RE: real tech writers? RE: Out-of-Work Tech Writers and Switching Car eers

Subject: RE: real tech writers? RE: Out-of-Work Tech Writers and Switching Car eers
From: "Ed Manley" <edmanley -at- bellsouth -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 23 Jun 2002 20:45:44 -0700


I suspect the slur is founded in an unfortunate part of the Tech. Writer
experience.

It has been my experience that Technical Writers in traditional corporate
environments are largely composed of laid-off Customer Service staff, failed
"analysts" and so forth. That is why Tech. Writers are paid at such a low
rate.

I have been in this business since 1972, and can honestly say that less than
ten percent of the TWs with whom I have worked, and that is quite a large
number, have had any training, had technical writing in their heart, or
would be Tech. Writers at all if their first career choice had panned out.

I am a Technical Writer, for instance, because in 1979 I realized that I was
a lousy computer salesman, but saw a real need in the industry for better
documentation. I set out to learn how best technical documentation for
software development could be done, and hired myself out to implement those
practices.

I am a Business Process and Functional Analyst and a Requirements Engineer
because by the 90's TW pay had dropped to a rate for which I wasn't willing
to work (due to the proliferation of part-timers and wannabes), and I saw a
real need for improvement of the requirements delineation functions within
software development; so I investigated how process and requirements
analysis was done, why those practices often led to development failure, and
hired myself out to improve things.

I have owned a business and worked by contract employment quite profitably
under one of those titles continuously these last twenty-three years.

I have no formal training in any of them (I quit school in the eighth
grade), but I have invested thousands of hours in training myself, in
learning from others, and in constantly looking for ways to improve both
myself and the environments in which I work.

I remain dedicated to the improvement of software technical documentation,
and to assuring delivery of quality software on time and in budget through
improving the industry's requirements engineering and process analysis
practices.

These are, I believe, professional qualifications, yet, few corporate
managers would agree. And don't dis my commas, ya'll.

I was often beaten out of contract consideration by a laid-off Bellsouth
Customer Service Rep. with a degree in Business Administration or by a
tester the QA department could not work with; a person who could not define
the software development lifecycle nor the documents used within it, nor
less had the knowledge to research and write any one of them.

To ensure my ability to compete for work and to maintain livable bill rates
I went back to school and completed, at different times and schools and for
differing reasons, two undergraduate degrees: Computer Science with a minor
in English and Business Administration with a Music minor. I can honestly
tell you that, other than some of the literature studies, none of that
educational effort improved my capabilities as a writer or analyst one iota.
Total waste of time but for one thing: being able to produce those
transcripts earns me about fifty percent a year more compensation than I
could make without them.
I have a twenty-year-old computer science degree, therefore I are a tech
writer.

Look into the ranks of any large corporation - IBM, BellSouth, Sprint, your
local or national government, any regulatory body, Boeing, etc. and see how
many trained and dedicated professional Technical Writers you find. Then
look at the transient population of TWs as a whole. You will find that most
TWs were something else a year ago, and want to be something else a year
from now.

The STC and others have been pushing for professional education and
certification for TWs for only a relatively short time.
The new title "Technical Communicator" is still derided by much of
management's rank for the simple reason that few manager's have ever met a
"true" Technical Writer.

For most of my technical writing career there has been no bar to entrance
into TW work, little or no training, no standards, no common practice, no
governance, no defined career path, no test to indicate who may be an
excellent candidate or who simply awarded themselves the title when they saw
the job listing, no real method of performance evaluation, in fact, no
common definition of a Technical Writer...much of corporate doesn't even
recognize the title - in many places we are Documentation Developers or, oh
my, Technical Documentation Specialists! And we expect professional
acceptance, with that background?

As I mentioned, we of the STC, IEEE, collegiate academia and others are
working to establish Technical Writing as a profession, but we have a ways
to go.

Lastly, we are burdened with a set of practices and tools that have been
written in stone. Remember that set of documents I mentioned earlier, those
used by decree in the software development lifecycle? Employers are well
aware that they don't work, have never worked, and will never work. They pay
us to keep creating them only because no better way has been found. We
cannot expect to be recognized as professionals as long as we keep doing
what we have always done and expecting different results.

Only when we accomplish the things alluded to in this epistle will we, as a
group, will be recognized and accepted as professionals. Until those things
are accomplished we will share our title and our profession with scores of
wannabes, and we must accept that employers and coworkers are well aware of
that. For now, we will garner professional status individually only by
proving ourselves.

Have fun,
Ed





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