years, I can say without question that I'm not qualified to be a draftsperson!

It's time technical writing be recognized as a legitimate career path. To do anything else devalues what we, as tech writers do, and in the long run, diminishes the quality of our documentation.