RE: Education for tech writers

Subject: RE: Education for tech writers
From: "Murrell, Thomas" <TMurrell -at- alldata -dot- net>
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2000 14:30:51 -0500

Education comes in many forms. My own education history is, shall we say,

Flunked out of college...twice. Enlisted in the Air Force to avoid the
draft. They trained me as a Ground Radio Operator (I learned how to
type--INVALUABLE!!!--and say "Over"). Cross-trained into Computer
Programming. Air Force taught me COBOL and flowcharting and stuck me 1,000
miles from the nearest COBOL compiler. Had to learn FORTRAN II & IV, HP
Basic, and the first of several flavors of Assembly Language.

While I was an Air Force computer hacker, I went back to school where I took
math through Differential Calculus (all they offered) and ended up with a BA
in Business Administration. Left the service and got a job as an
Analyst/Programmer at a process control company that would not have
interviewed me at all if I had not had a minimum 4-year college degree. But
they didn't hire me for my degree; they hired me for my 5 years experience
writing Assembler code and developing suites of programs for minicomputers.
(This was 1977, by the way, to place everyone technologically.)

Eventually went back to school and got 2 English Literature degrees, with
emphasis on Creative Writing. (After my earlier false starts, I had finally
figured out how to go to college, have fun, AND learn something.) Needed a
job. Went back to the company that had originally hired me as an
Analyst/Programmer and took a job as a Technical Writer. Wrote manuals.
Learned about Desktop Publishing, Electronic Publishing, dealing with
Editors, Subject Matter Experts. Wrote a Style & Standards Guide.

Left there and went freelance. Did consulting tech writing. Finally landed
my current job. Along the way, I've encountered numerous word processing
programs, HTML Editors, Help programs, Graphical User Interfaces, and
operating systems. I worked in DOS before Bill Gates bought it and Windows
before Apple stole it from Xerox. I've worked on several flavors of UNIX,
Macintosh Operating Systems, and Windows. I taught myself HTML and
Cascading Style Sheets.

I'm learning still. I count it all as education, and I can't separate one
part of it from another. Somebody said the only thing good they got out of
their Technical Writing Certification was audience analysis. I learned that
when I was teaching Freshman Composition as a graduate student. Probably I
would have benefited from Tech Writing Certification, but truly no one ever
asked me for one in a job interview.

One of the best people I ever hired was fresh out of college with a
Technical Writing degree. She worked out really well. I've had other
people with and without formal TW credentials. Some worked out and some

It's probably no surprise that my view is that a degree (or certification)
will get you in the door once. After that, you better have talent, be
willing to work hard, and be willing to learn.

Tom Murrell

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