It depends on what you mean by “need.” You could say that one does not “need” to be a native speaker of English to effectively translate from Chinese to English, which is apparently the position of the ROC government. However, to produce the crispest, most accurate translation, the translator should be a native speaker of the target language. In the same sense, one does not “need” to be a native speaker of English to produce technical documentation in English, but ideally one should be. We’re all familiar with the “Engrish” one sees on manuals and product packaging from low class Asian companies/distributors. First rate companies will always use native English speaking technical writers.
Absolutely agree. The ideal technical writer will have both excellent technical skills and writing skills; hence the title. In practice most technical writers are writers first and technologists second. However, maintaining a strong interest in science and technology is all part of the job.
I can’t speak to the situation in Taiwan, but all of the above is inaccurate in the US and Canada. According to a 2005 survey by the Society for Technical Communications (members only, so link would not work for non-members), the mean entry level salary for tech writers is 40,730USD; for Canada, entry level salary is 42,010CAD. Mean overall salary in the US is 67,520USD; in Canada mean overall salary is 61,790CAD. We’re not underpaid.
The technical writers I know don’t complain about lacking respect or appreciation more often than people in different professions. Certainly not anymore than engineers, who I’m fairly sure consider such complaints part of their job descriptions. Some technical writing projects are pretty lame, like writing company newsletters, and most people hate being interviewed etc. But most projects are more interesting and more difficult, and we get as much respect for a job well done as do the engineers who provided the technical data. If not more in some cases. See my point about engineers complaining.
As far as the “dumping projects on the tech writer at the last second” goes, well, unfortunately that is one of the realities of the job. Technicians on the production line who have to wait for the engineering drawings before beginning work, experience the same frustration. Tech writers often have to wait for the engineers to provide input before we can begin work. Without the input we have no frame of reference from which to begin writing. Inconsiderate or simply overworked engineers often provide that input shortly before deadlines. This is one of the more difficult aspects of technical writing. Having said that, those same engineers might experience the exact same frustration if their customers provide them with the specs too late, or their managers have them working multiple projects with tight deadlines. Such is the world of business.
You must know some really naïve tech writers. I’ve never met any tech writers who believe writing an operating manual for a turbine engine to be the proper venue for flowery language. Clear, concise language is the industry norm and a basic principle of technical writing.
I generally agree with the rest of your points, and I defer to you regarding the situation in Taiwan. I wouldn’t want to work for a Taiwanese company as either an engineer or a technical writer. After my wife’s brother got his engineering degree (from an American university), he considered taking a position with a local company in Taiwan. He researched the situation thoroughly, and ultimately decided that he would only work for a Taiwanese company as a last resort. Lots of hours, too little pay, and bosses expect to be treated like gods. He liked the idea of returning to Taiwan for a few years, but there were just too many downsides to working for a Taiwanese company.
It seems like multinational companies are the way to go if you’re in Taiwan.