RE: Worthless Tech Comm Degrees

Subject: RE: Worthless Tech Comm Degrees
From: Chuck Martin <CMartin -at- serena -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2000 12:21:03 -0800

Andrew, Andrew, Andrew,

So you don't like doing taxes either, eh? :)

As the owner of a TechComm degree, I have to disagree with you, in part, but
my disagreement stems from *where* I got my degree, not TechComm degrees in
general. Actually, I can relate a lot to some of the post, but I'd suggest
that there might be a bit of stereotype within. The thing is, stereotypes
are often generated from real-world observation.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Andrew Plato [mailto:intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com]
> Sent: Thursday, March 23, 2000 10:10 AM
> Subject: Worthless Tech Comm Degrees
> I saw this in a recent thread. I am NOT slamming the poster,
> but tech comm
> degrees in general.
> > When I did my tech comm degree, we were taught about concepts
> > (white space, fonts, page layout, usability, etc.)
> And they probably didn't spend 1/100th of a second actually
> teaching anything
> useful like how a network works, what inheritance is, or how
> to break down a
> complex design into component pieces. Basically, tech comm
> degrees teach you
> how to hold a hammer, what a nail is, and how a house should
> look - but not how
> to nail boards together. So when you get out on the
> construction site, you can
> pontificate for hours about how you need better nails and
> more appropriate
> hammers, but you lack the skill to actually USE those tools
> effectively.

At my school, the University of Washington, the Technical Communication
Department is part of the College of Engineering, not Arts & Sciences. This
is as it should be; TC is an engineering discipline. At most schools, this
is not the case. (As an aside, at the time I attended, the early 90s, the UW
TC department was one of only 3 full-fledged departments in the entire
country.) As a part of the Engineering school, it gave me better access to
those classes (although the CompSci folks were way over-protective of their
upper-level classes). I took numerous classes on computer programming and
architecture, as well as one of the most useful courses I ever found on
design and usability, where I was introduced to Donald Norman's "The Design
of Everyday Things."

A good TC program teaches both: tools and concepts. The benefit of a full
degree program at a four-year school is that there is the time to take such
a complete program. A drawback of a certificate program is that there is no
time for such breadth of scope.

Oh yeah, I can also nail boards together pretty well; my dad worked in
construction and for awhile owned his own drywall business, where I worked
when I was younger.

> Hence the ubiquitous Tech Comm degree. Class after class of how to use
> whitespace and never a moment devoted to learning how to
> digest information.
> Hours and hours of pointless debates about FrameMaker - and
> never a moment
> spent talking about ACTUAL topics you may one day document.
> Professor after
> professor who hasn't spent a single minute in the real world.

That danger exists in many fields. In my case, I had both. My Style in
Technical Writing class was taught by Jan Spyridakis, one of the top
researchers and frequent publishers in the field. Yet so much of what she
taught about how to correctly mold the English language is what I still use,
not only in my day-to-day work, but in all my communications.

The interesting things was, we never spend a whole lot of time learning
specific tools. Different tools were common in different classes, but were
not required, although help in learning was available if we wanted. We did,
however, spend time on best way to present information, how to design it,
and how design works together to make the message readily accessible.

> At least an English degree makes you read Shakespeare and
> write an essay once
> an a while (unless you go to the college here in Portland,
> where I think
> smoking bongs and drinking beer qualifies as a midterm).

When I interviewed for my first job out of school, the on-campus interviewed
(a mid-level manager from a very large hardware/software company) told me
that they usually only hired people who had Masters degrees. Getting ready
to receive my little ol' BS, I replied that good writing comes from
practice, and that I had had plenty of that. Not only did I take plenty of
English classes (including one where I had to try and create poetry!) where
I had to write, not only did I have to do plenty of writing in my TC
classes, but I also had years of experience as a newspaper reporter--where I
had often been complimented on my writing by our editor.

One of the ways you get good at writing is *by* writing. I write. Well. But
I didn't really realize it until I took a statistics class, a section that
focused more on engineering statistics. For one homework we were supposed to
write a summary of a particular statistical outcome. The TA chose 3 and then
we were supposed to all evaluate those summaries. When I saw how horrible
the writing was on those 3 summaries, writing from other college students, I
suddenly realized why my writing grades had always been so good.

I do have to admit, though, I never took a class where I had to read
Shakespeare. Perhaps my loss. I was always (on my own) an avid reader of
science fiction. Some of the literature classes I did take were on early
Japanese lit and Asian-American lit.

> Sorry - I am a little caustic today. I am doing my corporate
> taxes. Get back to
> work, YOU!
> Andrew Plato

Chuck Martin
Sr. Technical Writer, SERENA Software

"People who use business software might despise it, but they are getting
paid to tolerate it....Most people who are paid to use a tool feel
constrained not to complain about that tool, but it doesn't stop them from
feeling frustrated and unhappy about it."
- "The Inmates are Running the Asylum"
Alan Cooper

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