Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing

Subject: Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 1994 12:30:47 -0600

Elizabeth Jankowski says:

I am in the process of investigating tech writing jobs, and I have had several
people in the business state that the future (and near future at that) of tech
writing is primarily in contract work. For example, I understand that Arthur
Anderson is doing virtually no hiring of tech writers, but is having a great
deal of work done through contract firms.

While I can't speak to the hiring plans of Arthur Anderson, I can say that
I've noticed increased demand for both contractors and full-timers in the
Des Moines area. I'd hesitate to say that contract writing is *the* future
of the profession, but it is certainly *a* future.

In jobs I've had, I find that there are some highly-specialized tasks that
require intimate knowledge of the business or technology and must be done
by a full-time employee. Bringing a newbie up to speed every time just
doesn't make sense. On the other hand, there are often some tasks that
require only general knowledge and widely-available skills; these could be
done by contract writers.

As a full-time, "regular" employee, I try to avoid tasks that can be done
by contractors. I think they are generally undercompensated, and I don't
want to compete directly with people who make less than I do; sooner or
later, someone will notice and decide to go the less expensive route. (This
is not a put-down of contractors, just an observation that relatively high
hourly rates do not usually make up for the lack of benefits and employment
instability, and that for some tasks the difference in output quality
between contractors and employees is negligible.)

That being said, I know people who are making a living as contract
writers, with varying degrees of success. They often cite freedom from
organizational politics, the freedom to set their own schedule, and the
opportunity to walk away at the end of contract, (shaking the dust from
their sandals if necessary), as important advantages over full-time,
"regular" employment.

As with most career decisions, a great deal depends on what you want and
what you can do. Contracting probably requires a broader repetoire of
non-writing skills, such as marketing, negotiating fees, billing, and tax
accounting, as well as greater breadth of experience and more flexibility.
You can get somebody to do some of this for you by working through a
contract house or recruiter, but the price is often pretty steep.

Specializing within an organization generally offers greater compensation,
but demands continual learning about a relatively narrow range of
subjects. To the extent that you *aren't* spending time billing,
negotiating, selling, etc. you have more time to focus on developing your
writing skills, and you can get less routine assignments.

I'm of two minds on the job-security issue. Although contractors can be
and often are dismissed at the end of their contract, I've heard people
argue (persuasively) that a contractor with a repetoire of well-cultivated
clients is financially *more* secure than an employee of an organization.
The arguement is that a contractors "employment risk" is spread out among
several businesses and industries, so if any one of them experiences
difficulty, the contractor can just keep working for the ones that make
it. A full-time employee, on the other hand, is in trouble if his or her
employer is in trouble; if the employee is highly specialized, he or she
may not be particularly attractive to other employers.

Must go, I've used up another lunch hour.

Doug "Women are designed for long,
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com miserable lives, whereas men are
designed for short, violent ones."
- Estelle Ramey

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