The CEO of Yahoo! recently upset a lot of people when she announced that employees would no longer be allowed to work from home, and that all returning employees were going to be put on rotating babysitting duty. However, the public outcry seems to have ignored one of the more puzzling details – technical writers are officially exempt from this new work requirement.
Yahoo! Representatives were at first hesitant to comment, but later reluctantly agreed to admit that the exemption was actually more of a “ban.” The security staff were also apparently issued an order to shoot on site any technical writer that showed up for work. When pressed for a reason, the representatives declined to comment, and only muttered something about the SME hunting getting out of control.
The hunting of subject matter experts (SMEs) is a somewhat controversial practice used by technical writers to elicit cooperation from reluctant SMEs. In order to receive the necessary information, technical writers will often use blow darts to knock their targets unconscious, drag them to a remote cubicle, and drug them before subjecting them to rigorous questioning. Many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of this information-gathering technique, and in recent years the practice had become fairly prevalent at Yahoo!
Due to NDA related reasons, most SMEs were reluctant to comment on the subject. However persistence and blackmail led to Q, a systems analyst working in Yahoo! who plans on moving to Antarctica “to get away from the whips.” Q understands the need for technical writers to deliver accurate content in a timely manner, and fully justifies using any and all means to force SMEs to cooperate if they do not respond immediately e-mails. However, in the past couple of months he thinks that the SME hunting was starting to get out of hand. “The blow darts had been upgraded to shotguns, and tranquilizers were only used by ‘wusses’,” Q claimed. “One of the software engineers came to me in tears after being chained to the cubicle and denied coffee. He had been required to review 500 pages of content. However, every attempt on his part to explain that he was unqualified to review hardware manuals was met with lashes, and that’s just wrong! The least they could have done was provided him with decaf!”
Most SMEs are reluctant to complain, being fully aware of the fact that many companies prefer to outsource from India, China and Zimbabwe. According to Q, “SMEs are a dime a dozen, and if you’ve seen one programmer, you’ve seen ’em all.” Technical writers on the other hand are considered to be highly sought after by most companies, due to the valuable skill sets they possess – delivering information in a clear, concise manner before it is actually needed. “Everyone loves good technical writers – even if they feel the need to knock us unconscious and chain us to our cubicles on a daily basis.”
So what changed? According to Q, technical writers were not just hunting SMEs, they were also beginning to hunt marketing writers who used too many adjectives and managers who did not authorize tool upgrades. “Even the CEO was afraid to cross them. I suspect that the ban on telecommuting was actually a ploy to get the technical writers out of the office.”
Z, a project manager found to be easily susceptible to corporate blackmail, confirmed this analysis. Technical writers would be heavily incentivized to work from home, both increasing productivity, and keeping them away from other employees. Also interns would no longer be used as coffee tasters, freeing them up for diaper duties. “We want all our employees to feel happy and more importantly safe. If this can be accomplished by banning, sorry exempting, technical writers from working in the office,” said Z. “I think everyone ends up satisfied. The technical writers receive a raise and benefits, the SMEs can actually do some real work babysitting for the CEO, and Yahoo! is transformed into a place where everyone can work in global harmony.”
And are the technical writers happy? According to Josh Freeman, senior writer and SME controller at Yahoo!, who was not afraid to be identified: “The chips we planted in the base of their necks will ensure that the SMEs are always available when we need them, and we sold our blow guns to QA, so overall I think this is going to work.
This also seems to be the accepted wisdom in many other companies—allowing technical writers to work from home is a good method to increase productivity and safety of all employees – even if SMEs do not get to live in constant fear.”
Editor’s Note: to gauge the overall industry acceptance of SME hunting tactics, we are asking you to vote in the following poll:
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