What kind of docs do you do? -Reply

Subject: What kind of docs do you do? -Reply
From: Bill Sullivan <bsullivan -at- SMTPLINK -dot- DELTECPOWER -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 1 May 1997 12:23:57 -0700

Beverly Henderson asked:

>Most of my tech writing and editing experience has been in
environmental reporting. Most of what I see talked about online is
computer software documentation. I'd like to hear feedback from
people in other areas of TW as well...what you do...how you got into
it...and where the work is.

From the middle of 1990 until the middle of 1992, I worked for a
large civil engineering firm documenting the predesign phase of a
large city construction project. I got the job by answering a
newspaper ad, and salting my resume or cover letter with my old
journalism experience which includes writing articles for a couple of
business journals on various aspects of civil engineering,
architecture and matters of concern in these fields. I sensed that
while they may have had dozens or even hundreds of applicants for
this job, few people if any would be able to claim the experience
that I have.

What I did was work with the managers of about 12 or 15 plant or
pipeline projects. Each project needed a predesign report. Since this
was a civic project, it had to be documented so the City Council and
its critics could read about it. As is the case in so many tech
writing jobs, I was part writer and part editor. They also asked me
to teach writing to the engineers and I did a little teaching of word
processing to the word processors.

I think I did some of my best writing in describing pipeline routes
and the environmental impact of proposed reservoir sites out in the
country. I also got to do a lot of wonderful tables. The engineers I
worked with were mature and capable, and they pretty much respected
my abilities and allowed me the freedom to use them. I say "pretty
much" because there were a few heated discussions about the proper
way to abbreviate this or that, but it was no knock on me. All in
all, I was free to grow professionally and to contribute in many
ways, and I consider it a great experience.

Alas, this job was not one I was able to parlay into a new tack in my
career. When the contract was up and the job ended, I looked for
further work both in this field and in software, and software is
where I landed. Perhaps if I had a degree in biology or something
like hazmat, it would have been different.

My feeling is that there are not a lot of tech writing and editing
jobs to be had in civil or environmental engineering. Of the few
civil and environmental firms that I know about that keep a writer or
editor on staff, I don't get the impression there is much of a
turnover. Certainly you don't see the turnover that you do in
software or hardware. The job I had was there because of the

I guess I would have to say I found the civil and environmental
engineering arena to be quite conservative, especially in comparison
to life as we know it here in TECHWR-L. Documents were plain. The
tools used were simple. There was nothing cutting edge here. This is
not a knock, mind you. I liked it there.

But I also enjoy this crazy world of tools and techniques that keeps
TECHWR-L, the STC, and so many web pages going. The software-hardware
world is highly competitive and never dull. The good companies grow
and have growing pains; the unlucky companies just have pains. I
hope some of this is what you were looking for.

Bill Sullivan
bsullivan -at- deltecpower -dot- com
San Diego, California

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