From Tech Writer to?

Subject: From Tech Writer to?
From: Bill Hartzer <XBJH%mimi -at- MAGIC -dot- ITG -dot- TI -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 1996 10:37:52 CDT

From: Bill Hartzer XBJH

Subj: From Tech Writer to?
On Wed, 5 Jun 1996, Henry Crews wrote:

> I'm a new tech. writer and new to this list. Technical writing is not my
> first job choice but my new position offered good experience and a good
> raise. I was wondering what career areas are available for a person to
> move on to with technical writing experience?

-- snip --

On Thursday, 6 Jun 1996, Phil Block wrote:


After accumulating 12 years experience in paper doc, marketing
communications, and training materials development, I moved on to
full-time web page development. Learned HTML and other Internet-related
areas on my own, in my spare time. Had a couple of employee-sponsored
web projects along the way. Also had a brief interlude of online help
exposure (RoboHelp) earlier this year. (Online help and HTML are quite
similar, IMHO.)

Phil Block
Sr. Web Page Designer (aka Sr. Technical Communications Analyst)

-- snip --

I disagree with Phil Block, IMHO. Originally, Henry Crews asked about
"other career areas that he could _move on to_ with technical writing
experience." I interpreted Henry's question as meaning "what position(s)
could he get that would be a 'promotion' from a technical writer, thus
moving him up the career ladder." I do not think that moving from a
position as a technical writer to a position as a web page designer is a
move up the ladder. In fact, I consider it a demotion rather than a
promotion. There are several reasons why I feel this way:

First and foremost, designing web pages (coding html) is only a skill (like
any other technical writing skill) that a technical writer should add to
their areas of expertise. In my book, coding HTML, writing online help,
coding SGML, using MS Word and other DTP packages, taking screen
captures, indexing, etc. are all one in the same: they are skills that
all great technical writers should have. Writing a web page takes no
more skill than coding SGML or writing online help. In fact, it's easier
to write a web page than it is to write a good online help system, given
the available software packages that are on the market today. In fact,
10 year old kids are now designing their own web pages. You don't have
to be a technical writer to do it.

IMHO, it is unfortunate that the only reason Phil Block probably went from
being a technical writer to being a Senior Web Page Designer is because it
pays more. Period. I believe that in the future everyone will be able to
design their own web pages. In the very near future, the internet and web
pages will be so universal that we will simply call a temp agency and hire a
glorified word processor-type secretary to key in our web page. The only
reason that Senior Web Page Designers are now making more money than
some Technical Writers is because it is hard to find someone who knows
what they're doing when it comes to writing web pages. And it won't be
long before your wife, your husband, and your mother-in-law will have
their own web page with their picture on it. Just look at history: it wasn't
that long ago when technical writers had to use big IBM mainframe computers
to do simple word processing. Society paid them big bucks to do it. Now
you can hire a secretary for $5.10 and hour to do the same thing!

As Technical Writers, are we only interested in moving on from one position
to another because it pays more? Just because you make more money
doesn't mean that you have moved up the ladder or even graduated to a
better position. Positions as Senior Web Page Designers aren't here to stay.
Technical Writers are here to stay because we don't just design
web pages. We make it easier for users to understand complex
ideas and concepts and help them get the information they need in a
quick and efficient manner. Putting that information in a hard cover
book, in an online help system, on a CD-ROM, or even on the Internet
is simply a means by which we get our job done.

To answer Henry's original question, there are a lot of things that you
could do after you are a technical writer. Once you're a technical writer,
you could move up to a supervisory position. And then manage a tech
pubs department. After that you could pursue the Marketing side (like
Phil Block) and then more lucrative management positions such as higher-
level corporate management. There's no telling where you could go from
starting out as a technical writer. In fact, a recent President and Chairman
of the Board of Texas Instruments, with more than 60,000 employees world-
wide, was originally an engineer with the company. It took him 30 years to
move up the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, by the nature of the question that Henry asked, it seems
that he doesn't look at technical writers as being meaningful, important
people. Maybe it's because he is too new to the industry and doesn't fully
understand the fact that if it wasn't for technical writers, computer
software users would not be able to use the software. And people
wouldn't be able to program their VCRs. It is more unfortunate that
this is all too typical of society today. Technical Writers haven't been
accepted yet by society, and many things we do are taken for granted.
Computer software users never think of the fact that someone actually
has to write all of the online help. Henry should be proud of the fact
that he is a technical writer, and that he has finally "graduated up"
to being one!

Bill Hartzer Bill Hartzer
Contract Tech Writer President
Texas Instruments, Inc. Highfield Marketing Group, Inc.
Dallas, TX USA Irving, TX USA
xbjh -at- msg -dot- ti -dot- com Highfield -at- aol -dot- com

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