Tech Writer Jobs survey

Subject: Tech Writer Jobs survey
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 19 May 1994 11:39:17 -0500

This is written in reply to Karen Fletcher's survey; sorry for posting to the
list, but my mailer dameon chokes on her address.

Karen writes:

We need some help with the section profiling companies that hire technical
writers. I would greatly appreciate if you could reply to me or to the list
with any information about typical job descriptions and expected duties,
and how to best prepare for a technical writing career with your company
(what kind of degrees, coursework, experiences, computer tools etc.)

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. is the world's largest seed company, with
slightly over one billion dollars in sales and about 4,000 employees worldwide.
The company's focus is the breeding and sale of hybrid seed corn, but it is
involved in a variety of agricultural seeds, including alfalfa, sorghum,
sunflowers, soybeans, canola, and vegetables. The company also has a
subsidiary that produces animal and silage innoculants, and another that
performs bioremediation at toxic waste sites.

Although the market focus is the American corn belt and Canada, the seeds are
sold worldwide, with western Europe and Mexico being the next most important

Although the company employs writers in marketing and corporate communications,
the ones (currently seven) that consider themselves technical writers work for
the Information Systems division (aka MIS). Information Management is
sub-divided into five "process areas:" Customer Relations (Sales & Marketing),
Life Cycle (Research), Supply Management, Resource Management (Personnel and
Finance), and the Technical Center (functions that don't really fit in just one
process area, such as developer education, office automation products and system
maintenance). Each process area is a team of developers, analysts, writers,
trainers, hotline/help center support people and managers charged with
supporting one of the business processes. Writers are "connected" through a
semi-formal structure called the "Writing Network Team" to develop standards,
arrange for career education and deal with writer-specific issues.

Because of this division, job responsibilities vary quite a bit, and will
probably vary even more as time goes by. (This structure is less than one year
old.) Basic knowledge of writing and editing paper documents is important
right now, although online docs, multimedia and such will probably become more
important as the corporate computing environment changes from the present
VAX/VMS and Mainframe orientation to a client/server orientation and the need
for remote training grows.

In addition to producing the classic "gray binder" references, writers also
produce quick-reference documents, on-line help, technical reports, on-line
database-driven references (at least that's what I'm trying to do), training
materials, newsletters and "midrange" references (local versions of the "dummy
books" discussed on this list earlier), all depending on the needs of the user
community. Also, writers may get involved in help center/hotline support,
training, and formal presentations; again, this depends on the needs of the
group and the skills of the writer in question.

The standard writing production platform is a PC running Windows, with WinWord
as the standard word processor. PageMaker has been the standard tool for more
layout-intensive documents, but that may change. Wherever possible, we have
made an effort to standardize on Microsoft products for the PC's. [Note to other
readers: Please do not shower me with messages touting the relative merits of
other platforms and apps; this was not my decision and I'm not interested in
dealing with it.]

As for what type of education and skills are needed, the writer's network has
consistently advocated writing skill (rather than technical knowledge) as the
primary criteria for hiring writers, although of course the final decision
belongs to the manager. If you are going to know some technical stuff, I'd
suggest learning about CASE tools (IEF and Powerbuilder being the local
favorites) and some general knowledge of production agriculture, ag economics,
and genetics could be put to good use.

Some sort of farm/rural background would be helpful, more from a cultural fit
standpoint than a technical knowledge standpoint. Though worldwide, Pioneer
culture is a creature of the rural Midwest; Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone
gone corporate. It works *very* well for me, but drives some people crazy.
Teamwork and willingness to pitch in are big deals, as are flexibility and a
sense of humor. Deadlines are often tight, and we can get whipsawed by weather,
just like our customers. The writing group also has an abnormally-large
concentration of gardeners and Star Trek fans.

Locally, Pioneer is considered a "first tier" employer, and therefore rarely
hires new graduates; it's too easy to find people with experience. However,
don't let that discourage you from applying; if nothing else, we give a very
good interview.

We are also interested in finding out about any internship opportunities for
students (both paid and unpaid internships are of interest).

We have had interns in the past, when the writing group was more centralized,
and the company hires interns in other areas. I would assume process areas
could have writing interns next year, once we've had a chance to digest the
change in organization, although no plans have been announced.

Please include a personnel address that students may contact if they are
interested in your company (if possible).

Due to the fragmentation, there's no one person to contact. Also, the company
keeps resumes only for posted positions. However, I am the Des Moines
chapter's employment coordinator and in that capacity I'd be happy to get
resumes from people who want to work in this area. (I need to stress again
that I would do this in my STC position, *NOT* because of my role in Pioneer.)


ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com

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