RE: Moving into the position of "programmer writer"? (LONG)

Subject: RE: Moving into the position of "programmer writer"? (LONG)
From: "Lydia Wong" <lydiaw -at- fpoint -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 17:57:35 -0500

Hi Anon Y. Mous,

You asked about becoming a "programmer writer." Here are my two cents, for
what they're worth.

There are quite a few jobs for programmer writers out there. Many ads ask
for such critters. Truth is, there aren't too many people out there to fit
those jobs. There are people who have training in programming and writing,
and who can do both, but not enough to fill all the job openings.

What I've seen in my experience is that those people get hired very quickly,
and the rest of the openings go to people like yourself--with skills and
interests in programming, and with writing experience, but with no formal
programming background or training. Often, these people do take additional
classes later, and eventually, some of them move into more of the
programming arena than the writing one (if they want to).

For myself, I guess I'm a programmer writer in that I document APIs. As part
of my work, I write short (or sometimes a bit longer) pieces of VB code. At
our company, though, we writers are not required to work in or read the
actual source code (which is in C++), so I'm certainly not as skilled or
heavy duty a programmer writer as many folks out there. However, I have had
enough training in the distant past to pick up on VB pretty quickly (oh, and
I definitely had some very patient assistance from co-workers!), and to
follow the logic of things if programmers explain some of the gory details
of their work to me.

If you are in an area where there is a good demand for programmer writers,
you might be able to get a job right now, with your current background and
experience. Your interest in continuing your programming education will be a
big factor in your favor, and it's quite possible you might be able to get a
company to pay for additional training for you.

This really will depend on your geographic location, of course. Here in the
RTP area (North Carolina), there is a moderate demand for programmer
writers, I'd say. In our area, most programmer writers with experience will
be looking at salaries from about $55K to $70K and up, but that would be
with some experience under your belt. I really couldn't say what the
rock-bottom, nation-wide salary would be, I'm afraid.

You also asked about teams. From what I hear from folks, that varies widely.
Here, we writers are considered a part of the development team, with quite a
bit of input on things like GUI design and such. I would not say we rank
right up there with developers in terms of salaries and work stations,
though. However, we are respected members of the team. I think some
programmer writers are much more involved in the development process than we
are, but I know some that are not. If/when you pursue your goal of becoming
a programmer writer, ask questions at interviews about what roles the
programmer writer has, and ask the other writers about their daily
activities. You'll want to pursue an atmosphere that fits your interests and
work style.

One last thing, look into other, perhaps less expensive, forms of training,
too. For example, the Montreal STC chapter just sponsored a workshop titled
"Documenting APIs and SDKs." Here's the web site to read more:
http://gordonandgordon.com/apisandsdks.html They are selling a workbook from
the workshop, if you're interested. If they hold another workshop, it might
be a good way for you to find out more about programmer writers, and perhaps
to network some, too.

I hope this helps! I enjoy API technical writing, and it sounds like perhaps
you would too.

Lydia : )
__________________
Lydia Wong
Technical Writer
FarPoint Technologies, Inc.
www.fpoint.com



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