RE: Role of Technical Writer in IT

Subject: RE: Role of Technical Writer in IT
From: Megan Golding <mgolding -at- secureworks -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Sep 2002 19:35:07 -0400

Kevin Bell said:
> We are reassessing the role of a technical writer in IT.
> IT does not utilize or request use of my services for
> reasons not known to us.

I've been employed in both IT and engineering teams at two different
companies and my experiences have made for some unique job descriptions ;) I
think an outline of my major job functions will help show how I've fit in to
IT and engineering groups in nontraditional ways.

1. Lone writer on an IT team
* provide framework in which techies write
internal documentation. I've implemented
DocBook & Wiki as tools/mechanisms within
which to write. On one side, you might
compare this to providing documentation
templates company-wide. This is a documentation
design role, in my experience and requires
a lot of insight into how the techies
work and what they'll find convenient to
use for internal docs. IT orgs need to produce
a lot of internal docs. Finding better
ways for these folks to document their
systems is a huge help.
* webmaster. Maintain an existing internet
site. Required me to learn Apache web server,
a little Perl CGI, PHP, and other web tech-
nologies. I also am the intranet webmaster.
At a larger organization, perhaps you could
take over an intranet and find novel ways
to disseminate information.
* internal communications. My job is to stay
plugged in to the development/IT organization
and report to the sales, marketing, and G&A
groups. This involves internal training sessions,
informal discussions, short papers, and the
like. This is my favorite part of the job.
* marketing "helper". I write some marcomm
materials, provide a lot of background descrip-
tions, pitch in at tradeshows, etc.
* NOTE: My experience on this team is probably
colored by the fact that its a new company
and my tenure is about the same as the techies.
That is, no processes or tools for docs/comms
were already in place. We got to evolve it all
* NOTE: I have not written end user documentation,
in the traditional sense, in over a year at
this job. At first I considered this a little
odd for a technical writer, but then I realized
that my talents are certainly being used, just
in a slightly different capacity.

2. Lone writer on an engineering team
* typical documentation stuff: user guides,
etc. No surprieses here, I turned out
end-user documentation.
* training. Ran the company's training program.
Taught classes, developed classes, and
produced a training guide and workbook.
At a larger organization, perhaps a writer
could take on an internal training role. That
is, a writer, attached to IT, is in a perfect
position to explain new things to the rest of
the company (in our case, the engineering team
included the developers who released new
* technical support and installation support.
pretty self-explanatory and non-glamorous.
I worked phone support one day a week, so
I knew exactly when I was on the hook and so
the other days weren't disturbed by lots of
phone calls.

I'm the queen of job reinvention, as some of the above roles will attest. I
think the key is to first assess those non-writing things you enjoy, have a
knack for, and want to learn more about. Then, go looking for those needs
within the company. If that isn't very successful, try finding the holes in
the company first. What could use doing, but no one seems to have the time
to do? Is that even remotely interesting to you?

Meg Golding
SecureWorks, Inc

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