Re: Desperately seeking employment (and why)

Subject: Re: Desperately seeking employment (and why)
From: Joe Schrengohst <jschreng -at- CISCO -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 16:45:42 -0700

At 05:12 PM 7/13/99 -0400, Mark Baker wrote:
>What there will never be enough of -- because being one is hard --
>technical writers with real technical skill.

And that, my friends, is the crux of the "situation" as they say.

(Put on your asbestos suits, because the "flames" are probably
going to get really, really "hot" over this one.)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own and do
NOT reflect the opinions of any of my clients, present or past.)

I started out in this "technical" business as a "telemetry engineer"
(way back when "lady engineers" were notable by their scarcity),
and was sort of "shanghaied" into "technical writing" by a unique
set of circumstances (which I won't bore you with today).

In those days (back in the dark ages) "technical writing" was also
a very male-dominated occupation; most of the males (like myself)
being former engineers or technicians (some "failed," some not)
who understood the technology and had some facility for explaining
it to others (who were also usually engineers or technicians).

Somewhere about the time Mark alludes to (when all the teaching
jobs were filled) we began to use "Word Processors" (as opposed
to yellow pads and pencils or, in the "sophisticated" pubs depts,
actual electric typewriters), so the "skill set" changed to include
the ability to type (the faster the better). And guess who could
type well and who couldn't?

All of the "unemployable" English teachers, journalism majors,
and secretaries were gradually initiated into the "pubs world,"
first as "word processors" and "editors," with many working their
way up to full-fledged "technical writers." While most could write
better than their "engineering" contemporaries, they lacked the
set of technical skills that the "engineers" brought to the party.

Along about the same time, the "human resources" depts were
seeing more and more women in the role of "placement" people.
They looked at the "skill set" of the women in the pubs depts
and today we have the ubiquitous job advertisement that reads:
"Technical Writer: English or Journalism degree required."

Rarely, if ever, do you see any job advertisements that mention
anything about the "technical" requirements associated with a
"technical writing" position. And today most "technical writing"
positions are filled with people (mostly women) who have the
English or Journalism degrees, but haven't the foggiest idea
about the technology they are supposed to describe, which,
I contend, has resulted in the bad press that many "technical
manuals" have received over the past few years.

Now don't get me wrong -- I love women (my mother was one,
my wife's one and so is my daughter -- who also happens to
be a 1st Lt. in the US Army). I'm not a "sexist" (I'm not, I'm
really, really not). I've worked for a number of excellent women
managers and with several excellent female technical writers.
I have also met many women "technical writers" who've gone
that "extra mile" and learned the "technical" part of the job,
but they are still all too rare in this business.

Recently I was involved in a situation where the engineers
in a development group absolutely refused to spend any
of their time talking to the people in the tech pubs dept.
The product was highly technical, the projects were coming
one on top of the other, and everyone involved was pretty
"stressed out." The engineers reported that the "technical
writers" didn't know enough about the technology to have
any comprehension of what the engineers told them (and
the engineers were right).

Not every "technical manual" is a "User's Manual" that
only requires the ability to explain how to make the proper
choice on a pull-down menu in a well-constructed GUI.
Some of this stuff is damned TECHNICAL and the writer
needs to understand it about as well as the SME. In many
cases the writer is the only person that actually "spans"
the entire product, and often understands it better than
anyone else involved because he (or she) has had to
cover it deeper and wider than anyone else.

In the end, I guess it all boils down to whether you want
to be a "technical writer," a "technical WRITER,"
(and you get one guess where the BIG BUCK$ go).

PS: If you are "offended" by this little diatribe, then it
was expressly meant for you. You need to do some
"soul searching" and see if your "technical skills" are
really all that they should be.

Joe Schrengohst
Contract Technical Writer
Cisco Systems
Network Software Services Unit
170 West Tasman Drive
San Jose, CA 95134
E-Mail: jschreng -at- cisco -dot- com
Cisco Phone: (408) 527-9844
Cisco Fax: (408) 527-1488
Home Phone: (775) 782-4129
Home Fax: (775) 782-5585

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