No Bucks, No Buck Rogers

Subject: No Bucks, No Buck Rogers
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: Techwrl-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2000 15:49:33 -0800 (PST)

"Tim Altom" wrote...

> Locally in Indianapolis, Dr. Harriett Wilkins runs the tech doc certificate
> program. She goes out of her way to keep contact with STC and local tech doc
> departments and companies. She's asked me and several other practitioners to
> speak to her classes. Her students are encouraged to attend STC meetings. I
> don't know what else she could do, frankly.

I am sure there are lots of people out there who devote all their heart and
soul to tech comm programs. I am not taking issue with these individuals. I
take issue with the perceived value of a tech comm programs. These programs are
being sold to people as the "avenue to technical communications". The sad fact
is, most of the programs are a teaching a minimal amount set of skills that
does not adequately prepare the would be tech writer for the real world. In the
real world, good tech writers are both knowledgeable about science/technology
as well as having good documentation skills (layout, organization, grammar,

Furthermore, STC meetings are typically 9/10ths people trying to sell you
something and 1/10th drinking watery coffee. Attending them does not in anyway
make you a better writer.

> If you truly feel that the programs near you aren't suiting the job market,
> then get in touch with the program director and volunteer to consult with
> them about how to make it better. Mr. Plato, you're a vocal person...why not
> volunteer to serve on an advisory board?

Oh yeah. Advisory boards are tremendously effective creations. When was the
last time you heard: "Advisory Board recommends difficult, cross-discipline
educational curriculum and flunking stupid people."

One thing you have to keep in mind is that education is a business. Underneath
the Ivory Tower there is money. Places like Harvard and Yale can afford to be
picky because they have tradition that keeps them flush with cash.

However, your average state or community college has to keep churning the
students through the turnstile else go out of business. Certificate programs
are an excellent way to get more paying customers because they offer a lot for
a little time investment. I am sure if you did a cost analysis on a certificate
program, they are probably one of the most profitable services universities

All you need is one prof to run the program and you contract a bunch of local
industry egomaniacs to teach the classes. Industry egomaniacs work for cheap.
So the profit margin on these programs must be good. Hence the universities use
them as profit centers to offset the big-ticket research and headline grabbing

Certificate programs are the fast food of education. Cheap, quick, and devoid
of substance. They attract people who want (need) the illusion of competence.
The main selling point is not the amazing FrameMaker skills you'll receive, but
the comfort of feeling skilled.

You should read some of the "sales" brochures for these programs. I just read
through the tech writing program web site at San Francisco State University.
The pitch it real demonstrated in this quote from their site:

"After completing the TPW program, you can begin your writing career with
important accomplishments and advantages: an academic degree or certificate in
the field, improved and focused skills, an understanding of professional
expectations for writers, and a portfolio of relevant writing samples."

Now, we all know that skills do not come from a certificate. They come from
hard-work, intelligence, and experience. There is no short-cut to those things.
Sure, these programs can be a good way to get some basic exposure to tech comm,
but the fact is - no program will make a person a good technical writer.

> I would think that would be far
> more productive than vilifying schools on this list. I don't know about
> liberal arts schools, but every accredited engineering college is required
> to have an industrial advisory board of some sort. Contact the dean's
> office...they may be thrilled to have you.

HA! Advisory boards LOATHE people like me. Like the programs they oversee -
these organizations provide the illusion of action through hours of pointless
babble. Leadership is not the same as consensus.

> Simply Written proudly serves on
> the IUPUI School of Engineering's DIAC, and for just the reasons I stated.

..and for the free advertising.

Andrew Plato

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