Re: (Fwd) Re: What Defines "Entry-Level"?/ G'house

Subject: Re: (Fwd) Re: What Defines "Entry-Level"?/ G'house
From: Michael Blair <mjblair -at- TOTAL -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 14:31:23 -0400

On 4/21/98 1:56 PM L. H. Garlinghouse at
garlinghou -at- WATERLOOINDUSTRIES -dot- COM wrote:

>I didn't expect this "entry level" thing to become so interesting.
>Just for the sake of adding a slightly different persepective, I am
>adding my response to Jeff that was originally done off-list.
>As far as tech writing goes, I am something of a bottom feeder. TW
>has been something of an expansion within other job descriptions.
> My experience (35+ years in manufacturing) has been most people
>don't know what an employee really does, or is supposed to do.

Let's hear it for the bottom feeders. Following is my off-list reply to
Jeff Roberts:

How to get started in technical writing? Whew. Tough question. Easy
answer. But not so easy to do. Check out the local chapter of the Society
for Technical Communications. The national website will tell you if
there's a chapter near you. Can't recall the url off hand, but if you do
a search for STC you should find it.

You should also check out the usenet groups. Mostly a waste of
time for finding paying jobs, but have numerous listings for headhunters
who place tech writers. I know there are lots of Canadian
newsgroups, just assuming there are US groups too.

Want ads are also a good source of potential tech writing jobs,
especially entry level jobs.

My personal experience seems to be pretty typical of a lot of older tech
writers, before there were many university courses. Engineers and techs
with a flair for writing were conscripted to write specs and manuals. Or
writers fell into tech writing as a means of making a living. I fall into
the latter category.

I started out thirty odd years ago to be a novelist, figured it beat
being a plumber (boy, was I wrong!). In the early 80s when I finally was
dragged by my ex-wife kicking and screaming back to the city after years
in a small bedroom community outside of Montreal, I came across a want ad
for international correspondence schools industrial training division.
They needed writers. Little did I know what I was getting myself in for.
Ended up with a small contract ($500) to write a module of a training
program being developed for a Canadian oil drilling company. That was a
couple of years before the bottom fell out of the Canadian oil well
drilling business -- it went south, literally.

I was with ICS as a freelancer for about three years, working on
everything from how to repair small engines and TVs to off shore drilling
fluid control systems and long wall coal mining. It was a blast, not to
mention an incredible learning experience. And I was able to buy my first
computer (a radio shack model 3) in 1982.

In 84 I landed a job at Canadian National Railways writing specs for
modernization programs. It turned into a full time job that lasted 10
years. I wrote everything from corporate newsletters and annual reports
to manuals for computerized dispatching systems and motive power
(locomotive) fleet management systems. In 94, after a couple of years
with the training department, I took a buyout and went back to
freelancing (Canadian National is my major client). I'm keeping
reasonably busy and still have time to write fiction (wanna buy a mystery

The point I'm slowly getting around to is that there are jobs out there,
you just have to be able to make the contacts, and about the only way to
do that is by networking. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. The
so-called "information age" is upon us and anyone with any communications
skill at all should do all right. Naturally, it'll be competitive as
hell, so the more hustle you have, the better. Me, I'm not much of a
hustler, but I've made enough contacts over the years to keep the rent
paid and the old beamer on the road.

And if you ever crack the ISO 9000 nut, you'll have work coming out your
ears (I've so far managed to duck it).

You should brush up on various methodologies for instructional and
procedural writing. You'll learn along the way, obviously, by studying
existing documentation, but something like information mapping theory
helps crystallize things.

You should also familiarize yourself with the various platforms and
software used, although writing skill is a heck of a lot more important
than knowing software: any idiot can learn to use a computer program --
it takes a much smarter idiot to write well...

Anyway, my $0.02 Can worth (that's about three cents US). Good luck. Keep
in touch.

Michael Blair
Blair Technical Communications Tel: (514) 989-8713
106 - 3500 Atwater Avenue Fax: (514) 989-7521
Montreal, Quebec CANADA H3H 1Y5 Email: mjblair -at- total -dot- net

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