Re: Who are we?

Subject: Re: Who are we?
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 09:45:09 -0700

sallyyeo wrote:
> Technical writing really began with documenting hardware--sewing
> machines, then big stuff like tractors, airplanes, back hoes, etc. Many
> of these writers had an engineering background and were male.

Technical writing began, on the West Coast, with documenting the kind of
hardware that flies (airplanes, rockets) and lumbers (tanks, etc.).
When I joined the computer industry in 1961, there was no real line
between programming and technical writing. If you knew how to program,
you were assumed to be literate enough to write some verbal descriptions
too. But people who described software were still called programmers;
the only "technical writers" were folks at Lockheed, Douglas, Boeing,
and other DOD contractors, and the types of credentials that got you
jobs were phrases that started "MIL-SPEC..."

By 1970, IBM, Control Data, and others were producing large computer
systems, and they recognized that most programmers didn't want to be
bothered with writing English. I don't believe STC was around then, but
there were informal groups, especially in Silicon Valley, of technical
writers who got together for lunch now and then (anybody else remember
the Tech. Writer lunches at the Sunnyvale Elk's Club?) and shared job
leads and war stories.

That profile persisted until the mid 80's, when personal computers were
making serious inroads in the business community and it became obvious
that software was a thriving business. During the space of 2-3 years in
Silicon Valley, the proportion of software tech writers to hardware tech
writers shifted dramatically - and because the senior male tech writers
around here continued to see software as not macho enough to be worth
their attention, the software tech writing business tended to attract
more women and young people of both genders. As DOD business began to
dry up, the senior guys either learned software or retired or went into
consulting. Meanwhile more women were staying in tech writing. And
male tech writers were discovering a ceiling if they stayed writers (you
could make more as a contract tech writer, however), but more
opportunities for growth if you sidestepped into programming, customer
support, or marketing.

Measuring the demographics of this industry by looking at the
demographics of STC is NOT appropriate. There are significantly more
people who are doing what we do who are NOT STC members -- I am one of
them, this year, because I see not enough value for my membership
dollars. I still feel, however, that the tech writing business has more
women than men.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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