Re: Technical Writer/Translator

Subject: Re: Technical Writer/Translator
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1999 09:07:56 -0800

Edward Gomez writes:

First, remember to specify a subject line. A lot of folks routinely
skip and delete messages without subject lines (I usually do; you lucked
out :-)).

> I would like to know if anyone out there knows of any correlation
> between technical communication and the study of a foreign language such
> as Spanish.
> [...]
> If anyone out there knows, from a technical writing point of view would
> that be performing technical translation in either Spanish to English or
> vice-versa? And would it be a job title of technical writer or a
> translator? Are there jobs out there for writers with skills such as
> mine?

I'd note that when the topic of translation has come up in the
past, attitudes were heavily towards using a translator or writer who
is a native speaker in the language the documents are being translated
*to*. The reason most often cited was colloquialism and language
nuances that even a professional translator can't always get. (My
favorite example of this is a friend who was working customer support
for spanish-speaking customers in Chile or Argentina or some such; it
turns out that one of the equivalents of the english phrase "How may
I help you?" is a colloquialism for a prostitute soliciting customers.
Needless to say, this caused a little confusion...).

As to whether to call the job technical writing or translating,
that depends on the company and on your career goals. If you want to
progress in the translation field, call it translator. If you want to
progress in the technical writing field, call it technical writing. Or
to compromise, ask for a job title of "technical writer/translator"
(or "translator/technical writer").

Unless you're working at a company with a rigidly defined,
bureaucratic organizational culture (like most really, really large
companies), always figure out what you'd like the job title to be and
ask that it be such. Job titles cost your employer nothing (unless
the company bureacracy strictly ties the titles to pay levels) and can
give you some personal satisfaction and (more importantly) an
advantage on your resume. I wouldn't mention the second to your
employer, though, unless you take the job as an explicitly short-term
thing :-).

For that matter, again, unless the organizational culture is such
that they're likely to make a federal case out of it, I'd feel free to
massage the job title a bit on my resume when hunting for my next job.
Job titles aren't always accurately descriptive.

Amusing anecdote:

At one small software company (uner 200 people, about $20/million
a year) my boss was the original sole technical, who then built the
tech writing team. I was the second writer hired. They hired three
other writers after me. A year later somebody from outside the tech
writing team pushed the idea of selecting individual titles. I think
maybe it was when somebody started building an org chart or thinking
about getting business cards for everybody. (Not that we ever got
business cards).

We had all just been calling ourselves writers. (Not even
technical writer, just "writer"). We bounced around different titles
for an couple of hours, then one of the more experienced writers pointed
out that the selection of title could have a serious impact later in
our careers, since different organizational cultures interpreted titles
differently. We ended up staying "writers."

A year later they hired a new VP, who wanted us to have a more
vigorous team name and job titles. He actually had valid reasons; he
wanted to shift the company's thinking away from the traditional
concept of writers as reactive and ancillary and towards a more central
role as the people who gather and disseminate knowledge both within the
organization and in publications. People are habitual and changing their
perceptions can be a lot easier if you change the titles.

Still, we weren't too happy about it when he asked us to call
ourselves some obfuscated title. Our boss stuck up for us and we
eventually compromised on "Product Information Engineer" (blech - but
at least not as blatantly offensive as some of the other options).

A month later the office manager/receptions/secretary (and
grossly underpaid at that) came around to ask everybody what their job
titles were for the business cards being ordered. When the cards
arrived a few weeks later it turned out we'd all just said "writer" :-).

The moral of the story is that job titles are both more and less
than they seem. They can be useful tools for creating perceptions;
focus on this when choosing what you'd like your job title to be. But
most of the time it's just a title, with no "concrete" benefits
attached to it. Focus on this when it comes time to negotiate to get
the title you choose.

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

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

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