Re: How to get a job in these challenging times

Subject: Re: How to get a job in these challenging times
From: "Doc" <doc -at- vertext -dot- org>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 2002 13:37:07 -0400

Okay, I wasn't sue at first but this diatribe convinces me. Glad to see you

Unfortunately I find myself 99% in support of this rant. I did so want to
cross swords.

I do want to make a couple of comments so forgive me if I restate your
points for brevity. (Not that I don't like your prose.)

"Andrew Plato" <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote in message
news:164046 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-

> 1. The economy is not recovering, especially for Tech.
Absolutely, even companies that were in a good position to survive the
downturn and WTC are suffering badly. CEOs of software companies in
particular, tend to have little business sense and make the mistake of
reducing R&D staff to try to keep their profit look better. They don't
realize that canny investors track R&D expenditures to see if the company
will have any new products in the future.

> 2. Technology industries getting smarter about assessing tech writing
I'm not as confident as you about this. What I have seen is a kind of
mindless attrition where percentages are cut without any evaluation of
skill. In my personal experience I have seen extraordinary talent laid-off
or misused.

> 3. TW skills in demand are the ability to understand technology at a very
deep level and explain that technology to others.
I agree that this is what the companies are looking for, but I'm concerned
about their lack of ability to understand the second half of the equation.
For the most part the people who are judging these skills are promoted
programmers whose concern about the user being able to understand the
documentation is impaired by their own intuitive understanding of the
program. Few if any of the major technology companies have instituted any
type of user review to determine the effectiveness of the doc.

> 4. If you don't love the job, as the employer defines it maybe you're just
not cut out for it.
Again I agree. Even if the employer's criteria are flawed, your job is to do
what they ask. That's not to say you shouldn't activate for better criteria,
but what they want comes first, what they should want comes second.

>4a. The employer doesn't care about theory, they want good docs accurate
and by deadline.
Absolutely and unequivocally true. Not only do they not care about theory,
they don't understand it, and they don't want to. If you do a good enough
job doing what they need, you may be allowed some autonomy to change things
for the better, BUT it is unlikely that the company will credit you for any
increase in user satisfaction. That's why the previous item is important.
Most management views documentation as a necessary evil, a sop to the user
and a money pit for the company. There are enlightened companies out there,
but they're in the minority.

> 5. The profession is diluted by writers who emphasize style over content
Andrew, you're playing my song. I know some people think that just by using
the term single-source I am damned forever as rabid theorist, but I came to
the discipline through my dissatisfaction with technical writers sloppiness
with content. I am appalled by the number of manuals on my shelves that are
close to useless because the writer did not understand what the software was
expected to do and how the user was expected to do it.

The seduction of spending hours fiddling with tools rather than working with
the object of the tools pervades the industry. At one point I was reduced to
requiring tech writers working for me to write all the documentation in
Notepad and sketch all the figures in pencil. Only after all the content was
complete were they allowed to import the text into FrameMaker and fire up
Visio. It was extraordinary (and a little horrifying) to see how much time
was saved.

>5a. We should purge all the process freaks, font fondlers, and academic
pontificator who contribute little and divert energy into nonsense.
Hmmm. This is a little tricky. First let's dispose of font-fondlers, please.
I don't care if the documentation is in Courier just so long as the content
is there.

Process freaks -- This is iffy. I understand your intent, but face it Andrew
when you look at the quality of the documentation available, somebody has to
tell writers how to do it! In my case, as a manager, I had to correct the ad
hoc development and impose the process and discipline that would result in
the quality I required. Does this make me a process freak? I hope not. It
may make me an opinionated, irascible, SOB but I can live with that.

I suppose that my championing that same process in my posts does make me a
process freak, but WTH, I can live with that too.

Academic pontificating bothers me too. I may pontificate, but my orations
are based on practice rather than theory. I assume that your complaint
concerns the academic aspect since you are not immune from the "direct from
on high" mode yourself. <g>


> So what do you need to do? Consider my 11 point action plan:
> 1. Be ruthless.
The degree of passivity in the corporate tech writing culture is truly
saddening. It's like a breeding-ground for victims. It's not just tech
writers though. I see programmers, managers and execs waiting ... waiting
... waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

> 2. Exploit people.
Get out there and network period. You have no idea where the next
opportunity will come from.

Join business groups. I joined Company of Friends run by Fast Company
magazine. After the first meeting I had my first contract.

Do pro bono work for a non-profit. It will keep your skills honed and
increase the size of your network. (BTW If you're interested in working with
a non-profit to create introductory and tutorial documentation for
developing nations, email me off-list.)

> 3. Spin those skills.
But stay flexible, skills that are in-demand can change quickly. Develop
expertise at developing expertise. Don't lock yourself in.

> 4. Broaden your awareness.
Tech writers need to ask themselves about the company's ROI (Return On
Investment) in them, not from their own point-of-view, but from the
company's. A good way to do this, but one that has been made overly complex
is something called the Balanced Scorecard.

Most companies publish their objectives and goals regularly. Find out what
they are. Then look at what you do and see if you can clearly equate your
activities to the company's future.

Set up your own goals clearly showing how what you do affects the goals of
the company. How does your doc directly affect the ability of the company to
achieve its goals. You may be surprised at how much they diverge.

> 5. Leech off others.
Use everybody but be realistic. Balance loyalties. Don't lean on anything
but keep your own balance.

> 6. Time is money. Don't waste your time listening to blathering morons
like me.
Unless you really need someone to tell you the hard truths.

> 7. Ignore Monster.
Do what you need to do.

> 8. Take a job, any job.

> 9. Infect yourself with mindless optimism.

> 10. Execute your fear.

> 11. Pay attention to your failures.
Build on failure. Everything fails. Expect perfection and you'll always be
disappointed. Close to perfection is great.

Piet Hein said:
The road to wisdom? - Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

I'm back to work ... bye!

David 'Doc' Lettvin
"Versatile Text for reusability and globalization"
vox: +1.978.468.1105
fax: +1.775.248.0508

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