Re: What *is* enough?

Subject: Re: What *is* enough?
From: "Huber, Mike" <mrhuber -at- SOFTWARE -dot- ROCKWELL -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 8 May 1998 10:12:10 -0500

It's not our call.

What is enough is what the particular employer is willing to settle for,
and what the particular writer can learn. That varies by employer and

There is no single (attainable) skill set that qualifies a writer for
every possible job, and there could never be one, because the field is
too wide. Most professions are like that - that's why there are

It's true that changes in technology and the economy can leave any of us
out in the cold. But how would a post-graduate program that declared
that a particular interdisciplinary skill set is enough change that? I
am employable when an organization that makes enough money to pay me
decides that my skills add value to that organization that exceeds what
I cost. And nothing within the framework of a market economy can change
that. Now, I suppose there could be a basic certification that shows
that I am qualified as a generic technical writer. Such a certificate
might justify a higher starting salary, by reducing risk to the
employer. Such a certificate would not justify my current income - quite
a bit of the value I bring to my company is a result of expertise that
it would be absurd to require every writer to obtain. A certificate that
I am a qualified industrial software technical writer is worthless if
the industrial software market tanks.

No, the best I can do is to extend my qualifications as best I can in
the directions that look interesting and profitable to me, and take my
chances. Security is an illusion. Still, I'm willing to bet that
software is going to be a lucrative field for a few more years. And if
it isn't, I'll have to learn something else.

Some companies will have high or unrealistic expectations - I've seen
job ads that call for 10 years experience programming in Java - and some
will hire people that can learn the skills. Companies that demand
excessive existing skill sets will end up paying a price - high wages,
long searches, tradeoffs between technical and communication skills, or
(in the Java example) hiring liars. In some cases, the price will be
worth it. In others, it won't. From what I've seen, the most successful
companies expect to do some training. It makes sense - the technology we
describe tends to change (even ancient technologies like metallurgy and
ceramics) and each company has a different approach.

But the arete of a technical writer isn't knowledge of technology. What
I know about industrial software is irrelevant. What counts is that my
readers can do what they need to do.

(Hey, it's not an abbreviation and it's not Latin. Nobody said "no

Office:mike -dot- huber -at- software -dot- rockwell -dot- com
Home:nax -at- execpc -dot- com

>-----Original Message-----
>From: George Mena [SMTP:George -dot- Mena -at- ESSTECH -dot- COM]
>... Understanding how APIs work is not
>enough. We now add Biochemistry 101.
Industries take downturns, sometimes very *steep* downturns. So-called
"hot" industries wind up going cold and people wind up having to find
>related work in other industries.
This is hardly sour grapes. If anything, I think you've actually
validated my original contention that it's time to consider what would
constitute adequate post-graduate tech writer-in-training programs.
Such programs will probably need to be multidisciplinary in nature.
First, however, they need to come into existence, which was my point in
the first place.

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