Re: New slant: professionalism (long)

Subject: Re: New slant: professionalism (long)
From: Richard Inch <rinch -at- INFICON -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 14:26:28 -0400


There are a lot of people who call themselves technical writers who have
taken the easy way out, and believe that the only proper way to do
technical writing is to have SME's do it first, then they edit and format.
That's not the way I operate, and it's not how my company operates.
However, in almost every new contract situation I'm up against people who
call themselves "senior technical writer" and demand high hourly rates,
then do as little as possible. It has to be tough for the hiring manager
to discern in interviews between those who basically edit/format and those
who actually dig for material.

I am one of the writers you are talking about.

For the first half of my 21+ year career I did ferret out information,
writing from scratch (which included docs written to MIL-SPEC for companies
like GE Aerospace, IBM Federal Systems, and Link Aerospace). I did the tape
recorder, video camera, furious note taking, and all other forms of
"traditional" technical writing techniques. When I started my career I was
given a pad of paper, scissors, glue pot, tape, and pencils. I learned from
a writer who had, at that time, 35 years in the tech pubs business. My job
was to write; others did all else (that I do now using my computer).

Then I moved into an environment where the SMEs were Ph.D.'s who held
tremendous ownership of their written text, and who wrote much better than
I. They needed help with formatting, document management, distribution, and
all things other than writing. I worked in that environment for five years.

Then, I heard about my current employer. They had no technical publications
department, no technical writers. They had very bad experiences with
technical writers, fired 'em all, and had moved on for about seven years.
But, they wanted to streamline their publications process, ensure adherence
to ISO 9001, and bring their manuals up to professional contemporary
standards. What a challenge! My first six months here were spent overcoming
animosity towards and distrust of techncial writers. My approach was
simple: everyone in the company is a technical writer. (According to my
boss, that was the statement that got me hired over the other candidates.)
I formalized procedures, designed templates, instituted networked WorkGroup
publishing, trained SMEs on how to use the tools, and I manage the whole
process. I am the "buck stops here" person for Technical Manuals and other
assorted documentation. I have no "staff" in the traditional sense. I
manage 250 "writers". When I was asked what title I wanted, I thought about
how my career had evolved and about my role in todays "computer" world, and
decided upon Technical Documentation Manager. Yes, I enjoy a very good
salary. However, This is not a cushy job. In fact, it is the most
challenging position I have ever held in my career. I love it.

Richard Inch
Techncial Documentation Manager
Leybold Inficon
Two Technology Place
East Syracuse, NY 13057-9714

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