Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Not Such a Bad Gig

I haven't posted an entry in a while that answers the "how's the job going" question one hears fairly often. I realize that's social small talk to some extent, but work really is a big huge percentage of how we spend our time so it's good to have a nice quick story or perhaps more, when the circumstances warrant.

My job can be frustrating in that it is rarely clear exactly what I need to document or for whom, on more than the most general of levels. I realize that sounds insane from the outside, but I'm documenting pieces of an operating system that come from a million different places. There is no set of product specifications, or a product team in the sense that I'm used to one. There are simply areas of system administration that my company supports, and -- in theory -- documentation is part of that support. The connection between what I do on a daily basis and my company's business model is not at all obvious -- even, perhaps especially, to me.

What this means is that pretty much everything I do is a research product from minute one. Nobody says to me: We need a manual that decribes a, b, and c and this is how a, b, and c work. Instead I pore through support issues people have had that documentation could have helped, I talk with people who know the features I am trying to document, I use Google as a technical resource, and I try to define my job. I hold meetings with a limited crew of busy people who know everything about how the software works internally but not necessarily much about how an administrator in the field uses the software. I'm always defining and redefining my projects. And there's not what you'd call much support for the logistics of documentation production, which is a problem but we're working on it.

All this adds up to days and weeks when I'm not feeling productive. You'd think this would be balanced by the days when I fell as if I'm doing the work of an army, but it doesn't work that way. My boss is in Australia and has plenty plenty to keep him more than busy and likes that the other writer here and I wholly manage ourselves, or at least work closely and directly with the developers without requiring any input from him. This of course is nothing but good, for the most part, and it's what I get paid for, but in my previous job I had a boss who was right there, ready for me to run into his office two or six times a day and did all the hand-holding reassurance of my talent and worth a diva such as I seems to require. I kind of miss that. Really, who wouldn't?

And then I step back and get a grip on myself and think, "You know, this really is a very good gig for a technical writer".

I work in a small office, wholly separate from headquarters, where we remain blissfully and consciously uninvolved with company politics. There is none of the office tension that is part and parcel of the business world in my experience, none whatsoever. While people here may do the usual allocation of complaining about company things, none of the serious complaining is by people in the office about other people in the office. Some of you might not even know why I'm bothering to say such a thing -- aren't we all professionals and adults? -- but some of you know that I've just described a corner of workplace heaven.

At SGI there was layoff after layoff, which was dispiriting. But a very strange result was that by the end of my time there, by the last couple of years, there was a great sense of comaraderie and cooperation among the survivors. By my last year there, I was involved in many areas of the company, and I was known by name up and down the ranks -- something that would simply have been impossible in the earlier days. That was one of the things that was hard for me to leave.

But here at Red Hat -- at least in my satellite Minneapolis office -- there is a good deal of that same collective sense. These are nice folks. We have cheese day. Our office manager brings life to the work environment. It never -- at all -- feels uncomfortable here.

And even more significantly: I have a job where I define my days, my hours, my goals, my work. Of course I'm responsible to the technical folks I work with, 100% responsible, but from the day I arrived they treated me as if I were the expert in what I was doing and just let me go with that. It has taken me nearly a year to understand that, really. Unlike some previous positions I've had, there was no need to establish myself among the technical folks.

So yeah, this is a great gig for a technical writer. After a lifetime in the field this is the sort of gig you work up to.

Which means my goal is: Keep this job!
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