Re: The debate that won't die

Subject: Re: The debate that won't die
From: "Richard G. Combs" <richard -dot- combs -at- voyanttech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2002 12:17:14 -0700

Stop the presses! Send up flares! I can't believe it's true, but I disagree
with Andrew Plato, who said:

> The answers to these questions are (to me at least) obvious. Technical
> expertise is more in demand, it is less common, and it is harder to learn.
> Communication skills are in less demand, more common, and easier to
> learn.

...and agree more with Jan Henning, who said:

> Good communication skills not only include the ability to write
> grammatically correct sentences, they also include things like ordering
> the material at hand in a logical and accessible way, making sure that
> all required information is there, and making sure that no superfluous
> information is included.

Andrew, I'm 100% with you when you insist that content is king and that
understanding the subject matter takes precedence over fondling the fonts.
But, I'd much rather start with someone who has the skills Jan alludes to
and teach them about teleconferencing systems, VoIP, ISDN, etc.

What Jan describes are skills that are built on analytical and inductive
reasoning abilities -- abilities that allow one to easily see logical
relationships among things, generalize from the particulars, separate the
important from the trivial, and so forth. These aren't easily taught, and
they come more naturally to some people.

In general, people with these abilities can do three things much better and
faster: (1) acquire new technical knowledge; (2) ask the critical questions,
put the information into perspective, and organize it into a coherent
picture of the field or subject in their minds; (3) communicate that
coherent picture to others.

If I were looking for someone to document widget manufacturing processes, I
wouldn't care if they knew nothing about widget manufacturing (unless they'd
been working in that industry!). But they'd damn well better be able to tell
me a lot about the field(s) in which they'd _been_ working!

I want to know that they're _capable_ of acquiring the necessary technical
expertise and _motivated_ to do so -- that they have the intellectual
curiosity and desire to "figure it out" and master new material.

For the same reason, I care about tools knowledge, but not necessarily which
tool. If someone's never used FrameMaker, but has produced manuals in Word
for ten years, I don't hold it against them -- _if_ they really, really know
Word, I bet they'd really, really learn FrameMaker, too.

But if, in ten years, they've never progressed beyond the basics in Word and
can't discuss field codes intelligently, then they lack either the mental
capacity or the motivation to be a good technical writer.

IOW, if someone _values_ the acquisition of knowledge and demonstrates the
_skills_ to do so, that's far more important than what particular knowledge
they've acquired in the past.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher
a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts,
build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders,
cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure,
program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.
Specialization is for insects. "
-- Robert A. Heinlein


Richard G. Combs
Senior Technical Writer
Voyant Technologies, Inc.
richardDOTcombs AT voyanttechDOTcom
rgcombs AT freeDASHmarketDOTnet

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