Re: What employers think about technical writers

Subject: Re: What employers think about technical writers
From: Jim Grey <jwg -at- ACD4 -dot- ACD -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 1994 09:54:43 -0500

My company hires its technical writers. Strangely, we've historically
brought engineers aboard by contracting them first, and if they work out,
hiring them at the end of their contract. Corporate shenanigans have
moved the TW department under engineering, so who knows, we may hire on
contract now, too. But I think this method reflects a desire to hire
engineers very carefully, because it's much easier to let a contract lapse
than to fire someone who doesn't work out.

I was fairly actively looking to change jobs last summer and autumn. I'm
an Indiana boy, I like it here, and I don't want to leave. This made my
job pickins mighty slim. About half the tech writing jobs I saw in the
Indianapolis, Chicago, Louisville, and Cincinatti papers were contract,
the rest regular hire. A friend of mine who lived at the time in
Santa Cruz, CA, sent me the Sunday classfifieds -- and I was horrified
to see that very few of the tech writing positions there were regular hire.
I like my 401(k) plan and, especially, my health insurance. A contract
job would have to pay me enough to maintain my standard of living *and*
let me buy health insurance and afford a comparable savings plan.

I did a lot of interviewing last year, and had a few offers. I was very
surprised to learn how little these companies were willing to pay me. In
all cases, adjusting for cost of living, they wanted me to go back to my
starting salary here, a good 12K lower than what I make now. My company has
some pretty major faults, but at least they pay their tech writers in the
same ballpark as their engineers.

My employer's greatest sins against writers, creating a neat paradox, are:

1) They tend to underuse our skills, making us glorified typists and tool
users ("Here, can you Interleaf this up for us?"). Some of this is
because we writers are the most experienced Interleaf users in the
company, and we put out great work with it. But mostly, we get this
work because others think it not a good use of their time to do it

2) They tend to think the only reason anyone wants to be a tech writer is
so they can eventually move into a real job, like software design. They
decided two years ago that I'd make a great software designer, and acted
as though they were doing me a great favor when, out of the blue, they
offered me a job doing that. They were very, very surprised when I turned
it down right away. I've had to say repeatedly that I'm a communicator,
not a software engineer. (Maybe I'm not so good at the communication bit
if I can't effectively communicate that? :)

So, on one hand, they think little of us by having us do work below our
skill. On the other hand, they think much of us (from their point of view)
by wanting us to become software designers. Go figure.

Most of our companies sell software, or some other product. So of course
they'll be likely to undervalue jobs only tangential to the main product.
If our companies sold technical writing, it'd be a different story.

jim grey |beebeebumbleandthestingersmottthehoopleraycharlessingers
jwg -at- acd4 -dot- acd -dot- com |lonniemackandtwangandeddiehere'smyringwe'regoingsteadyta
GO/M d p+ c++(-) l u+ e- m*@ s+/ n+ h f++ g- w+@ t+ r- y+(*)
Terre Haute, IN -- The Silicon Cornfield

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