Re: Building experience--quit after six months or tough it out?

Subject: Re: Building experience--quit after six months or tough it out?
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: Techwr-L List <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2008 16:03:54 -0700

Joe Pairman wrote:
>> However, it's an extremely tough job--much tougher than it needs to be.
>>For a start, the structured authoring tools are outdated and we're not able
>>to use them as they're supposed to be used. A lot of stuff that should be
>>automated has to be done by hand. In addition, there's mismanagement and
>>poor communication by both the Taiwanese OEM and the agency I work for.
>>This means that each week I put in 150-200% of the hours I'm paid for.
>>And it's quite stressful as I'm never able to plan my time ahead, due to
>>constant changes and requests from the customer, and little backup from our own company.


I didn't find the OP's message in my techwr-l email, so I'm borrowing
the quote from Beth's response, hope it doesn't confuse the
thread-following readers.

I had a great weekend, and my outlook is positive. I'm aware that my
advice about Joel's problem sounds like a lot of sunshine. But it is my
hardworking view of what you can do in a bad situation. The outcome
depends pretty much entirely on the agency manager's maturity. The
techwriter's hard working productivity under stress is a given, if
you're asking me.

------------HOY! Free Advice!!--------------

Yes, you should stick it out until the stress forces you to connect with
the circumstances in problem-solving mode. The new-ish business model is
full of problems like you describe, and every day you survive there can
add to your insight about what is broken, what you think might work
better, who you could expect to be interested in fixing it, ...

The bottom line is, you CAN become the solution, even if it is only
implemented in your mind. The value you gain is in your unique
perspective, where experience adds depth, breadth, and substance, and
you move closer to the pinnacle of success, the archetypal "Know It
all." I sound facetious and often am, but this timne I'm dead serious. T

Tech writing jobs like yours are the crucibles where you react with the
requirements under heat and pressure to form tough new alloys. This is
the STUFF, it can't be be gotten any other weay. Being there, watching
the dysfunctional workflow unwind, you're in a unique position to learn
a great dsal IF you take it as a problem-solving exercise. You add
tremendous value to your own maturity as a tech writer, by sorting out
the problems.

In my experience, and believe me I recognize what you're describing, the
only clear path you have as an agency employee is to let your agency
manager know about the problems--they sometimes can be very influential
with the client and can get your voice heard.

To make the clean break or to revise your contracvt terms, your agency
manager has to accept the fact that they made a mistake when they
under-estimated the workload. They have to accept you as a dedicated
professional who has done your level best to make it work. The agency
impulse will be to paint the whole thing as a problem you caused, your
fault. The only way through for you is to give them the value of your
experience. You've already solved the problem by re-analysing the work
from a tech writer's perspective, and they are quite lucky because you
can offer an analysis that can improve the client's workflow. The
agency can sell it to the client as a need for more positions (==more
billables for the agency).

If you haven't sold it well--and I admit it is nearly impossible to do
well unless the agency manager is empathetic and snaps to your view of
the problem--they'll bluff and bluster and complain, "What about our
contract, you agreed to do this?!"

Just tell them, as neutrally as you can, that you agreed to the
initial contract, and have succeeded at the job but it is requiring far
more effort than they're paying you for. Tell them your fee for this
kind of work is $70/hr work, not $50/hr, or whatever you're billing.

Whether you put them on the spot or not, they will likely resent and
resist, and tell you they're willing to give 10% more but they can't go
back to the client asking for the kind of increase you're asking for.

Be prepared for the fact that if you don't get their buy-in when you
sell this perspective on the work and your place in it, they'll probably
lump you in with "Will Quit Soon" folder, wherfe you're back to being
just a number without a voice. There will be no peace agreement or
understanding, and you'll probably never work for them again, because
asking to change the terms is usually a one-way ticket into the "Loose
Cannon" file. No agency person wants to even imagine the consequences of
doing what you're asking. They'll be branded "Loose Cannon", too.

But it has to be done! If you up and quit, boom, you're a loose cannon
with no prospect of making your way through the miasma.

Personally, I would rather tough it out as a way to make my case
airtight. It is very good practice for the next miasma. Contract work
can leave you working your hardest for the least possible fulfillment
(no one reads it anyway), so every step you take on the job needs to
resonate with you as the best right thing to do. Toughing it out won't
resonate unless you're indoctrinated into some cult (my expression, no
offense etc), but the problem-solving might. And if you're doing that,
and the problems don't recede, and the strsss is oppressive, I wouldn't
wait for the contract to expire before discussing it with the agency.

But what you're aiming for is to stay long enough to develop your
insights and solution, and talk to your agency manager in terms of what
is wrong with the job description they placed you in, what is wrong with
the workflow that makes you have to work so hard, what you would be
willing to do to fix it, and generally paint the job as a case of
underestimation, in your mature professional opinion.

I have another ream or two of priceless advice along these lines, but
will submit this for a reality check, and hope it helps, but of course
it will all come down to you and your vision of a technical writer, a
know-it-all, an island, or anyway a peninsula.

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

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Building experience--quit after six months or tough it out?: From: Joe Pairman
Re: Building experience--quit after six months or tough it out?: From: Beth Agnew

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