Re: Breaking into the business

Subject: Re: Breaking into the business
From: Andy Dugas <adugas -at- NAVIS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1999 09:09:02 -0800

At 8:56 PM +0100 2/12/99, Kevin Cahill wrote:

> This message contains a number of questions that I have concerning breaking
> into the field of technical writing...

Why tech writing? Why do you think it is so easy to obtain the very
important skills, namely using a computer and the appropriate software

If you want to pick up a trade, why not study massage (pays $30 plus an
hour) or even acupuncture ($50 plus an hour)? In tech writing, it might
take you a couple of years to work up to the going rate and even then that
varies a great deal depending on where you are. And working a full-time
stressful job as a TW will leave precious little mental space for that
search for that tenured position.

You could burn through a massage certification course in a couple of
months, acupuncture school in a couple of years. You seem quite proficient
at learning. Unlike technical writing, these fields do not rely on
secondary skills such as typing or using specialized software tools. And
talk about portable! A fold-up table, some old sheets and plastic bottles
of oil and there you are.

If your interest truly is short term, you might consider a field which
requires even fewer specialized skills and has a shorter learning curve.
While the field is more open to women, I hear male strippers can earn even
more (yet another instance of unequal pay for identical work). Based on the
history you provide below, you must be around thirty-five, and hopefully
you've kept yourself in good shape.

While I am personally honored that you've chosen my noble profession as
something you can just jump into with few skills or aptitude, make some big
bucks and move on, I think you may have overlooked some other professional
options with greater potential. Perhaps a little more research - and a few
more sit-ups to tighten up those abs - might be in order...

Hope this helps.

Andy Dugas

At 8:56 PM +0100 2/12/99, Kevin Cahill wrote:

> This message contains a number of questions that I have concerning breaking
> into the field of technical writing. First, I will briefly introduce myself.
> My name is Kevin M. Cahill. I have a B.A. in Biochemistry (1986) from the
> University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, I worked for three
> years in research laboratories, first for one year as a chemist for Syntex
> Corporation
> in Palo Alto, CA, and then for two years as a research assistant in the
> Dept.of Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1990,
> I returned to school, obtaining a second bachelor's degree in philosophy
> from San Francisco State University in 1992. I began graduate studies for
> the Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1992.
> Currently, I am on a Fulbright Fellowship in Bergen, Norway, conducting
> research at the Wittgenstein Archive. I shall be finished with the
> dissertation sometime next fall. I speak nearly fluent German, competent
> Spanish, and am currently learning Norwegian. For those who care, my areas
> of specialization are Wittgenstein, early analytic philosophy, Logic, Kant,
> and Nietzsche.
> My interest in the the technical writing profession is mainly two-fold.
> First, I have a short-term interest in learning a skill which could tide me
> over during the time that I am looking for a tenure track position teaching
> philosophy. Naturally, should such a skill allow me to earn extra money
> later on while teaching at a university or college, so much the better.
> thinking about alternative professions which are interesting, pay
> reasonably well, and utilize some or many of the skills that I have
> developed in the course of my training. A number of acquaintances of mine
> familiar with the field of techinical writing have been encouraging me for
> some time to look into it: hence this letter of inquiry.
> Having read through a number of job listings for technical writers
> recently, I was struck by my current state of unpreparedness, especially in
> the area of computers. Naturally, I am willing to learn as many facets of
> the trade as possible, especially those which seem most in demand, while I
> am continuing work on my dissertation. Nevertheless, I am also particularly
> interested in the possibility of finding work, part-time of full, with a
> group or company which is willing to take someone on board untrained, the
> only guarantee being that I am a hard worker, and have proven writing and
> analytical abilities. I do have of course a solid scientific education in
> chemistry and the biological sciences as well, which inclines me to think
> that I might be particularly suited to enter the field through the
> biotechnology industry. I still have an abiding interest in science in
> general, and biology in particular, and have kept my knowledge of recent
> developments reasonably fresh.
> One last issue that I should mention concerns location. Probably the
> easiest thing that I could do here is simply to list off those places where
> would seriously consider living; that might be helpful to anyone with
> information pertaining to a particular region. I should mention that I am
> a duel citizen of Ireland and the U.S. This means that I am permitted to
> work in any country which is a member of the European Union without needing
> to apply for a work visa. Here goes:
> -Anywhere in the U.S., but particularly the West Coast, the East Coast, or
> Chicago
> -Skandinavia, particularly Norway
> -The Netherlands
> -Germany, or Austria
> -Ireland
> -Great Britain
> >This more or less sums up my background situation. Any help or advice on
> >any aspect of breaking into the technical writing business, especially
> >regarding gaining needed computer training, would be much appreciated.
> >
> >Sincerely,
> >
> >Kevin M. Cahill
> >

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