Any technical writers out there have difficulty getting portfolio copies?
February 24, 2005 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I just quit my job at BC Hansard, where part of my job duties included writing technical documentation. One of my major projects was a word processing manual for our editors (most of whom are not technically savvy), explaining the various in-house Word macros, general computer use and so forth. But Hansard refuses to give me a portfolio copy of my work; not because of any hard feelings, but because they just don't do this.

It's been my understanding that unless the documentation is somehow sensitive that it is standard practice to release a portfolio copy on request. Am I wrong? Have other had problems like this?

And, sadly, because Hansard is protected by parliamentary privilege, I have no recourse. If they say "no" then I'm SOL.
posted by solid-one-love to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
 
You didn't make a copy before resigning? Oh well. Do you have a friendly relationship with anyone still employed there who has access to the file and will make a copy sub rosa?
posted by billsaysthis at 6:23 PM on February 24, 2005


I've known people in similar situations, but unfortunately it never worked out in the their favor. The bottom line is that when you work for a company, the intellectual property that you produce belongs to the company.

I hope that you're able to recover the documents for your portfolio, though. Good luck.
posted by casu marzu at 6:24 PM on February 24, 2005


Yeah, I have a vast amount of my work that can't be shown because of proprietary information clauses in my contracts, but generally, in those cases, I'm allowed to use "sample" pages that have been vetted.

Rule of thumb...never quit your job without making copies of all your work, but if you find yourself without portfolio material after a stint somewhere, you can generally explain to potential employers that you had a non-compete or a proprietary contract. Since the vast majority of tech writing is done under those contracts, it's not as big of a problem as it might otherwise be.
posted by dejah420 at 6:27 PM on February 24, 2005


I know that my blog is read by my former coworkers, and I'm hoping that one of them will sneak a copy out the back door.

I do understand that in work-for-hire, the company owns the product. But there's no loss whatsoever to them to release a portfolio copy. What am I gonna do? Sell it? It's so very specific to the work we did there that it has no value to anyone else, after all.

I just wanted to find out whether or not I was right, and that releasing a portfolio copy was standard practice in work-for-hire.

On edit: Thanks, dejah420. If not having a portfolio copy of my work from there isn't that big a problem, I can relax. "Protected by parliamentary privilege" should be as meaningful as "non-compete" or "proprietary". ;)

I gotta tellya, though -- had I known five years ago that they'd refuse to release portfolio copies, I never would have taken the job.
posted by solid-one-love at 6:33 PM on February 24, 2005


This is a common problem with technical writers. You cannot work your way around it -- do NOT try to make sub rosa copies or the like. Setting aside any legal issues, it would reflect poorly on you to future employers. Upon seeing your sub rosa copies, any hiring firm that knew about Hansard & their policies would immediately disqualify you from further consideration.

Your best bet is to write entirely new sample material. It happens all the time.
posted by aramaic at 6:36 PM on February 24, 2005


In a 25 year career that was largely technical writing, the only text I was ever allowed to place in a portfolio was that on a marketing website I maintained.

My cover letters were killer! ;-P
posted by mischief at 7:46 PM on February 24, 2005


Ask a friend for a copy. When you present it in the future present an excerpt.
posted by xammerboy at 10:27 PM on February 24, 2005


I'd value the reference you get from your former employer higher than the portfolio piece. Ask for a written reference for your portfolio. Claim the work you did on your CV, if you are asked for an example explain the organization has rules about releasing proprietary information but that your reference would be happy to vouch for your contributions and the quality of your work. If you need something for an online portfolio, write a short How-To Use Word or How-To Use Google for Content Specific Searches type doc.

Also use industry standard terminology in describing the situation: NDA, proprietary, non-compete. Parliamentary privilege is unclear in this scenario and doesn't have the same ring to it. Everyone in commercial technology has been asked to sign an NDA. And nearly everyone hated doing it.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:28 AM on February 25, 2005


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