Re: FWD: What constitutes a senior tech writer and how to get there?

Subject: Re: FWD: What constitutes a senior tech writer and how to get there?
From: Chantel Brathwaite <cnbrath -at- APLEXUS -dot- JHUAPL -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999 14:33:38 -0400


What constitutes a senior tech writer? In my company, it is whatever the
contracting officer determines is senior for a particular contract. For
example, I've been a tech writer for a little over three years. I have
lots of tools under my belt (RoboHelp, Frame, Word, Interleaf,
Doc-To-Help, Corel, Visio etc.) and I can write and edit pretty well. I
also take charge and usually interact with the customer and plan my
projects. However, because of the years of experience I am not considered
a senior writer. To be honest, I am starting to see that there are a
number of other things that a senior writer needs as well. The tools and
the writing skills are just a portion -- you need to have an experienced
eye to know how the contract is going -- how the customer is going --
customer relations skills are so key. I think these things come with
time. At another company I might be considered senior -- but here I am
considered junior -- and it is ok with me. There's a lot that I need to
learn in order to be a senior technical writer, and I'd rather take the
time to learn it and earn the title, rather than to have the title but not
have the goods to back it up. Just the way I like to do things.

On a more general note, I'd like to say that I am sorry to hear about the
situation. It probably would have been a good idea for your friend to seek
out opportunities for growth on his/her own and to keep pestering
management for work -- or maybe it would have been best to leave. Well,
hindsight is 20/20 -- and I would hazard a guess that a number of people
have had the same type of experience that your friend had at some point in
their careers (otherwise, how would they know what to do?). I know that I
have stayed in situations longer than I should have in certain instances
-- most people have had a stint in a dead end job, but that is how you
learn and grow. No one just instantly knows how to handle everything --
it takes hard knocks and mistakes (even when they try to pretend that they
just "sprang from Bill Gates forehead!" -- I really liked that comment!)
That's how you get to be a senior anything -- tech writer or anything. A
big part of a career is learning how to relate to people -- how to spot
when a person will/won't help you, learning how to adapt and learning how
to feed yourself when necessary -- and how to reach back and help someone
else in the same situation. Every single thing that a person goes through
helps them in their career and in their life -- and it has the potential
to help lots of other people. Think, when your friend becomes a senior
technical writer, he/she will be able to look back and help other aspiring
tech writers because of this shabby treatment. That how it works. Also,
remember that lots of people are so absorbed in their own lives and
careers that they don't think about other people -- whether it is
intentionally or not -- your friend might be filling a space
that management needs filled (kind of like the gopher type job) so of
course, management is fine with that. But, the real question is, the
question is what does your friend really want from this life, from this
career, from this job?

Now, what would I suggest for that person? The first thing that I'd
suggest is to start fresh -- the past is the past and now that this person
has come to terms with the situation, it is time to look forward. Chalk
up the past as experience and move on.

Secondly, I'd look at what I'd need to do to get where I want to go. If
Senior Tech writer is your friends goal, then asking a question in a forum
like this one is a good start. I'd also start looking at requirements in
different job ads as well.

Third, I'd try to join a professional forum like STC. This can help in
forming networking contacts, and in gleaning other bits of information
that you wouldn't learn about otherwise.

Fourth, I'd start doing projects -- volunteer stuff for your community or
church or organization, stuff on your own web page, take a
class, downloading demos, and trying to pick up as information as I could.

Fifth, If I determined that I wanted to stay with the company -- I'd take
a look around and try to find some projects to do -- something where
you'll learn -- sometimes it is the stuff that others don't want to do.
I'd formulate a plan, try to investigate how I'd go about it and
eventually present it to management. Then I'd try to do it, and do it
very well. This will help you to build credibility. If nothing else, it
would be another skill under my belt.

Sixth, if I decided to leave the company, I'd look around very carefully
for a job where I'd learn a lot -- lots of tools, lots of writing, jobs
from start to finish. You've got to more than get your feet wet, you've
got to get immersed! It might be a small company or a large one. I'd
pray for a mentor, but if I wouldn't wait for one at my next job. I'd try
to do what I could to mentor myself, learn from whoever would help me, and
try to help anyone I could.

I hope this helps -- it turned out to be a long email. Take care --

cnbrath -at- aplexus -dot- jhuapl -dot- edu

On Fri, 30 Jul 1999, Anonymous Poster wrote:

> Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999 10:07:41 -0600
> From: Anonymous Poster <anonfwd -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
> To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
> Subject: FWD: What constitutes a senior tech writer and how to get there?
> ANON>> Brief background: Two writers in a group, each with 7-8 years of experience,
> ANON>> plus tech writing degrees. Three years ago, a third writer is asked to join
> ANON>> the group, but has no experience, no education, no training. Spends the
> ANON>> first year with virtually no projects, and nothing to do beyond proofreading
> ANON>> projects for the other writers. Second year, third writer is given a few
> ANON>> simple projects, which are completed to the best of the writer's limited
> ANON>> capabilities. At review time, writer is soundly criticized for doing a
> ANON>> "lousy" job with the projects. Group manager says he will spend more time
> ANON>> "training" new writer, but ends up being "too busy" to help beyond taking
> ANON>> the red pen to the new writer's work. Third year, new writer is given a few
> ANON>> projects to do from scratch, which seem to be going ok. At review time,
> ANON>> writer is again criticized for not developing the skills and technical
> ANON>> expertise needed to be considered a senior writer.
> ANON>>
> ANON>> The question is this: what kind of skills and experience does one need to be
> ANON>> considered a senior writer? What kind of training, seminars, books, would
> ANON>> help? Is experience the best teacher? How can one learn new things if one is
> ANON>> not assigned projects that make one grow?
> ANON>>
> ANON>> Any opinions, facts, and advice are welcome.
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> Forwarded anonymously on request. If you want the
> original poster to see your response, you must reply
> to the TECHWR-L list. All direct replies to this
> message are automatically discarded. Contact Eric
> ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com with questions.
> From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

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

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