Re: Educational Backgrounds

Subject: Re: Educational Backgrounds
From: Phil Gochenour <phil_gochenour -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 2 Nov 2005 10:59:09 -0800 (GMT-08:00)

--- melmis36 -at- hotmail -dot- com wrote:
> However I have worked with a few other technical
> writers and none of us
> had the same degree, which got me thinking it would
> be interesting to
> learn about the educational backgrounds of the
> posters on this list. Any
> one care to share? It might help him in his
> decision, since I am new to
> Maryland, I am not really sure what the colleges in
> this area have to
> offer for a promising tech writer!

Double BA in writing seminars and anthropology from Johns Hopkins, an MA in Liberal Arts from St. John's College Annapolis, and a PhD in comparative literature from Emory University in Atlanta.

I got into tech writing in a rather accidental way. Most of my life I've had jobs that were writing-related (sports stringer for a local paper, medical transcriptionist during summers), and I've also always been very interested in technology. While in grad school I started doing Web design, and when I graduated I started working in the Web industry as a copyeditor (this was in 99, when anybody could get a job). I then went on to work as a Web content strategist at an agency (writing marketing copy, instructional text, doing IA, etc). I took a break from industry work to teach for two years, and then got my first tech writing job through an creative services agency.

I don't know that a tech writing degree is as important as the actual ability to write well, ask questions, and be able to dig for answers. I've known since I was very young that I have very high reading comprehension, and am very good at being able to break problems and ideas down into component parts. I'm also good at taking complex ideas and finding ways to explain them in a simple manner. These are the real skills of being a tech writer, in my opinion -- all the rest is learning tools and methods, which you can accomplish on the job as well as through a class.

All that said, the one value I can see in an actual TW program is more opportunity to have hands-on experience with programming and specific applications. This is the one thing that I lack in my experience, and is hard to gain outside of a classroom. Increasingly, these are the things that I see as requirements in job ads, and, as with everything else, tech writing is becoming an increasingly specialized field that requires very specific knowledge domains.



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