Until today, I thought the most futile thing I have ever done was to shovel in a snowstorm. Yes, I have done this….more than once, and yes I grew insanely frustrated and yes I continued. I knew it was useless, but a part of me deep down really thought I could beat the storm.
But now I know compared to what I am facing now, the snow storm was easy. I work for a software company, a mainly French software company. The first thing to know about French software companies is that it is believed that developers can do everything and everyone else pretty much sucks at their job.
I am not a developer, I am not in the development organisation, I am in the customer facing side of the company. I have to deal with real people who have real problems when trying to use our glorious products. While I am willing to and often do debate the qualities of developers vs non-developers at length, there is one area where I can assure you our non-English speaking software developers do not excel and that is writing user manuals. They may be able to write the most effective, efficient and useful piece of code known to man, but they are not gifted at writing about how it works.
Of the more than 500 products that our company offers, it would seem the product I work on is in the small 1% where the developers write the user manuals rather than having a trained technical writer managing this task. Add to that the fact that there are more than 50 teams of developers that work on my product (yes, this is a freaking massive company) and approximately 700 user manuals, you can imagine the state of affairs.
Since taking over my current team, it has been my personal battle to change this process and hand over these very important documents to a technical writing team. I have been here for three years, I have 1 technical writer, part time and I still haven’t taken ownership of the documents, so every change we make needs to be validated by the owners.
Our part time, wonderfully talented technical writer spent a week updating a set of the manuals…one week. To do this, he had to review the current documents, learn about the product, test it, and re-write the manuals. When we sent it off for validation, are you sitting? I think you should be sitting for this, they, the experts on the product, the ones who have more knowledge in their pinky fingers than I have in my whole brain said it would take them a MONTH to validate. Not a month in elapsed time, which I wouldn’t find surprising, after all it is July and it is France and as everyone knows this entire country shuts down between June 30th and September 1st, but no, it was in effort. They actually claimed that it would take them 4 times longer to validate the updates than it took us to make them.
Futility: trying to convince a French developer that someone, somewhere, might be able to do something better.
PS: Yes Hubby, you too fall into this category.
PPS: I am probably breaking some part of my contract right now by writing this, so shhh, don’t tell anyone I said any of this.