Re: Tech writer career path

Subject: Re: Tech writer career path
From: Keith Hood <bus -dot- write -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: Monique Semp <monique -dot- semp -at- earthlink -dot- net>
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2017 16:14:56 -0500

Tech writer advancing into management...

Will probably never happen. For one thing, 99% of most non-documentation
personnel could not possibly care less about documentation. They only admit
it exists because sometimes they have to. As my engineer boss once
explained to me, most companies consider technical writers a necessary evil
and the job would not exist if it weren't for the fact that customers
expect documentation.

Also, like breeds like. Management types don't want to think that someone
who comes from as far out in left field as documentation can be a good
manager. They think tech writers have so little connection with the
development process that they don't understand it well enough to supervise
production personnel. And there is some justification to that attitude,
especially considering the fact that their own attitudes about
documentation help create a situation where tech writers are all too often
not allowed to be really equal team members, so they very often really
don't have enough exposure to production work to get a good grasp on its
nuances.

Part of it is also the fact that people think reward should go hand in hand
with risk. No matter how well-versed they are in the software development
process, tech writers are not responsible for the success or failure of a
product (except for those times when they are used as scapegoats). They
don't have to make decisions that affect how the product works and they
don't have responsibility for how it is received by the buying public. Even
at the lowest level, software developers do. So it's only natural to want
to advance them into management because there is a perception that they've
earned elevation because they've taken the risks.

But the biggest problem of all is that documentation is NOT seen as being
value-added. Companies care about money, not whether or not infinitives are
split. I've known dozens of senior people - director and VP level - who
were technical writers at one time or another. And not one of them went
into management from tech writing. Every last one of them went sideways
into QA or sales or some other line, and *then* they started climbing the
ladder. As it was once pointed out, nobody ever got promoted for having
good documentation. Companies care about whether or not you can create
marketable product and/or sell it. They want managers who have done
something to show they can improve the bottom line on the quarterly report.
As long as technical writers can't do that, the idea of a tech writer
advancing into management will remain a dream.

On Fri, Mar 31, 2017 at 12:24 PM, Monique Semp <monique -dot- semp -at- earthlink -dot- net>
wrote:

> It does seem to be true that *generally* there isn't really a "career
> path" for tech writers. When I first switched to tech writing (after a
> dozen+ years in my first career), my manager-to-be made it clear during the
> interview process that if I expected to advance into management, tech
> writing wasn't a good path. That was fine with me because I didn't (and
> still don't) want to be in management.
>
> But... I don't see why it should be any different for a tech writer to
> advance in a managerial track than it would be for a software developer?
> Engineers are promoted all the time to positions in which they'll be
> focusing on "manager things", not on the senior/design/architect tasks of a
> Principal Engineer. And likewise for a typical engineer-to-product shift.
>
> I do know of a few companies (such as Salesforce.com) that have career
> paths similar to developers', including the title of Principal Tech Writer.
> And it's expected that the Principal Writer have broad influence over teams
> and products, just as a Principal Engineer does.
>
> Just some musings,
> -Monique
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References:
Re: Tech writer career path: From: Monique Semp

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