Re: Not Technical Enough

Subject: Re: Not Technical Enough
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: techwr-l digest recipients <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2000 15:42:44 -0700

Dan Emory <danemory -at- primenet -dot- com> wrote:

>It's also true that most people who are reasonably well grounded
>n basic English can, through reading and practice, greatly improve
>their writing skills. But there is no equivalently straightforward way
>to improve your technical skills without some kind of academic grounding
>in science, mathematics, and engineering.

That's why night school, on-line courses, and technical books
were invented. English majors can make do something about their
lack of technical background if they choose, just as techies can
overcome their lack of writing skills by the same route.

>If the company they apply to is in an entirely different
>kind of business, their narrowly based technical knowledge
>about a particular product counts for nought, and their lack
>of any significant academic grounding or experience in technical
>subjects is likely to disqualify them.

True. But that's true of anyone who over-specializes. I've seen
one or two techies in the same position.

>In my career, I have written every sort of technical manual on
>every kind of thing imaginable from 4-story-high nuclear reactor
>pumps to 4-story high ICBMs, plus Air Defense Systems, Military
>Command Control Communications Systems, Satellite
>ommunications Systems, computer hardware, computer
>software, microwave spectrum analyzers, medical diagnostic
>equipment, car washes, and a tortilla making machine that
>produced 10,000 tortillas an hour.

Well, let's see: I'm an English and Communications major (so I'm
doubly damned). As a tech-writer, some of the things I've written
about include children's educational software, tech-support
databases, point of sale software, scales for the printing
industry, high-end ATM video conferencing terminals, courseware
for Maximizer, human resource databases, UNIX mainframe programs
for the securities industry, and Linux installation,
configuration, and system administration. Along the way, I've
been involved with interface design, usability testing, and
project management. I've also done marketing and business
material for many of these subjects, and product management for

Obviously, my list is software oriented, while Dan's is hardware
oriented. Also, my list is shorter, probably because I've only
been tech-writing five and a half years, while I suspect that Dan
has been writing longer. However, both lists are varied, and this
variation suggests to me that the ability to pick up new material
is far more important than where you start from.

>If you don't start out with that kind of background, but
>are lucky enough to stay employed until you acquire it
>through working on diverse projects for different employers,
>then your long-term success may be doubly sweet.

I suppose that that is what I did, but luck had nothing to do
with it. It was a lot of hard work and scrambling. I'd even say
that that hard work has been part of the appeal of being a
contract tech-writer for me. I like the challenge, and I like
learning new things. To each their own, and no offence intended
to those who choose to stay with one company for a long time, but
I wouldn't want to stay in the same position for years on end.

> But I'll settle for the easier way: Get technically grounded first.

But if we learn everything at the start, how are learning junkies
like me supposed to amuse ourselves in our old age? :-)

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com | Tel: 604.421.7189

"Theirs is a land of Hope and Glory,
Mine is the green fields and the factory floors,
Theirs are the skies, all dark with bombers,
Mine is the peace we knew between the wars."
- Billy Bragg, "Between the Wars."

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