Saturday, December 31, 2016

Lesson 2016:03

When I left Pearson for the last time as an employee on January 26, 2016, which was 11 months, 5 days (340 days) ago - the day I was laid off - I cared about Pearson documentation.

I still care.

However, I have learned (a-ha!) that I can not control what my co-workers do with the documentation I helped create. I am no longer their co-worker. Yes, I will likely have a morbid curiosity for a period of time. I had that same type of attitude when I could view the Quintrex documentation after I left. Eventually, though, that feeling of ownership dwindles as the balance between what I contributed and what has been contributed since I left tips.

Quintrex? Ah, yes.

When I left Quintrex on October 15, 2010, it was leaving 12 years, 2 weeks (4397 days) of work behind.

I had an empire. I was the only technical writer and every word that went into the online Help, which was seen by the customer, and every word that went into the internal documentation was reviewed by me.

The end-user documentation had started as hundreds of OfficeVision (an AS/400 word processor) documents and a handful of MS Word documents. Over my time there, I had converted that content to WinHelp files (see below) and then to HTML. I can vividly recall that I knew about "span classes" when I initially started working with HTML. I created a CSS definition called "programname" and any time I wanted to have bold, I used that span class. Then I learned about having a separate CSS definition for each "type" of "thing" I wanted to be bold. I defined "check_box" and "dropDown" and "dropDownValue" and was methodically going through all of my HTML files to change "programname" to a specific span class tag. That work was not done when I left.

The internal documentation was called Billopti. That was short for "Billable Options" even though I referred to them as "System Options" in the documentation. Why the difference? In reality, not all "Billable Options" were actually billable to the customer. Some "Billable Options" were standard.

I digress.

When I left Quintrex on October 15, 2010, I really thought I was going to a better situation. I thought I would be able to build the same type of pseudo-kingdom I had built at Quintrex. I thought I was going to do awesome but readers of this blog from October 15, 2010 - April 15, 2011, know the truth.

I digress again. Damnit!

When I left Quintrex on October 15, 2010, I had invested hours upon hours of my own time to learn technologies. I spent hours in the den, downloading WinHelp (.hlp) files and decompiling them to learn how a feature I had seen was done. If it was fairly easy, I would then take that knowledge to work the next day and try to implement it.

When I left Pearson January 26, 2016, I had been with the company for 4 years, 7 months, 3 weeks, 5 days (1701 days), which is obviously not as long as the amount of time I was at Quintrex. Yet, with the Pearson documentation, I really came into a deeper sense of my work. When we shifted from the PDF paradigm to the Wiki paradigm, I was initially not a strong supporter. I knew our existing customers and my co-workers had very specific requirements and I was doubtful they could be met with a Wiki. Initially, the direction was to dismiss those requirements and to not worry about:
  1. writing procedures - we would lead the user to the place in the system to do a task but not tell them what to click
  2. writing user-role based documentation - we would document all tasks that could be done in the system
  3. including screenshots - we would not include screenshots for a variety of reasons
  4. creating a printable version - we would not create a PDF because a PDF is instantly out-of-date
Our department had worked in that direction until we showed it to the first customer of the rewritten system. Guess what they wanted? Better, guess what we began to do...

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