Oh, *anyone* can do *your* job!

Subject: Oh, *anyone* can do *your* job!
From: George Mena <George -dot- Mena -at- ESSTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 15:33:20 -0700

Hi folks =)

New thread time at last...

Just read Penny Staples' post and found the following points she makes
rather insightful:

This isn't just about "What to do if one is mistaken for a
secretary". I
think the real issue we're discussing is how others (management,
perceive Tech Writers in the workplace.

If people... develop the idea that writing and editing are jobs
can be performed by clerical staff, then the profession becomes
devalued for
us all. Why hire a writer for $40 an hour or more when we can
get the "girls
in the office" to do it for $12 an hour? (I've seen this one

I think these are points well worth discussing here because there is a
risk of a tech writer's real worth being devalued involved, especially
when a tech writing position outside of the high-tech industries becomes
available, such as with a legal publisher or a winery.

Four years ago, I had the dubious pleasure once of interviewing for a
tech writing position up in Sonoma County's fabled Wine Country. I'd
learned of this position from the computers at the San Francisco EDD
office on Franklin, which I suppose should've been more of a hint to me
not to explore, but I did anyway. Working in the Wine Country had a
certain appeal to me then and still does. =)

When I got there, the interviewer informed me that he'd usually been
able to fill the position with a student from California Union Pacific
College in nearby St. Helena --until the day the school hired a new
president. The new president, it turned out, was one of these moronic
born-again types who felt he had a moral obligation to ensure the morals
of his college's student body wasn't corrupted by this local member of
the spirits industry.

Never mind that the winery was offering an engineering student at the
college a head start at an incredibly lucrative career by letting him or
her create or revise a software manual the winery used for its
operations; the point was, if he (El Presidente, the dolt) were to
permit the winery to post the ad on the campus job board, he'd somehow
be helping to corrupt a young adult's morals (don't laugh *too* hard

The winery had been getting off pretty cheaply, too: it was offering to
pay the student hire $10.00 an hour (!) for the privilege of working
there and documenting the order system software, which had recently been
upgraded in-house to run under Windows after being DOS-based for years.

The hiring manager and I had a good laugh about the stupidity of El
Presidente before he realized that I wasn't going to work for $10 an
hour. Though he needed the work done, he had absolutely no idea as to
what the going rate was for real technical writers with high-tech
experience. When I told him I'd cut him a break at $20 an hour and be
telecommuting (the really good software writers are worth twice that), I
thought he was going to faint, the man was so shocked at the price of

In the end, someone else who lived closer (and who was willing to work
cheaper) got the job. My point here, though, is that there are still a
lot of industries out in the workplace that have no idea what it is we
do or how we do it. Please read on...

The want ads for "computer" jobs that appear in the San Francisco
Chronicle are another source of bittersweet amusement. On the one hand,
the skills sets start out with semi-typical "tools of the trade"
requirements: compile data, generate reports from data, four-year
degree, knowledge of FrameMaker, Mac/Windows, Word and PageMaker.

Then the "other shoe" falls: knowledge of WordPerfect 5.1(!) and
PowerPoint (the tech writers I know use AutoCAD, Corel Draw and
Illustrator), minimum typing speed of 65 wpm, heavy phones, filing,
scheduling meetings, mailing, all the rest of that... and after a few
years, you too can hope to make a *top* salary of $32k/yr -- if the
company can afford it! :P Life in the pink-collar ghetto, folks. :P
:P :P (I think these are the reasons we all went to college: to get
away from this crap!) These are typically companies who actually need
*two* people but who can only afford to *underpay* one.

My point *here* is that while the bulk of the tech writing work is
currently in the high-tech and defense industries, the rest of the world
is now starting to discover just how technology can help them be more
productive and more competitive -- and that the rest of the world *does
not have* the technical skills they need to use what we document. As a
result, these folks think that the old paradigms will still work for
them and knock themselves out to try and find the high-tech wizard
workers of the future for $10-$12 an hour and not offer benefits.

We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of educating the rest of the
world. And we *have* to do it, whether we like it or not, because we've
got to take the rest of the world with us. Not everyone was meant to be
a tech writer or to work in high-tech, but everyone does have a right
--and a need-- to make a living.

George Mena
Technical Writing Consultant
George -dot- Mena -at- esstech -dot- com
ESS Technology, Inc.
48401 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94538

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