Re: Is TW Still Hospitable to Novices? A Dilemma

Subject: Re: Is TW Still Hospitable to Novices? A Dilemma
From: Christine -dot- Anameier -at- seagate -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 11:28:20 -0600

Peter Shea, on behalf of a friend, "wondered if the inspiring stories he
had heard about people falling sideways in the TW field from other
professions were exaggerated, or whether the profession had changed to
such a degree that only programmers or MIS graduates could reasonably
expect tech writing work."

I would say to your friend: don't be discouraged. Be patient and work on
marketing your strengths. Granted, employers and agencies are looking for
people with X years of experience in tool Y at company Z, and they're very
quick to ferret out the fact that you haven't actually done tech writing
before. But that doesn't have to mean defeat.

I have a liberal arts background--an English BA from Vassar, and an
almost-(everything-but-the-paperwork) MA from the University of Minnesota,
also in English lit. When I broke into tech writing, my non-academic
professional writing experience was limited to an 18-month stint writing
advertising copy, although I did teach writing for a couple of years as a
grad student. It took me several months of persuasive talking to get an
agency to place me. I was repeatedly advised to go the perm route before
attempting to become a contractor, but I felt I would just run into too
many HR flacks that way, and contracting suits me better... so I persisted.

I would also say: Analyze your other work experience and figure out what
skills are most valuable and transferable. Make sure you yourself believe
you'd be a good tech writer and be prepared to explain why. Show some
energy, confidence, and conviction. Keep talking to people until you
convince one of them to give you a chance. Be prepared to address their
preconceptions about your technical ability--you may not be a programmer,
but you don't always need to be. (I'm finding end-user SW documentation a
very comfortable niche. There's been plenty of debate about this on the
list already, but personally, I find my background almost an advantage, in
the sense that I haven't spent the last several years surrounded by
technical geniuses--I've spent my time around ordinary end users and seen
their befuddledness first-hand.)

Finagling some technical duties in one's current non-tech job can be
helpful. In my advertising job I wound up being the only computer literate
person left after layoffs, so they put me in charge of the network. Mostly
I changed backup tapes and called in the REAL network guy after some
rudimentary troubleshooting, but it was enough to establish a shred of
technical credibility later on and counter the curse of the English major.

Your friend is welcome to contact me off-list (anam -at- phoenixdsl -dot- com) for
further ramblings and pep talks. I broke into this field 3 years ago and
vividly remember what a struggle it was.


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