Back in my former life as a career counselor, one of my favorite articles was social psychologist Albert Bandura’s “The Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths”, a journal article that highlighted how often the intentional career planning advocated in college career centers was subverted by real-life events and choices. I’d often explain to students one main goal of all the work they were doing in the career preparation was to help them become much luckier in the job search. They’d be much more likely to find just the right contact, hear about the perfect job opening, or be offered a very special internship or summer job, if they were clear on what they were looking for.
The right contact, the perfect job, and the very special internship are defined by personal passions and interests; one student’s perfect summer job is another’s hell-hole. Identifying and owning your passion–even if it’s unusual or not popular in the press–for me is one of the key “ends of education”, and one that we all should be thinking more about.
So, some guy (Nick Petterssen, who it turns out wasn’t even a tech writer) working for a small software company (Electric Rain) cares enough about users to go way beyond what’s needed and write a killer, inviting, memorable user manual. As a direct result, an engineering student from Canada will end up as one of the youngest O’Reilly-signed authors. Nick, and Electric Rain, changed the direction of a user’s life in a substantial and unexpected way. All because of a manual.
If a user manual can have that impact on a student, imagine the possibilities for a class, a course or a curriculum.