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?

computer and keyboard

“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.

Categories: Computers, Software, Technology, Work, Writing

Tags: , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. A manual that said ‘recycle the device’, which actually meant ‘turn it off and on again’, but how was I to know? You defintely didn’t write that one!


  2. There’s really nothing to add to this except Amen. 😀


  3. I am so glad and absolutely happy that I no longer belong to the system. Annual appraisals filling out forms for the boss which I usually refused to fill out seriously. He was almost old enough to be my son, a fine bloke caught up in the system, and so he just laughed and did his best to discuss my faults. We could write A, B or C. I made everything a B. He said why a B. I said he could either make an A out of it or a C. Further laughs and I usually got away with an A, perhaps one B and never a C. That is human psychology. Oh dear Marilyn, arn’t we glad to have it all behind us. You summed it up well.


  4. Well that explains a lot 😀


  5. FOUR minutes is a lifetime for a TV news story these days.


  6. Wow. I can think of a single, digital and very graphic user interface that could replace your entire response to this guy, but it would have been rude. You have one on each hand, but people usually use the one on the right. 😉 This happened to me in a teaching job interview I really wanted. The job requirements said, “Skillful at using PowerPoint and other technology.” I did my 30 minute teaching demo with a beautiful Ppt show. The TRUTH was 1) none of them could have done that, 2) the students in that college wouldn’t have understood it. I constantly made the mistake of going where students needed to go rather than going where students were… In that case what I got was the chance to teach there part time for 10 years with the love and support of my boss, but not tenure. The admins couldn’t get it. Same digital interface upraised…


    • They don’t get it. They NEVER get it. I was in a highly volatile business and changed jobs often. Potential employers were forever demanding skills that had nothing to do with the job, nothing to do with writing. While forgetting that it didn’t matter how much technical expertise you have, if you can’t explain it in words, it’s a waste of time. I am SOOO glad I’m out of it!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice take…. I did a double take..ha ha!! 🙂


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