Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!

Subject: Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!
From: "Gillespie, Stephen (Contractor)" <Stephen -dot- Gillespie -at- Persnet -dot- Navy -dot- Mil>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 09:39:34 -0600

I'm a bit late jumping in here (to Sunday's post), but here goes:
Beth wrote:
>Okay, so the Pharmaceuticals won't hire you unless you have a background
> in Chemistry, Biology, Medicine or a related discipline. I find that
> defensible when there are so many applicants in the pool. But how come I
> all of a sudden have to be able to validate code to get a job? Or write
> code? Or prepare Use Cases? Or (so help me!) answer the telephone and
> distribute the mail? Or have specialized knowledge of esoteric
> manufacturing methodologies? Or . . . well, you get my point.

(and Andrew Plato responds)
>Because it is impossible to write authoritatively and intelligently if you
don't understand the topic.<
(and to her comment below ...)
>However, there is also a great deal of economic pressure to make companies
therefore tech pubs groups) leaner and meaner. Why have writers who don't
the topic, when there are plenty of writers who DO know the topic? It takes
longer to produce quality documentation if the writers don't understand what
they are documenting. Therefore, companies can save money and ultimately get
better manuals if they require writers to possess content knowledge.

(Andrew also responds)
<Reprocessing text from an SME isn't writing. That's clerical work. Writing
demands learning about something and then building a document from the
knowledge you have borrowed, gleaned, or gathered.>
Well, I faced that old 'what do you know about big airplanes?' when I first
applied for a tech writer position at (what used to be, anyway) the largest
employer of technical communicators in the Midsouth - Federal Express. Of
course, it was ludicrous to expect that being a 'big plane expert' was a
valid requirement ... I finally found a hiring manager in a p&p group who
recognized that I had the *potential* to become a content

But not an SME, mind you. And I agree with Melody Akins rebuttal that TWs
indeed may add value to the SME-composed deliverable.

I began my career in manufacturing support. Prior to FedEx, my first tech
writing job was for a local Fortune 500 manufacturer of vertical
transportation systems (aka elevators & escalators) ... course, I didn't
know that a hydraulic elevator (vs traction type) even existed ... but
before I left, I was traveling to construction sites with the engineers for
'hands on' (actually help build/install) the systems, then write the
Similarly, as the sr writer at the old Brother Industries' R&D here in
Tennessee, to document service/maintenance/repair procedures, I always got
the prototype from the factory next door, and sat back at my desk with my
hand tools to take it apart, see what made it tick etc.

I'm in IT support now as a defense contractor, and am thrust into working
with RUP/Rational etc. - quite a learning curve for an aging English major,
but I have confidence I'll figure it out! The developers here create
all/most of the lifecycle artifacts, then the other writer and I are called
in to edit their work (not entirely, 'clerical', Andrew!).

SO, my simple point is (largely to Beth) no, we're NOT SMEs, but never be
afraid to try something new. It's gotten me through good time & bad, most of
my career.

Steve Gillespie
Sr Technical Writer
Science & Engineering Associates
Naval Personnel Command
Millington, TN 38055

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