A Tribute to Bunky the Technical Writer
by Matthew Arnold Stern
Thursday, August 30, 2001 was a dark day for all of us technical writers. That was when Bunky, who has become the most famous technical writer in America, was voted out of the Big Brother house on CBS.
Bunky didn't win the big $500,000 grand prize for being the last one in the house, but he did extremely well on the show. He lasted eight weeks and made it to the final five contestants. He won several competitions, gained a number of friends, and earned the respect of his rivals. Most importantly, he handled his time in the public eye with dignity and honesty.
As a fellow technical writer, I'm not surprised that Bunky did so well. I believe Bunky's professional experience as a technical writer served him well.
First, doing a lot with less. We technical writers thrive on that.
At one point in the show, the contestants had to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for four days, the result of a contest Bunky won. Of course, the other contestants whined and cried for the whole four days. Please! If you want deprivation, try writing a 650-page user guide in Microsoft Word with screenshots that you have to try to keep from blurring and a system that constantly crashes. Or, try compiling a 10,000-topic help file on a four-year-old 233-MHz Pentium system while the executives get new 2-GHz Pentium 4 boxes to do PowerPoint slides.
(I'd love to see those contestants who complained about their PB&J's take their whiny butts to Survivor where they eat a half a cup of rice a day.)
Second, politics. Back-stabbing, secret alliances, outright lying? Been there and sometimes even had to do that. I've been through corporate mergers that make Chilltown and the Hardy-Nicole axis look like handholding sing-alongs at church socials. Even the "evil doctor" Will, who delights in lying to and belittling his competitors, would be chum for some of the sharks I've seen in marketing and management.
Third, handling the awkward position of visibility. Bunky was under public scrutiny constantly, but we technical writers spend a lot of the time "on the radar" as well. Management generally ignores documentation when it is time to allocate resources or plan schedules, but guess who gets the heat when users have problems using the product (normally because engineering didn't review our drafts and designed unusable products)? When marketing gets one of its periodic urges to "rebrand" a product, guess who is in the critical path to change 25 guides and 60 help files -- all within a week?
In many respects, environment in the Big Brother house is like that of many businesses in America. We don't have cameras and microphones on us (as far as we know), but we do have Dilbert.
Yet, Bunky has done what we technical writers have always done in such difficult environments: carry himself with dignity and honesty. He struggled against the temptation to sink to everyone else's level of duplicity and gamesmanship, and deeply regretted when he did. Bunky is a winner, even if he didn't net the $500,000 grand prize. He carried himself with respect, and he shown a positive light on a frequently maligned and generally misunderstood profession.
At least Bunky will get one thing we technical writers usually don't get -- recognition for a job well done. Good work, Bunky.