I often get calls from recruiters working for general IT employment agencies who seem to have very little idea about what a technical writer can or cannot do. When they talk about the job requirements they are obviously reading from a script with words they don't understand (like "RoboHelp" or "FrameMaker") and have little chance of understanding my answers. To be fair to them, the job descriptions they are reading are often written by HR persons at client companies who are equally clueless about technical writing and technical writers.
Earlier this week I had a call from one such recruiter who sounded young and enthusiastic. Here's the exchange between us:
Recruiter: "I found your CV on [well-known recruitment website]. I'm looking for a technical writer for a client. They're a software development company."
Me: "That's great, I have done a lot of work with software development companies."
Recruiter: "What's your level of experience with C++?"
Me:"I've written technical and user documentation for all sorts of applications written in all sorts of languages."
Recruiter: "Yes, but what's your level of experience with C++?"
Me: "I'm not a software developer, I don't write applications, I write about applications."
Recruiter: "Well this company are very specific about wanting someone with experience of C++. For example, someone who used to be a programmer. Someone who tried programming and found they weren't successful, so became a technical writer instead. You'll find that most people doing technical writing used to be programmers."
So now you have it: to be a technical writer you first need to be a failed programmer. According to that recruiter, at least.