Re: Breaking into the business

Subject: Re: Breaking into the business
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 00:13:29 -0800

Hey folks,

I managed to miss most of this thread so far; I'm in New Orleans
visiting friends (happy Mardi Gras! :-) but I thought I should comment.

> 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...

While I appreciate Andy Dugas's opinions and feelings:

> 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
> tools? [...]
>
> 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...

I think it's important to read this post with an open mind.
Obviously this guy isn't stupid; perhaps he's just being brutally
honest with both himself and us?

Frankly, from what he describes of himself, he is in fact well
suited for the profession (except perhaps in his desire for money and
respect :-). I can think of plenty of less-suited candidates who are
out in the field cashing paychecks. Few technical writers have
degrees in technical writing, nor is it a necessity (approximately one
in five professional programmers have computer science degrees). His
qualifications - particularly his interest in philosophy, logic and
analytical thought - make him as likely a technical writer as any.

> > 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.

Note also that he doesn't make this query out of total ignorance:

> > 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.

How many of us set out to be technical writers as freshmen (or
upon entering the job market)? I think it would behoove us, as a
professional group, to respond to his honest and candor.

> > 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.

This sounds like excellent reasoning. It is a sad fact that
most employers are more willing to employ subject matter experts with
vague qualifications as writers than the reverse. It comes down to
the fact that writing ability is difficult to measure objectively.

> > 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:

This can be a strong advantage if you're seeking work in Ireland or
the European Union (something I've considered) but I don't know of any
particularly strong demand for such.

> > >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.

If you'll send me e-mail directly (puff -at- netcom -dot- com) I'll send you
a copy of my article on the topic, in a separate message (the list
bounces it as too long). However, in closing, I would like to
reiterate Mr. Dugas's entirely too accurate comments:

> 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.

Technical writing is not a profession for the faint of heart.
The sad fact is that I know far more failed-writers-turned-programmer
(I'm one of them) than the reverse. Technical writers get lower pay,
less respect and more grief. They spend most of their time on the
shit work that's necessary to make it possible to do the job they love:
writing.

For some of us, that's enough to make it worthwhile. Someday I
hope to return to that state.

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- netcom -dot- com

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=




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