Re: Writers as developers

Subject: Re: Writers as developers
From: nancy ott <ott -at- ANSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 1994 11:18:08 EDT

Shelly La Rock (larock -at- tycho -dot- arh -dot- cdc -dot- com) writes:

> What this is about is the postings regarding writers as developers. I am
> graduating in less than a year with a BS in scientific and tech
> My minor course work is in mechanical engineering, and I really hope to find
> a job that will let me work with developers throughout the design and
> development
> stages. From what I read in these postings, there doesn't seem to be a lot
> of positions out there like this. Am I wrong?

> My ideal job would be working in an engineering department. I would like to
> help with both designing AND documenting the product. Because my engineering
> knowledge is quite extensive, I know I could handle both the engineering
> and tech writing aspects of a job like this.

> >From what I've seen in job advertisements, it seems like most companies
> are looking for tech writers to work on software documentation. Luckily
> I do have a few programming classes under my belt and I'm currently working
> on such a project for the summer, so I'll have the work experience. But
> could any of you out there who are involved with the design AND documentation
> of new products please let me know a little more about what to expect.


I come from a similar background -- I have a BS in mechanical
engineering/engineering and public policy as well as a degree in
writing. It sounds like you're getting a good start on doing software
docs, but let me reassure you that you are not limited to documenting
hardware because you've studied mechanical engineering. The
analytical skills that got you through your calc, physics, solid
mechanics, fluid flow and therodynamics courses will enable you to be
a darned good software documenter, regardless of whether you've taken
any programming courses. And that goes for any other type of tech
writing you may fall into.

As for getting involved with development AND documentation, I would
target small high-tech companies in your job search. Most of these
firms aren't as stratified as larger, more established corporations,
and there is often a considerable amount of interaction (and overlap)
between the tech writing and development staffs. You can easily find
a niche where you are performing several different functions.

When looking at companies, ask these questions:

- How early in the development cycle do writers get involved with the
product? The earlier, the better.

- How much input do writers have on the design of the product? The
more, the better.

- How closely do writers work with developers, researchers,
applications engineers, and so forth? If the only interaction they
have is at a monthly staff meeting, I would look elsewhere. Ideally,
there should be a high level of communication and involvement between
these groups.

- What level of technical knowledge of the product do writers need to
have? Look for places that force you to learn the theory and sweat
the details.

- Do the writers do the actual writing, or do they serve as glorified
editors? The prospect of being limited to re-working and desktop
publishing a developer's tortured prose should make you run screaming
for cover. (And let me state that I know engineers and programmers
who are good writers -- but generally these folks are not known for
their communications skills. That's why they're doing hardware or
software, not writing!)

- Are the writers involved with any QA testing (whether formally or
informally)? This is usually a good sign that they are counted as
part of the technical staff.

- Will you be provided with the hardware/software tools that you need
to get the job done? If you are expected to write a 200 page manual
using a pirated copy of MultiMate on a PC/XT with a malfunctioning
monitor, gently inform your prospective employers that they are being
just a tad unrealistic. (I've done it, but I don't recommend the
experience to anyone else.)

- Does the company have an aggressive product development schedule?
This is a sign that they are committed to technological innovation,
and won't gently fade into obsolescence in a few years.

- What is the trend in product sales? Hint: if they are falling off
steeply, your job may not exist in a year or so.

- Is the company on the Internet? (So that you can continue reading
this newslist, among other things! ;-) This is a bonus -- not having
access should not automatically disqualify a company from your search.

- Are the writers respected for their skills and contributions? I
would not accept a job at a company where I was looked upon as a
glorified secretary/word processor.

For instance, you might be a desirable prospect for companies that
develop mechanical engineering CAE software, since (a) you are
familiar with the engineering concepts that underlie the software, (b)
you can talk to the development engineers in their own language, (c)
you would be able to set up problems that could intelligently test the
software and (d) you would provide a mechanical engineer's perspective
on features and the interface. But don't limit yourself to companies
that do hardware or mechancial engineering-related software. Your
ability to quickly learn and apply technical information is what's
important, not whether you've studied a particular subject in school
(though this helps a lot!).

Hope this helps! Drop me an email if you'd like to talk further.

- nancy

nancy ott | I would rather die for virginity than for petroleum.
Ansoft Corp. | It's more literary, somehow.
Pittsburgh, PA |
ott -at- ansoft -dot- com | - Kurt Vonnegut

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