Not too technical, still OK (was: Desperately seeking employment)

Subject: Not too technical, still OK (was: Desperately seeking employment)
From: Kimberly <JKWilson -at- CONCENTRIC -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 00:13:06 -0400

You are correct: there aren't enough truly technical writers to fill the
technical writing jobs that need them. However, though I think your history
of tech writing has some merit, I do not wholly agree with your conclusion.

I am a writer first and technical only a little. I feel I am a competent
tech writer, and my technical deficiency is not a detriment to me or my
employers. The important thing is, I recognize my limitations and I am
honest with my employers about what level of technical knowledge I have. I
stick to projects that don't require too much technical knowledge, or
knowledge in any particular technical depth. I don't exaggerate my
technical level and I don't take jobs out of my depth.

The key is: I learn something on every job so that my technical knowledge
is growing, gradually. In addition, I don't *want* to be deeply technical
in some areas--I can't think of anything I'd enjoy less than spending my
days writing white papers on rocket fuel consumption tests or writing parts
catalogs. (yawn)

Some Technical Communicators (capitals deliberate) would criticize the
attitude; a writer should be able to write anything, right? I disagree.
Engineers have specialties and programmers have specialties--tech writers
(should) have specialties too. Most of us present our chosen specialties in
our resumes to begin with. However you choose to denigrate the
non-technical of us into mere typists or misplaced secretaries, the fact is
that the TW jobs in the market are mostly not truly technical. Those that
are should have writers with the technical knowledge, yes; but for the
others, the skillset is different and not necessarily technical. And I am
happy with those jobs. Perhaps the job title "technical writer" is
misapplied, but that's a choice the market made, not me.

For what it's worth, I started out studying engineering in college, with a
minor in English, with the *intent* of becoming a tech writer (back in the
days before there were separate tech writing programs). Later I took
information systems courses and business courses as well. I probably do
have more technical knowledge than the average graduate with an English
degree, but, arguably, it probably hasn't been much more useful in actual
work application. I find that my business knowledge has been far more
beneficial in my career than my technical knowledge.

Personally, I wouldn't discourage an English graduate from trying to break
into tech writing. I would just caution him to start with reasonable
expectations and probe carefully for a job that requires less technical
knowledge to start out with.

Kimberly Lyle-Wilson
Atlanta GA

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