Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing -Reply

Subject: Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing -Reply
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 7 Dec 1994 11:50:03 -0600


This is in response to:

Doug asks:

"I think contractors would have a disadvantage over a permanent writer in
performing the work. Any thoughts?"

Yes: not necessarily.

For starters, that was what I was responding to, not what I said. Because
of VAX MAIL's limitations, I'm reduced to highlighting the included text
with rows of asterisks before and after; an inadequate method, but the
best I can do at the moment. (To the 500 people about to send me VMS
jokes: Please don't.)

Anyway, it does not misconstrue my point *too* badly; I just wanted to
straighten that out. On to the next issue:

...Many companies hire (GASP) the SAME contractor over and over again,
because they have periodic work...

...I don't forget a company's history between times that I work for them.
I also keep detailed notes on things, just like I would if I worked there.
I go to meetings, and participate in on-line discussions, JUST AS THOUGH I

I'm not suggesting that contractors don't return to the same companies over
and over again, or that you don't keep track of what you did, or that you
don't participate during the development of your project. I am suggesting
that a contractor's experience with the firm is more limited in depth and
duration than the experience of full-time, regular employees, and that for
certain types of projects, that difference is crucial.

Specifically, I'm suggesting that high-level, proprietary, decision support
and work facilitation systems developed by companies to add value and
provide competitive advantage are best served by full-time, long-tenure,
regular employees on the development team.

For example, one of the most crucial sets of decisions Pioneer makes every
year is hybrid advancement, commercialization and retirement. Of the
near-infinite number of genetic combinations possible for corn, about
30,000 crosses are chosen for first-stage testing. A progressively-smaller
subset of this group is evaluated in a progressively-larger number of test
plots until, an average of about five years later, 12 are chosen for
addition to the 150-member corn product portfolio. At the same time, about
12 hybrids are usually chosen for retirement. In addition, the most
promising hybrids are given expensive greenhouse and winter nursery
space, so they can be advanced through the process more quickly.

The future prosperity of the company depends heavily on making the right
picks on a reasonably consistent basis (or at least better than our
competitors). As the amount of data used to make this decision grows, the
company has turned to computer systems to identify, integrate, and organize
the relevant information from sales, marketing, research and production.
This was very difficult, and required us to actually re-think our
definition of fundamental concepts like "product" and "product line,"
consulting with other interested parties on the way.

For someone coming in from the outside, with limited prior knowledge of
Pioneer, this process would have presented a near-insurmountable learning
curve. In particular, the task required detailed information about how big
pieces of the company fit together, and an intimate knowledge of what
Japanese companies call "the theory of the firm." These are the types of
knowlege that short-duration, project-by-project contractors are
particularly likely to lack. (Some employees lack it, too.)

I know many contractors regard being left out the strategy sessions, group
meetings and late-night discussions where the "theory of the firm" is
typically formulated and passed on as a positive benefit of contracting.
Many companies also explicitly deny ongoing, company-specific professional
education to non-employees, on the theory that contractors are hired to
apply skills, not to learn them.

*Sigh* Another lunch hour gone. 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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