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Jane wondered why people told her after job interviews that seemed to go
well that she wasn't "technical enough."
Several responses have indicated many opinions: that this is a
"pointy-haired" decision, or that Jane is a liberal arts major, and
therefore incapable of understanding technical material.
The sad truth is, no matter what your major or degree, some of us
understand technical material better than others, and for some technical
writing, you must understand technical material to be able to write about
it coherently for your users.
Where I work, we write documentation for programming tools. Our audience
is programmers. They do not need things simplified; in fact, quite the
opposite. They need VERY detailed information about our tools and about
how to use them in their work (in whatever programming tool they use: VB
or VC++ for example).
Over the years at this company, we have hired a number of writers. Out of
ignorance, we have hired writers who didn't have a technical background
and were new to the profession. Out of a belief that training can overcome
lack of technical experience, we have hired writers who didn't have a
technical background, but who have been tech writers for several years
doing end-user documentation. But they didn't work out; not one of them.
The problem is, it is difficult to screen for aptitude. I think that is
why people on this list make sweeping judgements like "only people with
engineering or 'hard science' degrees can be technical." It's easier to
make that black and white kind of "rule" rather than face the fact that
when you're hiring, you can't be sure.
I wish there was some way we could find out for sure if every person we
interview has the technical aptitude to understand our products, to ask
our SMEs (who are in fact very patient and helpful) intelligent questions,
and to write clear and correct documentation. There isn't a cut and dried
way to do this. However, if you were to give me your resume, and you have
worked as a tech writer and you have never taken one programming course,
you have not documented a product for developers, and you've never worked
without a specification handed to you, I would be inclined to say "you
aren't technical enough."
So, if you're interviewing at software companies who want someone who can
read Visual Basic, Java, or C++ code, Jane, go take a course or at least
read a book. Show them you have the aptitude.
And if you find you don't have an aptitude for it, recognize your
limitations. Not all technical writing demands a lot of technical
knowledge, but some does. Recognize what you can do well and work with
your strengths. Being more technically or less technically inclined than
another person does not make you a better or worse person. It just means,
in today's market, that you might be more or less marketable.
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ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com with questions.