Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dire times indeed

Discussing the dire times of the Israeli high-tech industry, Paula Stern says technical writing is going "no where fast". She has recently conducted a survey saying there are much more unemployed writers that there were several months ago. I have no information that contradics these numbers. Obviously, they sound reasonable. For example, they fit into the fact the a start-up company I had worked for a year ago, no longer exists.
What is the technical writer expected to do when the times get hard?
Paula says: learn DITA.
I'd refine this, and add: increase your vauability to the organization that pays your salary. I am for facing your clientle, you boss, whomever and boldly ask what would they like you to do in order to improve their business.
no onwe is likely to say they need 12 new user guides, 200 pages long each, and hand you a payment in advance. However, they're likely to help you help them to do a little better business.
Several years ago - where business were OK - I was asked to convert an 1000 topics-long RoboHelp project into FrameMaker. As profitable as this project may be, I told my employers there is no reason to convert, as Frame is less productive than RoboHelp. My assertion is questionable, of course, and I know there are many Frame fans that would love to fry me for this. However, with the customers in mind, you simply don't let them to do such a conversion. If the customer is eager to spend 1000 hours on documentation, they have to know there are several other ways to spend this budget and maybe gain things they never dreamt of.
This story took place in 2006.
Today, no one is expecting to gain more from their documentation, but they will be happy to gain whatever they are currently gaining, with half the budget. I say, go ahead and let them. Find ways to double your productivity. Ditch lously tools; learn new tools really fast; use Word if it works for you (although no writer that respects himself uses it any longer :)
Keep your customer in mind, and you'll make it past this dire times.

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