Re: No Bucks, No Buck Rogers

Subject: Re: No Bucks, No Buck Rogers
From: "Elna Tymes" <etymes -at- lts -dot- com>
To: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2000 17:31:28 -0800

Andrew Plato wrote:

> 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,
> etc.)

As usual, Andrew, painting with a broad brush gives you far too little definition.
While I agree that there are *probably* a number of tech comm programs that don't
do an adequate job of preparing a would-be writer for the world of technology, I
don't think that's the majority. And since, unlike you, I don't have experience
with the full national set of such programs, I will only comment on the ones where
I've interviewed (and sometimes hired) the graduates.

In my experience, good technical writers require enough science and technology in
their backgrounds to be able to grasp technical concepts and understand, to some
extent, how a particular piece of technology works. One doesn't need to understand
the full human genome, for instance, to understand the biotech industry and the
FDA-approval process. But it helps if you do understand how the body deals with
gene-based drugs designed to combat specific diseases. Further, if your job (as
ours was, at one point) to document in great detail the drug manufacturing process
used by a major player, you can learn from engineers who will be happy to explain
things to you just how certain filtration gels work and which ones attract the bad
stuff and which ones repel it (because some processes result in the gel being
discarded and the rest kept, and some result in the gel being kept and the rest
discarded). You don't need a background in biotechnology in order to learn enough
to explain the process well, provided that you have learned how to learn and have
also learned how to explain.

> 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.

This is another of the board's holy wars, Andrew. I happen to agree with you -
based solely on my experience in Silicon Valley - but at least I know that my
experience is not universal.

> 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." <tirade snipped>
> 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.

Depends on the program. I happen to feel that the DeAnza program run by Donna
Dowdney is so good that, where I have openings, I'll hire a graduate in a
heartbeat. And I have. To date none of my hires from that program have been any
kind of disappointment.

> 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.

I'm sure they do, Andrew, but not for the reasons you apparently think. The
advisory programs I'm associated with are actively looking for industry players in
order to give their programs doses of reality and guidance about relevance.
Thankfully, the meetings are infrequent and the agendas tight, but there are
frequent off-line discussions about related issues. And while I disagree with some
of the other participants from time to time, at least I'm not bombastic or pompous
about it. See - one of the things I learned in 30 years in the business is the
all-important people skills we ALSO teach junior writers.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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