RE: Information developer?

Subject: RE: Information developer?
From: "George F. Hayhoe" <george -at- ghayhoe -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, <sellar -at- apptechsys -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 10:46:12 -0400

Sella Rush said:

<<If the chief scientist is listing 20 years of tech writing
experience, how does that make my paltry five years look?
Is he a better technical writer than I am? Looking at that
matrix, there is literally nothing I do that can't be done
by someone else and, based on experience, done better.>>

First, Sella, neither you nor your company should mistake
familiarity with the basic skills associated with a
profession for mastery of it. All of us are exposed to
information about a lot of subject areas and are expected to
pick up a smattering of knowledge--and even ability--along
the way. That's education or, even more broadly, life. But
having a little knowledge and some basic skills, and having
spent some time performing tasks that draw on that knowledge
and those skills doesn't make me a practitioner of that
field. Using that logic, I could claim 40+ years as a
mathematician, 20+ years experience as a programmer, even
05 years as a rocket scientist (I knew being called in to
edit that NASA proposal would be useful one of these days!).
Even more lucratively, I could claim to be at least a
journeyman plumber.

It sounds like your company is studying the various job
types (and probably the various grades within each job type)
in the company. This is typically done after a merger or
acquisition, or sometimes as a periodic exercise, especially
within large corporations. This helps your human resources
folks identify the knowledge and skills needed to hire new
employees, provide technical training to employees, and
compensate employees for their work. This last item is very

The more types of knowledge and skills--and especially the
more types of technical knowledge and skills--I use in
performing my job, the more complex the job is and the more
I should be compensated for performing it. We technical
communicators should not overlook the fact that we need to
know a lot about our subject areas (and about a lot of other
areas like research, interviewing, project and personnel
management, programming, communication technologies, print
production, etc.) as well as about technical communication
when our companies engage in this kind of exercise.

You're right that you should "find ways to differentiate
[your] kind of tech writing from theirs." Not only is what
you do based on far greater knowledge and a larger inventory
of skills, but the depth of your experience using that
knowledge and those skills is significant as well. Remember
the novel and film _The Accidental Tourist_ a few years
back? Just as the business traveler needs to know the
basics of efficient travel, people in technical fields need
to know the basics of technical communication to be able to
perform satisfactorily in their jobs. They're accidental
technical communicators; you're the professional.

It's true that there are some scientists, engineers, systems
analysts, and programmers out there who think that they're
expert technical communicators. A few of the people who
think that way are exceptionally gifted; most are
exceptionally arrogant. They're mistaking one year of
experience repeated 20 times with 20 years of experience.
The rest are probably really glad the company has you on
board, even if they don't tell you as often as they should,
because your ability to do what you do as well as you do it
allows them to spend more time doing what they enjoy and
less time writing.

--George Hayhoe (george -at- ghayhoe -dot- com)

George Hayhoe Associates
Voice: +1 (803) 642-2156
Fax: +1 (803) 642-9325

APEX '99 Grand Award for Publication Excellence

Awards of Distinguished Technical Communication
South Carolina/Carolina Foothills STC Chapters
1998-99 Technical Publications Competition

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