Predictive success factors (long--sorry)

Subject: Predictive success factors (long--sorry)
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 08:09:36 -0700

Degree wars don't persuade anyone of anything. They're
just like any other religious conflict. Frankly, I watched
in morbid fascination as the tide turned from useful to

In an effort to head back to an otherwise promising
discussion, I'd suggest that real SUCCESS FACTORS
in technical communication (and probably in many other
areas as well) come down to two things:
1) One or more employers who will take a chance on
an unproven individual _and_ will give that
person a chance to really grow and develop.
2) One or more people (mentors, of sorts) who will
support, help, advise, and encourage.
These presuppose a highly motivated, hard working,
technically educable, literate, well-read, prospective
technical communicator.
Note that degree (in any field), experience, and portfolio
don't play into it.

My first job as a technical writer came when I was
desperate, looking in an area of the country
with few prospects for technical writers, and had
virtually no experience. (I had some technical
translations _into_ German [that my prospective
employer couldn't read] and extensive college newspaper
experience.) Granted, the job was for roughly 15%
of my current pay rate (no kidding) and I got laid
off three months after I started as the company
folded, 'cause a contract didn't come through.

But...after those three months, I had experience, a portfolio,
STC membership, and encouragement. I also had someone on
my side to help and advise as I looked for the next job.

It's not coincidental, I don't think, that _all_ of the
other writers I knew at that very small startup have gone on to
successful technical writing careers.

What did this employer look for? The ability to learn.
The ability to write. Enthusiasm. Computer literacy
(the computer itself, not specific software).
Lots of reading--"what magazines do you read" was
one of the most significant interview questions,
as was "what have you read recently."
Self-sufficiency. The ability to follow directions
when needed, and disregard them as appropriate.

What did this employer offer, besides a job?
The employees all telecommuted, before the word
was even in common use. He encouraged _writing_
of any sort and any type--and even offered 4 hours
on the clock each week as free (unassigned) time to
work on _any_ writing for publication or enlightenment.
He offered incredible feedback and commentary on
writing and organization, and on how to gracefully
accept it. He offered a structured environment in
which employees could learn and grow and make
the necessary mistakes (which he recognized as
necessary), but also an environment in which mistakes
stayed inhouse and were cooperatively fixed before
they went out. He addressed concerns and issues up
front and forthrightly. Knowing that he could only
pay a pittance (and on a salary, not hourly basis), he
specified that we should only work 40 (-4) hours and put
any remaining time into learning, non-competitive
contracts, or education.

Employers like this one, I think, are likely the best
predictive factor for success in technical writing.
Knowing what I know now, had I gotten the other jobs
I applied for on the same day, I'd never have really gotten
into or enjoyed the profession.

Other experiences or commentary welcome,

Eric J. Ray ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
TECHWR-L Listowner

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