RE: Is TW Still Hospitable to Novices? A Dilemma

Subject: RE: Is TW Still Hospitable to Novices? A Dilemma
From: "Buss, Jason A" <jabuss -at- cessna -dot- textron -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 13:32:15 -0600

I can sympathize with your friend.

I am also a person that fell into tech writing by accident.
I work for an aircraft manufacturer. Had worked two years on the shop
floor, and two years with another company before this as a machinist. I
wanted out of the shop really badly, so I took a certification course using
2D drafting/3D solid modeling systems, and got a job as an illustrator for
the technical publications department. After about six months, I was asked
to write some service documentation for a project when we were really short
handed, and pretty much grew into the position, and began writing technical
manuals on top of service documents (I had the advantage of being able to do
all the illustration work of my own pubs, saving some headcount for the
department and enhancing my skills). I am now the
programmer/analyst/administrator of our single source publishing
environment, but I still get to write the procedures, documentation, online
help, and CBTs for our publishing system (including creating and maintaining
our intranet site).

Sometimes I wonder if it isn't more common to end up a tech writer than to
try and become one. This may be the stumbling block for your friend.
Considering that our combined technical publications staff is around 70+,
and that a good majority come from a non-English, non-journalism background,
it might be a plausible hypothesis that hiring managers may typically look
outside the box. However, this doesn't exactly allude to the problem with
your friend. I will offer a few suggestions...

Learn, learn, and then learn....
I don't have a degree, just a couple of credit hours to my name. Between
books and the internet, there is just about anything you would ever want to
learn available for free or reasonably cheap. A good chunk of the world's
computer geniuses are that way before they ever set foot in a college (if
they even bother). The myth about teaching old dogs new tricks is silly,
the only real advantage that kids have over adults when it comes to learning
is that most of them have more free time than we do.

Write for the hell of it...
There are hundreds of e-zines on the net covering an infinite number of
topics. Many of them pay little to nothing for approved submissions, but it
does give anyone with good writing skills a chance to be published somewhere
(or to hone their writing skills, should they find themselves rejected for
some reason). It also gives an opportunity to write with a goal in mind, to
have requirements and guidelines. It's a very useful tool for anyone with
little or no experience who wants to try their hand at it as a career.
Also, start your own web site. Write your own articles, write a "white
paper", review some materials, just get some content from your own hand out
there where it can be seen. Add the URL to your resume... If an employer
is even remotely interested, they'll take a look.

Certification...
I'm not really familiar with some of the certifications discussed in this
thread, but you might check out http://www.brainbench.com ... They have a
number of free certifications you can achieve, and many listed in writing
and communications. You are assigned an ID number that you can add to your
resume and employers can use this to view your certifications. WARNING:
don't take one until you are really comfy with the subject material. They
aren't cakewalks, and the test result shows up on your online transcript,
good or bad. The best thing is that these are free (at least until March
first, but I'm not sure which skills they will charge for or how much).

I hope some of this helps your friend.

-Jason


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