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: "Wilcox, Rose (ZB5646)" <Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- pinnaclewest -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2002 12:49:42 -0700

> What frustrates me about other TW/TC I have worked with:
> 1. Many come from various backgrounds/disciplines and profess to
> "have a knack" for TC. Please -- if you have a knack, back it up with
> REAL training. Get a degree in the field or at least a certificate.
> Someone professing to be a TW/TC that has no real training in the
> discipline will quickly be identified dis-respected by those who DO
> have training in the field.

Hi, I'm a technical writer of *only* 18 years of experience. When I
graduated college in 1984, there were only a handful of TWing degrees in the
U.S.A. What I did was go to the School of Technical Careers and combine an
Associates in computer programming with upper level coursework in training
and writing. I found that my experience in the field and my willingness to
learn about technical writing and technical subjects has been much more
useful than my degree. Possibly because not a lot of it was geared to
TWing, but I also feel that academic knowledge doesn't always translate to
pragmatics. Although my computer courses were certainly useful.

I notice that the curricula of the TW degrees out there, even the Master's
level, doesn't look that challenging to me. I don't think it would garner
me more respect to go back, but even if it did, respect isn't worth the
money. I already command top dollar, so the only reason I can think of to
get a Masters in TW at this time is to be able to teach. Teaching would be
a nice end-of-career career, I think.

The Master's in TW seems like it might be easier than a Masters in any other
subject, as most of the classes seem to review knowledge I have already. It
might broaden me or deepen me in a few areas, but couldn't I do that by
surveying a subject of interest on my own? I tend to want a challenge, so I
am tending to look at Masters that would give me even more knowledge, rather
than one in my own field. However, I am still considering a Masters in
TWing... and it might be a few years before I go, as my daughter is in
college, my employment situation is like most of ours (tenuous at best), and
money is not yet dropping down from the sky for such a project. :-)

As far as hiring TWers go, I have only worked with one with a TW degree.
Possibly because the pay isn't very great out here in Arizona, so the grads
go elsewhere.

The young TWer with the TW degree didn't have a very "team work" type of
attitude, but since I only worked with one so far, I wouldn't judge others
by that one experience. What I look for is someone who demonstrates good to
fair writing samples, ability to learn technical material, good team work
skills and attitudes. I wouldn't disqualify someone without a college
degree, but I would disqualify someone with mediocre or low quality samples.

I have a set of questions that I ask based on position and have been 90%
happy with my own hires. (The majority of problems I have had with tech
writers working for me has been with people I didn't hire.)

However, a few of my blind spots as a person have caused me to hire writers
that didn't work out. Three stand out:

1) was an ace tech writer who lied to me in the interview as I asked
point-blank if she would leave the contract before the end of it. She said
no way, so I hired her, and one month later she left me in the lurch for a
more lucrative contract that she had been waiting for. Since I would *not*
have lied in the sitch, I was taken aback. On one hand, I don't blame her
and she taught me a valuable lesson in not taking all candidates at face

2) A woman who rose from the ranks as a secretary/admin assistant. I felt
admiration for her rise and she expressed a "can do" attitude.
Unfortunately she couldn't easily pick up the technology she was writing
about and did not ask for help. My blind spot was that admired the type of
person she represented and was not as rigorous as I might have been in
qualifying her technically. (In my defense, this was when it was a TWers
job market, not an employers job market, so I had difficulty finding
qualified candidates. Oh to be hiring now!

3) A young woman I hired who had done a lot of marketing copy. She
expressed a willingness to learn and admiration for my skills. My ego did
me in on that one. She had difficulty showing up for work even though our
hours were very flexible and was very junior. She didn't work as hard as
one might for the job.
Unfortunately, I moved to another project in the corporation and left her to
the devices of a manager who had no tech writing experience. I explained to
him that she was a junior and would do better paired with a certain senior
writing I had on staff. He, for whatever reason (I have speculated that he
thought I might try to sabotage him), did the opposite of my advice. He put
the junior on the biggest most complex project all by herself and gave the
senior an easy project. The junior failed and her contract was not renewed.
The senior, scuttlebutt said, became disaffected and bored. Such a waste!

Of the three that didn't work out, two did not have the degree. However, I
can list many tech writers without degrees of any kind, and many with
degrees in other fields (geography comes to mind!) that were very high
quality tech writers, who I would gladly work with and/or hire again.

Rosie Roro from Arizona rattlin' on

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