Re: Working for a subcontractor

Subject: Re: Working for a subcontractor
From: "Lisa Lander" <nana_maria7 -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 06 Sep 2001 10:01:17 +0300

--- Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com> wrote:

It sounds like you had a very bad experience as a
contractor, and not really a typical one, either. I hope that being on
salary appeals to you more.

I think you have misunderstood a part of what I've written (sorry, I know my English is far from perfect - I am not a native speaker?). When working for a subcontractor, we do have permanent jobs and we're working full-time every month, and we always get the same amount of salary per month. I guess it's just the company that sends us to different companies, gets more or less money monthly, depending on the deal, not us?(Luckily?). So I'm not singing any deals with companies, but the company that has hired me, does?Hope this became clearer now.

So far as I'm concerned, I
sometimes wonder how any self-respecting individual can work full-time. While
I've had some bad experiences as a contractor, I feel that I get much
more respect than a full-time employee.

Maybe it's just that in the country I work in - and come from (Finland) - we don't (yet) have this long experience of contractor work (in general). It seems as if the hiring companies really haven't realized it that people who work for subcontractors are talented individuals also (they seem to associate subcontracting work with work that doesn't require any training or experience). I think that here, in general, it seems to be more appreciated that you work in a single company. In any case, the dream of most technical writers here seems to be that they can work for a single company...and there has to be a good reason for this. Many have quit their jobs lately in our company and gone from subcontracting to steady jobs in a single company.

And as I said, these thoughts are shared with other TWs working for subcontractors (at least in this country). Of course there are always people who like the change that working for a subcontractor gives you. But really, it seems that you in Canada seem to have more history in subcontracting (which is really nice for you; and I guess these complaints seem really far fetched for you...), as I said before. It feels like most of this comes to that. I think that also the hiring companies (at least in this country) should understand that unless they're willing to give some respect to subcontractors, noone's going to be willing to do the job anymore; at least not skilled technical writers (and the quality of documentation will go down...and this will eventually influence the sales, etc...). Also, my only (relatively short) experience of working for a subcontractor is from a big, global company, maybe the situation is better in smaller companies...

In fact, the couple of times
that I did move from contractor to salary, I noticed a distinct change in
attitude to me. In my experience, an outsider coming with advice or
skills gets far more respect than someone the company is used to having

I tried this (giving advice on smth) but the employees of the hiring company really did not want to listen to a subcontractor at all (maybe it is an attitude problem or just a matter of personality - maybe I just came across a 'difficult' person when it comes to taking advice from other people...). And I can assure you that the thing I tried to suggest would have been useful for the company since I happened to have more experience with the tool. They just didn't want to believe it for some reason. It can also be that they were afraid of losing their own jobs if someone proves to be more competent than they are...

This may be where the difference lies. Most of the
time, I contract with companies that have no writers. Everyone is glad to
see a writer arrive.

Well, I don't have any experience in working for a company which doesn't have any writers of its own. But I think things would surely be different there than in a big company where they have writers who have been their for a long time...

If you contract, it's up to you to
keep your skills current.

Well, I'm working for a subcontracting company that hires us TWs to other companies (as I mentioned before). You would think that it is their business (at least a bit!) to make sure their writers get the training they need; how can they otherwise assure on their web pages that their writers are at experts in their area...If they state something like that, I think that -although it is of course also the responsibility of the TW to keep up his/her writing skills - also the company has to facilitate the opportunities to develop your skills. In Finland we get a lot of training in companies, so it is actually something you expect from a company when you start working for them. It's one way for a company to compete with others to get good employees. But I guess nowadays when the economic situation is getting worse and worse it affects the training the companies give, as well.

As a contractor, you generally make more
money than a salaried
Ø employee anyway.

Not in Finland, at least if you're working for a company that hires you somewhere else. I don't know exactly how much money freelance writers make...Anyway, I have made more money in a single company and will, too, get more in the company where I'll start working soon.

As you say, this depends on the person. To give you
the other persepctive, I find that contracting keeps you more
in touch with reality. Lots of people like the illusion of
security that a full-time job gives, but they're really no more secure than I
am. The difference is that I know I'll be moving on. They don't. I can plan. They can't.

Well, I think that 'moving on' can mean different things for different people. I feel that I have better opportunities for moving on when working in a single company where I know I'll be staying a long time - that means I have more time to consistently develop documentation. And I think that documenting really complex products really does require a TW to stay there for more than just a couple of months, even a year. I want to be a specialist in an area, and I want to learn to know the product well, too. Also, I like the idea that I can sit at the same table and same meetings with the engineers/developers and can have a say when developing the product. At the moment someone just gives me papers and says:"Can you add this and that here and there". And it's so frustrating! I like to find out about these things myself, that's one part in this job that I really like. And I don't think that it harms the engineers/developers either to have some non-technical person there in their meetings to give his/her input?

Counter-point: in my first two years as a
contractor, I was exposed to a greater variety of tasks and took far more
responsibility than if I had been working full-time at a single company. And,
when I've hired, I've found that anyone who has survived a couple of years
as a contractor generally has more experience and more initiative.

I have to disagree with you here. In my experience the people who have come from subcontracting companies have being dying to work for a single company. Many TWs I know have said that it has been a blessing to get a job in a single company. There you can also do more research in your area and the company is more likely to 'invest' on you since they know you won't be going away immediately. Also, they might think that since you know the products well you might be good for some other position in the company, too.

It's so interesting to hear other people's opinions (in other countries, too!) about subcontracting. And it's interesting to see how different working cultures seem to be in different countries.


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