Re: wannabe tech writer

Subject: Re: wannabe tech writer
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 27 Dec 2001 12:52:43 -0800

kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com wrote:

While it's true you'll never become a millionaire developing online help,
you can continually acquire new skills that are related to tech writing,
which in turn can positively affect your value to your employer (and with
it, your paycheck), without resorting to becoming a pointy-haired manager.

True, and the fact that there's so much you can learn is one of the field's attractions to me. But compare the opportunities a tech-writer has to those of a programmer. There are some companies who pay writers on the same scale as programmers; I should know, because I've found some of them. However, there seem to be far more that don't.

And if you did
choose to take your knowledge of the documentation process and became a
manager who actually knew what he or she was doing (gasp!), would that
really be a bad thing?

No, but switching into management - even documentation management - is a radical shift in perspective. Anybody whose main interest and skill is in writing should probably think twice about it. I've made the switch twice (the first time out of curiosity, the second out of perversity, as they say about orgies; if I do it a third time, my motivation will be masochism), and I don't think it's for everyone.

But even if that's your approach (which, incidentally, I think is fine
too; our lives don't HAVE to be ruled by our career ambitions), I submit
that tech writing is the most consistently lucrative WRITING career there
is, outside of being a best-selling author or famous columnist.

In fact, if you are rules by career ambitions, then tech-writing probably isn't the place for you. Tech-writing is ideal for those who like writing, learning, and teaching, and would prefer to make a decent income rather than being a stringer for a local paper, or a contract instructor in the English Department of a community college. However, it's not an especially good springboard to executive positions. I can think of only one CEO who used to be a tech-writer: Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly and Associates.

BTW, computer journalism can be an extremely lucrative field for a writer. Many full time positions start at about the place that tech-writing hits the ceiling. Unfortunately these positions are much rarer than than tech-writing positions.

Which brings up another point in favor of tech-writing as a career: even now, there are probably more tech-writing jobs than any other sort of writing related job.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

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