Re: Value of technical writers - Sorry, boss is (mostly) right

Subject: Re: Value of technical writers - Sorry, boss is (mostly) right
From: Nora Merhar <nmerhar -at- CHARLESINDUSTRIES -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998 09:58:36 -0600

> Your boss is correct in some regards. Many writers are writers
> because they aspire no further. Half the writers I meet are writers
> only because they want to pay the bills and cannot get a job doing
> anything else. This might not be the case for yourself, but it is
> a lot of writers out there (in my experience).

Huh? I am genuinely confused here. Whenever people use vague cliches
(you have to aspire to MORE! you have to take RISKS!) I always spend 3
or 4 minutes wondering what "more" I am to aspire to, or why on earth
I *have* to do anything!

> Now, some writers actually break out of this mold and become
> technology experts as well as good writers. For example, in my line
> of work a technical writer with Oracle experience is like a brick of
> gold. They can command high salaries and great respect. However,
> there are so few writers with this knowledge, that most of the
> I interview I turn away.

And this is my other complaint. What technology are we to become
experts in? For instance, in my current job I am not documenting any
software at all--so why would it be of any use to me to learn to
program (at this point, anyway). I can read code, and read it well
enough to get what I need out of it.

In my current position, I am documenting hardware for telco systems.
Mainly what I have to do is document installation, operation, and
specifications. While I am learning more about the technology, and
WANT to learn more about the technology, I don't have to know exactly
how everything interfaces to document it properly.

I guess what I'm saying is if we change jobs often (which many of us
do) and move from industry to industry (which many of us do) becoming
experts in the technology isn't necessarily an advantage. We need to
be generalists who can learn enough of whatever technology we're
dealing with to write well about it, but not so much that we become
hidebound and only think of the world in one way, through one lense.

> In comparison, software design and development has dramatically
> changed in the past 10 years. Entire new languages have risen and
> fallen in the past 10 years. Moreover, the technologies are
> different.

Andrew, you're focused on software. I have had 3 technical writing
jobs since getting out of school--one was military, one was
documenting software and hardware of automatic call distributors, and
my current job. In the case of the software, what it DOES and how to
use it was much more important to the user than what code it was
written in. IOW, I needed to know the TECHNOLOGY--NOT the code.

> Unfortunately, your boss's views of writers are what many managers
> think.
> I hate to say this, because I know this irritates a lot of people,
> most non-tech writers find tech writers brittle, small-minded, and
> generally less skilled than engineers. Why do you think Scott Adams
> paints Tina the Technical Writer as a short tempered, brittle

Huh? Less skilled? Different skills, perhaps. There are less-skilled
and better skilled engineers--the same goes for writers. I know many
engineers who are tremendously interested in helping me understand
what they're doing and how it works. I generally find myself allied
with the engineers, not at odds with them. Managers, now--they're a
whole different story!

Most people feel that they are not appreciated the way they should be
for what they do. A friend of mine once said "It's the American way to
hate your job and want more money!"

> The frustration you feel is caused by the legions of technical
> out there that are continuing the trend of tool and technique

And one remark about tools--isn't Oracle as much a tool as Framemaker?
Aren't you focusing on tools as well--just DIFFERENT tools?

> When tech writing becomes a profession focused on technology and
> content maybe then the perceptions of co-workers and managers will
> change. Until then, all I can say is "deal with it." This is why I
> left tech writing for consulting.

I think we should all try to take ourselves a little less seriously. I
am often surprised at the topics that appear to be life-or-death on
this forum. I know that the world could probably live without what I
do, and am tickled to death that I am well-paid for it and that it is
sometimes appreciated. And I leave the work at work, and go home and
live the life that my work is subsidizing. (uh-oh--now I KNOW no-one
on this list will ever hire me!)

Senior Technical Writer, Charles Industries, Ltd.
nmerhar -at- charlesindustries -dot- com

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