RE: tech writer group dynamics

Subject: RE: tech writer group dynamics
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: "Jill Mohan" <jillemo -at- gmail -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2007 16:18:53 -0400

Jill Mohan wondered out loud:
> I have just been told that my employer may be looking to add another
> writer to the staff (doubling it, as I am the only one). A manager
> me
> to be prepared to interview candidates, and that they are hoping to
> me. The company is a small defense contractor in northern Virginia.
> I have never worked with another tech writer before, so i am a little
> apprehensive about a few things: what will the career path be, how
> it
> be decided as to who gets to work on what, how long should it take to
> write/review documents, etc.
> Any caveats or recommendations for a person in this quasi-enviable
> position.

Well, notwithstanding the likelihood that someone you hire is reading
this list...

Unless you negotiate something otherwise, the employer is probably
looking at you and the new kid writing as equals, and if they ever
expand further, it would be a matter of competition at that time to see
who rules the eventual roost... or they go outside for a techpubs
manager (at that distant, might-never-happen, future time).

A lot will depend on who is currently your manager, and how closely they
manage. If you are pretty much a little department-of-one, nominally
reporting to somebody, but really interacting with other groups as an
approximate equal, driving your own agenda, defending your requirements
and place in the flow, then that's a different dynamic-in-the-making
than if you are a mere adjunct to some manager who has "a real job"
(managing some group like software developers, hardware engineers,
marketing, whatever) and has to take time she'd really rather not
consume to keep you in the loop, fight your battles, etc.

If you are a seize-the-day kind of person, you will decide right now if
you wish to hire someone junior to you, and have ongoing responsibility
for them as a "lead hand" or supervisor, or whether you want to find
somebody who can be up, running and producing useful work within a month
or so, having absorbed your processes and enough of the company's tech
to make reasonable inroads. Then you'll interview accordingly.

Much of this depends on the wishes of the higher-ups, as enforced by
your manager. Did you have a career path before? Do you get some dibs
with respect to pursuing it? Or ... what?

I'd ask. I'd ask how management envisions this affecting your nominal
career path... If they look blank for a moment, then nobody was really
thinking in those terms and there might be either some latitude to make
that start happening, or some fairly clear sign that there's really
nothing but chance and your ability/willingness to grab at play. For
example, your previous career path might have been "more of same, ever
day" unless an opportunity had presented itself for you to take on some
project management responsibilities. That often happens at small
companies if you've been there long enough, and if you have the head for
it. You just start taking over meetings (in the guise of getting your
project needs met, and eventually you are running projects from start to
finish. You need either somebody to push the techwriting work onto, or a
phenomenal capacity for work to get you through a couple project cycles,
being both a writer and a project manager.

Of course, if they already have formal project manglers with formal
training and formal titles, you don't have that option. That's a
distinct possibility at a defense contractor. The career path for a
single writer or one of a pair, within the techpubs domain, at a company
that's not really growing much is probably pursued at other companies.

What's the reason for hiring a new writer-bod? Are you showing the
strain of a too-crowded schedule? Has the company won a contract that
will soon flood you with more work than you can handle? Is the company
embarking in a new direction that requires skills you don't possess?

If it's a matter of off-loading your current excessive load, then hire a
junior for the grunt work and keep the fun stuff for yourself - you've
paid your dues, and now it's his/her turn. :-)

If it's a new paradigm for which you aren't equipped and can't _get_
equipped in reasonable time, then you are likely to find yourself
sitting beside an equal or a golden-boy/girl who will take over and
leave you with the dregs. So, find out what's coming and plan to be
ready for it. That includes planning where you want to fit in the scheme
and influencing the hiring to support that view.

And good luck with that. :-)

... who was a lone writer "here" for six years, then reported to a new,
remote head office of somebody who bought us, and now reports to
somebody he's never met at the new-new (three years new, now) head
office of the people who bought the people who originally bought the
small company... so I'm still the lone writer at my location.

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tech writer group dynamics: From: Jill Mohan

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