What working as a contract technical writer taught me about the workplace
I spent a big chunk of my career as a contract technical writer. During that time, I had my share of ups and downs working on contract — learning a lot about technology, human nature, human motivation, demotivation, and a lot of other life lessons — while working with large, medium, and small clients.
However, the good and bad parts of the human element often transcend organizations. There is an old saying amongst IT contractors I was once told, “You work with the same people in every place. The names change. Their sexes change. The positions may change. However, it is the same people.”
Here are some things I learned along the way:
- “Me” can become “We” and “We” can become “Me” real easy depending on the profile of the project. The higher profile project you are working on has a greater chance of becoming “We” than if you are doing scut work which it becomes “Me.”
- There is far more talk about a process than there is a process in the world. A process isn’t all bad, but there are a lot more organizations that espouse process than follow a replicable process.
- There are more knowledge silos than there is group knowledge. As project teams are often smaller than they were in better economic times, technical expertise is more likely to be in one person’s head often than spread across the group.
- History has a way of revising itself. Reorganizations, contract ends, resignations and layoff have positive and negative effects on a project team. One negative is people taking credit for more than they did because the original team isn’t there to speak up for themselves.
- The person doing nothing all day in their cube may not be lazy, but just underutilized. You can walk around many commercial and federal organizations to find workers in their cubicles reading the news, perusing e-commerce sites, and not doing much related to work. At first blush, it is easy to blame this on the worker, but it can also be the fault of management and the organization as well.
- Rebranding doesn’t take away the pain. Just because an organization rebrands itself doesn’t mean the dysfunction and other problems are going to go away.
My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.