Re: Grading writers?

Subject: Re: Grading writers?
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 3 Jun 1999 10:06:56 -0700

Kathy Stanzler writes:
> Does anyone have any thoughts on a company in which all technical
> writers are "Technical Writers," regardless of experience, number of
> years, etc.? Maybe they think there will be hard feelings if one person
> is "just" a technical writer and the next person is "senior" technical
> writer.

I kind of like this, but I'd say it depends a lot on the context;
on how the writers work (in a single larg team, in small teams, or
alone), on how structured the organization is, etc. The correlation
between reality and title is usually very weak. On the other hand,
the effect of having one title over another can be (but is not
necessarily) very strong when you go job hunting.

Unless you're in a large organization context where job titles
have very specific meanings, a fancy title costs the employer nothing
and looks good on your resume or business card, so why not ask for

I think I've posted before with an anecdote about job titles:

At my first career position as a technical writer, I got in on
the ground floor of the tech writing section and got to grow up along
with it as the company tripled in size from 60 to 180 people (and went
through five reorganizations) over three years. When I started, we
were just technical writers, because nobody even *had* a card. The
original one-woman-band tech writer who started with the company built
the tech writing section person by person. I was the second writer
she hired. The first had even less experience.

Somewhere near the end of the first year, the topic of job titles
came up. I don't remember why, maybe somebody in management was
finally drawing up an org chart or had decided to get us business
cards. We bounce around various job title ideas until the most recent
hire - and also the guy with the most formal tech writing experience -
pointed out that these titles we were bandying about so casually could
have significant impact on our careers, and gave some examples that
threw us quite bit.

I don't think we ever formally settled on titles. The question
was never really discussed after that, and later on, whenever there
was any sort of document (company newsletter, etc - we never did get
business cards that year), it just said "technical writer" next to
our names.

A year later they brought in a new VP of engineering - by that
point our 6-person department had been formally made part of
engineering. He decided to give us all new job titles. At first he
wanted to call us "information engineers" but we all let them know how
we felt about that kind of marketspeak. In addition:

Some of us pointed out that "information engineer" was
uncomfortably close to "sanitation engineer".

Some of us pointed out that we felt no need to puff up our egos
by calling ourselves engineers. As a matter of fact, we
didn't particularly think being called engineers was a

Some of us pointed out that the programmers, many of whom were or
had been bonafide, certified engineers (elecrical engineers,
mechanical engineers, computer engineers, etc), might find
"information engineer" a bit presumptuous.

The VP was pretty adamant, but ultimately, we bargained him down
to "information developer".

A couple months later the office secretary (who was more of an
office manager) made up the order list for business cards for
everybody. She came around and individually asked each writer what
our titles were.

When the business cards arrived the next month, our cards all
said "Technical Writer."

As a postscript, lest I seem too fixated on being a "technical
writer"; near the end of my tenure there I made a habit of eating out
every friday with a few of the writers and enigneers. One day one
somehow the conversation got around to the merits of being a writer.
I think one of the engineers - actually one of the better engineers
and also one of the few who had a lot of respect for the writers -
asked the afore-mentioned most experienced writer if he'd ever
regretted not taking another career path.

I spent the next twenty minutes or so, on the way to the
restaraunt and while we waited for the waiter to take our order,
listening to my fellow writer enumerate the many essential roles that
writers fulfill in our society, and the merits and worth of being a
writer, and why therefore he was fulfilled and happy to be a writer.
All good stuff, it would probably make an excellent article.

Then they turned to me and said, "Gee Steve, you're being
unusually quiet in this conversation."

I'm not usually given to short answers (most people want simple
answers to simple questions, not realizing that most of the really
complex answers in the world are for simple questions). This time,
however, I had a one-liner.

Writing is what I do. Not who I am.

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

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

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