Flash Talk – You’re about to enter a room full of strangers, where you will have exactly four minutes to tell a story that would convey who you really are. What’s your story?
“Good morning. You are,” glancing at my résumé on his desk, “Marilyn Armstrong. And you’re here about the … ” pausing to look at another piece of paper, “Technical writing position.”
“Technical writer,” I nod. “That’s me.”
“Tell me about yourself.”
The dreaded moment. What do they want to really know? Theoretically, all they need is whether I can do the work, which obviously I can. My credentials speak for themselves. They want to know if I’ll ‘fit in’ to their ‘corporate culture.’ Whether they or the other people in the department will like me.
Competency? They could give a rat’s ass. It’s all about being likable and I don’t feel convivial. I hate interviews. Even when I’m doing the interviewing.
Speaking of which, I have a heartbeat to turn this around. “I’d appreciate your telling me something about your company and the position before I proceed,” I respond. I’m smiling broadly. Very phony too. Because I already know this job is not for me. It’s too corporate, too stitched up and formal. I can tell by the clothing everyone is wearing. By the cubicles I passed that are so antiseptic, it doesn’t look like anyone works in them. No pictures on the walls. No toys on the desk. No happy murmur of people hanging out near the coffee machine. And as far as I can tell … no coffee machine to hang out by. High tech is fueled by coffee and take-out pizza. If there’s no coffee machine, that’s a very bad sign.
“Blah blah yada yada blah blah blah,” he says.
“Yada yada blah blah,” I respond.
“I can do this job,” I finally say, tired of the crap and getting a headache. “I know database design, object-linked and relational. I can write a manual from preface to index as long as I have periodic access to the design engineers and a playpen for testing.”
“You want to get hands on?” he says. Alarmed.
“I won’t write about a product I have never tested,” I say. “I write manuals, not fiction.”
“The engineers can tell you how it works.”
“The engineers will tell me how they think it is going to work. Between that and reality can lie a vast wasteland into which customers — your customers — can wander and never be seen again. Think of me as a double threat — writer and beta tester in one adorable package,” and I give him another smile.
He is perturbed. It turns out they don’t have a working prototype. No one is exactly sure what the user interface will look like because … they haven’t created it yet. And all the engineers are Russian, which is fine, except they are creating the GUI and they don’t write English so good, you know? Did you ever wonder about those inscrutable menu selections? This is how they got there.
And the completely irrational placement of critical functions? No user (not an engineer or developer) tested the product before release. Seemed okay to them, you know?
And so it goes, and so it went. And that’s why the manual that (maybe) came with your expensive device or software seems to bear no resemblance to how it really works. Because I didn’t write it.