Re: Top ten myths of technical communication

Subject: Re: Top ten myths of technical communication
From: puff -at- guild -dot- net
To: BMcClain -at- centura -dot- com
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 100 03:23:22 -0400 (EDT)

Bill McClain writes:

> One odd misconception of technical writing that senior P/As have
> voiced to me in various jobs: The natural career progression of
> technical writers is for them to eventually become programmers.
> Apparently the rationale is that with increasing experience in
> software development, TWs finally slide into developing specs with
> SMEs, then discovering high-level user requirements, and finally
> they wind up writing the code instead of "merely" explaining it.
> However, nobody who's suggested this myth to me could come up with
> more than anecdotal evidence of this progressive career change.

What I find amusing about all of this is that the classic
stereotype (equally invalid) was that tech writers were
engineers/programmers who couldn't make it as engineers/programmers
and ended up doing writing. With the possible exception of one writer
I worked with, I've never run into this in the real world.

Chalk up one more for anecdotal evidence, not to mention several
anecdotes I could refer you to :-). I personally know about five
programmers who switched over from tech writing. As to *why*, whoever
told you the above was naive, ill-informed, or maybe on drugs.

In my specific case I can tell you that I took my first
programming job because I was having little luck finding a writing job
and a friend who was a recruiter kept telling me he could pay me a lot
more to do programming. The other five, I suspect mostly for the same
reason I did. There's a lot of frustration and grief in technical
writing; you don't even have the consolation of being well-paid. Once
you start programming for a living, assuming you're any good at it,
they start throwing more and more money at you, and it becomes kind of
addictive (the money that is, not to mention the meaningless respect
that people give you because you're being paid a lot, even though they
have no idea if you're actually worth it).

I will say that although programming and technical writing have
some distinctly different skill requirements, they also have a lot in
common. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that many of the
professional skills you develop as a technical writer are equally
valuable as a programmer, except that while technical writers are
often motivated enough (and intelligent enough) to learn programming,
programmers are seldom motivated enough to learn those professional
skills. In addition, there are some techwriter-specific skills that
come in quite handy in programming (user analysis, making coherent
sense out of a cloud of details, finding underlying structures, etc).

Your use of "P/A" above, presumably for Programmer/Analyst
suggests that this specific syndrome, as well as perhaps many of the
stereotypes and cliches I hear about (mostly from other tech writers)
comes from the big, moribund defense/big industry corporations. Aside
from the fact that I have seldom met actual Programmer/Analysts (my
first programming job, I had that title :-), I find their disdain
somewhat ironic, since I suspect most of them would be regarded with
disdain by serious programmers/software engineers/computer scientists.

In addition, I have to say that I find myself slightly disturbed
by the undercurrent of reverse snobbishness in the followups to this
post (and in past techwr-l discussions). I suspect a lot of the
stereotypical friction between programmers/engineers and technical
writers could be ameliorated (if not avoided) if writers approached
the programmers/engineers, and the topics themselves, with less

Most hardcore techies tend to be fascinated by their field.
That's why they *are* hardcore techies. They tend to readily
empathize with anybody else who takes a similar attitude (it's part of
what binds that community together). Instead of sneering at the
buffoons for their poor communication skills, writers should try to
exercise those vaunted communication skills. Approach the topic with
an effort to open yourself to that sense of wonder. Build some common

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- guild -dot- net

Previous by Author: Re: Staff retention: how to keep 'em down on the farm?
Next by Author: Re: the OTHER test
Previous by Thread: RE: Top ten myths of technical communication
Next by Thread: RE: Top ten myths of technical communication

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads