I became what’s called a “technical writer” back in 1983 because I’d run out of options, namely college administration and training. After a year of nothing, punctuated only by a few months attempting to sell life insurance, I got desperate enough to lie my way into a job with a microcomputer maker. The machines were interesting even if the company was terrible, and five months later when it rolled over and died–remember, this was the winnowing-out age of the ur-PC–IBM and its particular disk format stood triumphantly atop the rubble with the fledgling Microsoft as its operating system “pusher.” And this time I was able to get a job without having to lie.
I just had to be able to write. And God knows I could do that. I still can. (But that’s not what technical writing is about anymore. It’s not about writing at all.)
This was the status quo for the next decade or more. A job would end, I would move to another. I would bring my accumulated knowledge with me and learn new stuff. There was, back then, room in most companies for an honest-to-God learning curve.
When did that end? I’m guessing it was sometime around the excuse-for-everything 9/11 and the horrid economy that preceded and succeeded it. As businesses began to figure out their prime directive was to not spend money (oh horrors, it’s the holy precious ROI!), suddenly being able to write was no longer enough. Being able to absorb new material was off the table.
Nobody could be a virgin anymore. You had to know how to fuck like a champion escort or call girl right out of the gate, and how to give–forgive me or don’t–the biggest bang for the buck. None of this learning curve crap. Get out there and sell your ass.
In less sexualized terms, if you were going to get a techwriting job you had to know it all yesterday. You had to know the tools, the redundant software that was normal in the hands of financial and database people, or if it was Powerpoint, in the hands of slidemakers and artists. You had to know RoboHelp, XML, FrameMaker. You had to know PC, DOS, XP, Solaris, 10 Linux flavors. Mac OS X didn’t count because Macs are fun and can do serious work. They are not shit-machines masquerading as something other than gloried game boxes.
At one point–2002–it became so absurd that you had to know the ins and outs of Sarbanes-Oxley (aka Sarbox) even though the ink on the legislation was hardly dry. All because a collection of fundamentally corner-cutting brokerages were scared enough by Enron and Worldcom so they went out of their way to cover their asses Just In Case.
I don’t recognize the business anymore. It’s not about writing. It’s about PlaySkool toys for overpaid adults. It’s about technocracy, not literacy. Business now as then is full of illiterates with MBAs. Now they’re paying illiterate people to come in to fudge truth to power–illiterally– rather than speak it.
What do I miss? The money. Like Senator Geary said in Godfather II, “I’m going to soak you, Mr. Cor-leeeonay.” And for awhile I did. Once literacy was no longer part of the job requirements, once fakery became not part of the corporate culture but its reigning aspect, then I took the money and ran. And ran. I lied my way into one job in 2006 and left six weeks later, $10,000 to the better. I didn’t love myself for that but at the moment I don’t hate myself too much either.
Go to college. Study TechComm. Take the course in Theatrical Resume Presentation and in short fiction too. They’ll be useful when you need to lie. Which you will.