RE: Programmer/Writers

Subject: RE: Programmer/Writers
From: Technical Writer <tekwrytr -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2009 10:29:00 -0500

The requirement for "programmer writer" and "writer programmer" are becoming fairly common--enough so that it is the only type of contract work I have applied for in the last year or so. Basically, it is a big step away from the simplistic definition (typical in college and university "technical communication" majors) of technical writers as "user advocates" who are essentially clueless about the technology they are tasked to document. That is, the rather unusual argument that technical writers should NOT be subject matter experts because they are then more able to create documentation for typical users is losing its allure.

The alternate argument--that a technical writer cannot do more than a superficial editing of language and syntax unless he or she actually understands the technology--seems to be rapidly gaining ground. It is becoming increasingly common to see ads for technical writers in the finance industry that require Oracle, DB2, or SQL Server certification in the basic requirements. Similarly, "software documentation" positions increasingly require programming competence--typically vendor certifcations such as Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP) or Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS). The certifications are often specific to the job, rather than generic; a technical writer applying for a position documenting a new Oracle database installation with an Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) certification is much more likely to be a prime candidate to fill the position than another writer with only an MA in English Literature.

Bottom line is the same as for programmers and developers; if you want to work in a particular field, learn all you can about that field, including "subject matter expertise." It will not just keep you gainfully employed; it will establish you as being serious about working in your chosen field. It will also avoid the criticism that "technical writers are not technical" or that "IT people don't understand business." - Specializing in cost-effective technical documentation, online content, and web development for growing businesses.
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