Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing

Subject: Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 3 Dec 1994 23:14:45 -0600

Rosie writes:

While it is true that a number of contract jobs (such as ones in Doug's
organization) require "only general knowledge and widely-available skills",
most of my contract jobs have required me to learn detailed knowledge of
the business and technology ...[list of tools learned]

I've obtained detailed knowledge of such diverse industries and
technologies as accounting, banking, petroleum and polyethylene
manufacturing, highways construction, CASE tools, voter registration,
telecommunications, health insurance, specialty insurance, and databases.

I just wanted to correct the impression that contracted only have
general knowledge. What I offer to any employer is not just my
specific skills -- although those have gained me many of my contracts --
but an ability to learn quickly...

I think what we need here is a clarification of the terms "general" and
"specific." I don't challenge any technical communicator's ability to
learn quickly; the dominant theme of a recent thread was that it may be
*the* distinctive skill of our profession. Hoewver, the very breadth of
the list of industries you work in makes my point. How can you possibly
know as much about any one of them as another bright, motivated learner
who has been with one company or industry while you were in several?

For example, anybody with a reasonably good working knowledge of PID
control could probably write a description of the system that maintains the
burner temperature in our corn dryers. However, only somebody who has
spent time with and enjoys the confidence of the people who staff the seed
corn production plants can write the operating instructions for the Dryer
Monitoring System, of which burner control is a small part.

The reason is that to write the operating instructions, you need to know
how Dryer fits in with the rest of the production system, as well as a
great deal about how production plants are organized and what sort of folks
will be operating the system. This knowledge (and the confidence of the
plant folk) is slowly and expensively acquired through site visits to the
scattered production plants, telephone support, follow-up, meetings and
education about Pioneer. It's very doubtful that anyone, no matter how
bright or motivated, could achieve that level of knowledge in the course of
a single nine-month contract. Moreover, because the system is proprietary
and our plants are very different from our competitors, the knowledge is of
negligible (legitimate) value to anyone outside Pioneer. Conversely, it
would be difficult to tranfer knowledge acquired while working for a
competitor to this system.

The problem of how to train seasonal workers on the Dryer system has
actually bedeviled a series on technical writers in this area, and was
finally solved recently (we hope) through the use of a CD-I training
program that drew heavily on all the preceding work.

I hope this clarifies my point.

Doug "Women are designed for long,
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com miserable lives, whereas men are
designed for short, violent ones."
- Estelle Ramey

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