Value of technical writers - Sort Of.

Subject: Value of technical writers - Sort Of.
From: Cam Whetstone <camw -at- HOME -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 1998 09:47:58 -0500

"Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM> wrote:
>
> I know the common stereotype of a technical writer is that of a
> failed engineer or programmer who becomes a writer because they can't
> hack the serious work.
>
>Andrew Plato Wrote:
>
> > > Also, Engineers can keep learning and advancing
> > > in their field, but technical writers have no
> > > where to go or new things to learn."
>
Let me start by saying I have been in the business since January, 1958
(before most of you were born). I have watched my 'profession' change
over the years to something not quite like what I started working in.

In the beginning, I came out of the US Air Force with electronics
training (Radio Repairman 30150A). No other skills. No college, just
high school. There were few jobs I was qualified for, and one--radio
technician on a bench--was not what I wanted to do with my life. Nor
did I want to sell Life Insurance. I ended up in an entry position for
technical writing. I fit. I stayed.

In the beginning I could take a schematic and figure out what each part
on it was doing. I could write the theory without ever seeing the
actual equipment. Operating procedures were better when I could
actually operate the thing, but sometimes that was not an option. My
skill as a writer was minimal, but I recieved some good training, and it
improved. I am not Hemingway. I don't try to be. I try to put on
paper information that helps an intelligent person understand how to
work with some new equipment. I say work with because it could mean
operate, repair, troubleshoot, maintain, etc.

Over the years I saw the advent of transistors, LSI, and IC's. Actually
there has been another step: into programmed operation. Initially with
built in processors, and finally to 'standalone' computers. Each
evolution changed my profession. Today I feel like the technical writer
is more of a writer than in the past. You don't need to have the
technical skills and knowledge, you are provided with all the technical
content by someone else.

In the beginning I worked from schematics, etc. Today we work from
other input. Very few software writers look at the code and write the
manual. Most just listen to the 'SME' and go from there. If the SME is
not such an E, and the SM is flawed in translation, we have to go to
someone else to get help. I feel we have lost the technical part of
technical writing. We have become editors. This is not a bad thing. A
good editor makes all the difference in the world. But are we really
writers? I can still work in the industry, but there seems to be less
and less call for someone who has the techincal skills and knowledge to
work from schematics and drawings.

I am not flaming anyone. I just think the 'profession' has changed, and
as a writer I have to change along with it--only I look back fondly at
what once was. We still solve problems, but the problems have changed
dramatically from the old days--maybe for the better.

Cam Whetstone
Old Timey Tech Writer

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