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

Subject: RE: real tech writers? RE: Out-of-Work Tech Writers and Switching Careers
From: "David Lettvin" <dlettvin -at- attbi -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2002 17:22:1

First, some background:
I've been in the business for about 20 years. My background was in
journalism. My son, then in the fourth grade was part of a pilot project to
teach kids to program. He fell in love with it, but as he tried to do more,
he had to come to me with questions. Fatherly ego kept me up at night
trying to stay ahead of him. Eventually I too succumbed and returned to
school to learn to program.

I found out almost immediately that I was a capable programmer, but much
better at understanding and explaining software. My first job was writing
and delivering training. I have alternated between training and manuals
ever since.

For the last 10 years I managed an "Information Development" department for
a large corporation. That experience produced the following observations.

Disclaimer: Most of the TWs that I worked with were unaware of the
existence of Techwr-l. Their disengagement and your participation on this
list therefore automatically excludes you from my sample group. ;->

I have found four general types of technical writer in the corporate
culture. These are:

This person really wants to be a programmer.
Many feel disrespected by the software engineers and want to become SMEs
and concentrate on technology in order to move out of the field and into
bit-pushing or some other form of engineering.

Others in this group see technological solutions to the delivery of
information. These folks often stay in the field and concentrate on content
management, knowledge management, WBT/CBT design and similar forms of

This person really wants to be an author. Technical writing subsidizes
their "real work." If they are competent, they keep the disciplines
separated, but the subtext is that it's not what they really want to do.
They're just waiting for the big break.

This person just wants a paycheck. A common group in the corporate
environment (and one of the reasons I left), they do what they're told . .
. no more, but often less. The best of them do their jobs competently and
dependably. The worst of them complain about and even impede progress if it
means that they need to change the way they work. They don't care about
technical writing one way or another, it's their job from 9-5. Many of
these are the refugees from other departments that Ed talks about.

Technical Writers
This person loves to communicate. They may like technology, or write poetry
in their free time, but at the core they love their craft. There is nothing
they would rather do than make the light go on in the user's brain. Real
technical writers are passionate about their discipline, their craft, and
their challenges.

I regret to say that they are the smallest group.

Maybe it's corporate hiring practices, but out of 90 technical and training
writers working for my recent employer perhaps 10-12 were proud of their
job. If those proportions are consistent throughout the profession, it's no
surprise that we don't get any respect.

When Rodney Dangerfield whines, "I don't get no respect," we laugh, because
his tone of voice makes it clear that he has no respect for himself. He
wants other people to give him what he can't or won't give himself. So as
members of a profession that contains so many people who are ambivalent or
even embarrassed by what they do, we may feel like we get no respect. We
suffer from the Dangerfield Syndrome.

Is there such a thing as a "real technical writer?" Damn right there is it
is someone who wants the job (not a job), wants to do it well and is proud
to be a "real technical writer."

- Doc
Information Designer

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