Re: It's "The Fit" That Causes Fits Among Us

Subject: Re: It's "The Fit" That Causes Fits Among Us
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 14:35:58 -0700

George Mena wrote:
>
> There are excellent people who can otherwise adequately document the
> technology or service if a particular company actually bothers to take
> *some* time to educate their new hires on the technology or service.

Yes and no. If you've used a spreadsheet, you have a vague idea about
how some databases work. However, unless you've deliberately learned
more about databases, you don't really understand about schemas and the
limits of SQL and why locks are important. Yet, for those who write
about databases, those concepts are almost as basic as learning to tie
your shoes.

Similarly, if you're going to be writing about the pharmaceutical
industry products, understanding the nature of proteins and certain
kinds of filtering agents and what impact the term "Adverse Event" has
on a product are equally basic to the industry. Anyone who's hired into
a pharmaceutical company has to learn those things eventually. If you're
lucky enough to be in an environment where people can take the time to
teach you, great. However, increasingly a basic understanding of
biochemistry is necessary for any kind of technical work in that
industry.

Where a product is sold to people with "normal" levels of experience,
you don't necessarily need serious technical training in order to write
about a product. However, if your audience is technically savvy, the
engineers serving as your SMEs are going to request that you at least
understand their jargon. The smaller the company, the less likely
someone has the time to teach you what they consider 'the basics.'

> If
> a particular company *doesn't* adopt this kind of forward thinking, I
> believe their time in the marketplace going to end prematurely in
> bankruptcy because of its own corporate myopia, and well it should (are
> you listening, biotech, healthcare and software industries?). Makes me
> not only wonder what some people use for decision making processes, but
> whether they're even *capable* of them.

Oh, blather! If your client is selling pharmaceuticals into the medical
industry, you can assume that their customers are not only educated, but
well-informed about certain trends in medical research, familiar with
the risks associated with certain kinds of products, AND familiar with
the entire clinical research process. Therefore the client is quite
reasonably going to look for people who know how to speak to these
customers, meaning that the tech writers had better know a lot about the
inner workings of that industry. To charge that such a company is
myopic and headed for bankruptcy because it won't take the time to train
junior or intermediate writers, or senior writers who don't have the
right credentials, is nothing but sour grapes. UNLESS, of course, the
marketplace simply doesn't have people with the right credentials.
(And right now, a lot of biology majors are finding they can make a
decent living as medical/pharm. tech writers.)

> My contention is that if you can both understand the
> technology or service and if you can write well, then there's a place
> for you on the cutting edge of whatever needs to be documented and
> specialized education be damned.
>
Not necessarily. Right now I'm working on some internal docs for
JavaSoft, requiring that I understand the fundamental relationship
between low-level operating system design and hardware design. I don't
get to work at that level very often (how many new operating systems
were introduced and accepted in the last decade?), but what separated me
from the others was the fact that I'd done low-level manuals before AND
I know Java. The company didn't have time to teach me Java. In other
words, I'd already acquired the "specialized knowledge" necessary to do
the job.

What sets any of us apart from the crowd is how well we fit within what
the company thinks it wants at the time it's ready to hire. The
challenge is to pick your specialties correctly and invest in the time
to keep up to date. Asking your client company to pick up the tab for
your education is a nice bene if you can get it. I'll guess, however,
that most of us have had to do a lot of learning on our own.

That said, however, it is still my belief that any tech writing group
becomes more valuable when it DOES invest in the continuing education of
its members. If you work for such a group, it might treat you to a C++
or Java course, or one on databases, or on telecommunications
architecture, or something equally beneficial. If, on the other hand,
you're an individual contractor, or you're an employee of a company that
doesn't believe in that kind of continuing education, the responsibility
falls on your own shoulders.

Elna Tymes, president
Los Trancos Systems




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