RE: tech communication career

Subject: RE: tech communication career
From: "Jones, Donna" <DJones -at- zebra -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 08:16:02 -0500

> 1) What is a typical day like?

I write and support the user guides and quick reference guides for many
of the printers that my company produces. I work mostly in unstructured
FrameMaker and sometimes Adobe Acrobat, and we're exploring moving to
structured FrameMaker and XML.

When I'm working in the office (which is one week out of every three), a
typical day is spent mostly sitting at my desk on the computer after a
long commute. When I'm working remotely the other two weeks out of
three, a typical day is spent mostly sitting at my desk on the computer
after walking across the house. :-)

When we have a new product in the works, sometimes I get to spend time
with the actual product, be it a new printer, new firmware for a
printer, or a new feature for a printer (such as wireless networking
capability). Many times, I write from assorted engineering documents
that tell me what the product will be like, and I go under the
assumption that engineering will create the product as documented. Agile
programming is starting to rear its ugly head, which means that I also
get to hunt and peck through assorted wiki pages in a sometimes vain
attempt to find out what I need to know (but that's a-whole-nother

> 2) What are hours like? Do you find it takes time
> away from your family beyond 50 hours a week or so?

As a direct employee, I put in roughly 8 hours a day with an occasional
longer day when something needs to be finished quickly. When I worked as
a contract employee, there were some long weeks at some jobs, but that
wasn't typical because most companies don't want to pay the
time-and-a-half required in that situation. My commute took away more
from my family time over the years than my job did.

> 3) What are some of the major pluses and minuses of
> the career?

MINUS: You'll hear a lot of people complain about a lack of respect for
tech writers in general. Sometimes you have to fight for the information
you need, and you don't always get cooperation from key people.
Sometimes the tech writer is one of the first to go after a budget cut.

PLUS: When the developers are tearing out their hair over some problem,
you usually spend your time working on something else until they figure
it out.

> 4) What are typical entry level salaries and later
> salaries? Are you happy with your compensation?

Simply put, entry-level pay for a tech writer with no experience at
anything usually sucks. You'll wind up flipping burgers and asking
people if they want fries with that. However, if you're resourceful,
you'll find a way to document the burger-flipping and fry-selling
processes, and that will turn into a job opportunity that didn't exist
before. :-)

There are some clueless hiring managers who think that even an
experienced tech writer should make only slightly more than the guy who
handed you your lunch out a drive-thru window. When all I had was my
degree, what I did was take a low-paying job and stuck it out for a
while to get the all-important experience, and then I moved on to
something that paid better. Almost every tech writer I know has worked
as a contractor at some point, and almost everyone has done some job
hopping as they climbed up the pay scale.

Salary possibilities depend entirely on where you are working and your
level of experience. Larger markets pay more, but you almost always have
the drawback of a higher cost of living. Salary-wise, I know there are
jobs to be had in Chicago anywhere from $35K to $100K (that includes
profit-sharing bonuses). When I was contracting in the Chicago area, I
made anywhere from $20 to $40 per hour on a W-2, but that was several
years ago, so things could be different.

Right now, I work remotely two weeks out of every three. In the small
town where I live during the two weeks, my salary approaches double the
local average according to the latest census figures. When I'm in
Chicago for the other week, my salary is average at best. Am I happy
with my compensation? I suppose. But I'd never turn down a raise! :-D

> 5) What is most exciting to you about the job?

I get to learn new things almost constantly--software, processes,
products. Plus I'm so busy that I don't remember the last time that I
had the chance to be bored with my job.

> 6) How vital is a degree in technical communication?
> Is competition for jobs intense? I ask this since
> while I have some technical knowledge, I am sure it is
> not enough to start a career in technical
> communication right off the bat. I would need a
> certificate at the very least, plus an internship.

You need to have advanced education of some sorts. That can come from a
college, on-the-job training, or the School of Hard Knocks. Eventually,
a degree or the lack thereof is overshadowed by your experience as a
writer. The B.S. degree that I obtained in scientific and technical
communication almost 20 years ago is a mere one-liner on my resume now
along with one-liners for other classes that I took over the years (such
as Information Mapping). I do have to say that there are still some
things from my college education (such as my grammar and editing class)
that still apply to my daily work life.

I don't know anyone who interned as a tech writer, but that doesn't mean
that there are not positions out there. Competition for jobs that
require little or no experience is going to be fierce and the pay low.
Your best route will be to have a job that's not tech writing and see
how you can start doing writing through that job. Little by little, you
build up experience that can be used to gain you a full-time writing
job, sometimes with the same company and sometimes not.

Most technical writers have some specialty or skill set that helps to
set them apart from other writers. My chemistry and biology backgrounds
have come in handy at more than one job, as has my experience with

> 7) How is the career undergoing changes, and in what
> ways will that impact the job market for technical
> writing?

>From where I stand, XML is going to change the way many of us write.
DITA will be a big part of that. The people familiar with those and
other aspects of single-sourcing will be the ones with the high-paying

This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential, and may also be legally privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, you may not review, use, copy, or distribute this message. If you receive this email in error, please notify the sender immediately by reply email and then delete this email.

WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word features support for every major Help
format plus PDF, HTML and more. Flexible, precise, and efficient content
delivery. Try it today!.

Doc-To-Help includes a one-click RoboHelp project converter. It's that easy. Watch the demo at

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- infoinfocus -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to lisa -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

tech communication career: From: Roy Waggoner

Previous by Author: RE: Quick Poll - Release Notes
Next by Author: RE: Poll: How do you differentiate commands, etc. in text?
Previous by Thread: Re: tech communication career
Next by Thread: RE: tech communication career

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads