RE: Essential software/programming skills for TC?

Subject: RE: Essential software/programming skills for TC?
From: "Al Geist" <al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com>
To: "'Phil'" <philstokes03 -at- googlemail -dot- com>, "'TECHWR-L list'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2010 09:06:15 -0500

Phil asked:

"What are the essential software/programming skills a new tech communicator
MUST possess?" He then goes on to list a plethora of programs.

The simple answer is "it depends." I have been involved in writing for over
45 years (I started before there were chips). My degree is in Journalism
with a minor in Computer Science, added to an electronic (hardware)
background that goes back to my preteen years. My current position as
Publications Manger for a company that designs and builds " a leading
supplier of precision manufacturing equipment for the semiconductor and
emerging market." In other words, we make the systems that process chips
between etching and packaging. My programming background has helped
considerably, because many manufacturing systems today use both embedded
processing and human machine interface control. Understanding basic
programming structure is important, but not critical to documenting the
software aspects of the product. Understanding the non-software aspects of
the product (electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic) is critical to
developing solid manuals that help the end user control, service, and repair
the systems. So, in my case, you need a combination of software and hardware
skills. But wait....there's more....

An understanding the product is only part of what makes me a good technical
writer. I also have experience with a lot of programs. Our cluster software
(controlling the robot and product flow through the system) is XML-based. My
experiences developing web pages using hand coding and Dreamweaver, helped
me pick up XML. Am I an in a million years, but I know enough
to read the code.

A previous position with BLM-Alaska had me documenting an Informix database
using RoboHelp. I already knew relational databases having started working
with them way back with dBase II. The various windows and message boxes for
data input/output were created using Python, so I go exposure to that

I started out many years ago pasting up the camera-ready-copy using waxers
and blue-line layout pages, and then graduated to PageMaker 2.0. I now use
Word (it's what my major contract uses), InDesign, and FrameMaker (not as
much anymore) for most of my print work, and Dreamweaver and Doc-to-Help
for my single-source and web design work. I'm looking into learning Flash
and tomorrow I may use something else, depending on the contract. For video
work, I use Adobe Premier or Pinnacle Studio Deluxe.

This is a long-winded way of saying don't get bogged down on "the program."
Learn the basics of technical writing (active versus passive voice and so
on) and brush up on the basics of some of the more popular programs for the
various genre you may be working in (Word, a good web development program, a
Help program, and computer programming basics). You can download trails of
most of them to get your feet wet. As for the MA, I never had time to dig
into the "theory of ID, Comm Planning, Audience Analysis, or Usability." I
had too many deadlines for too many concurrent projects. That is the reality
of technical writing... If you want to be successful, you have to learn new
programs fast, learn new products fast, and write faster. However, I have
taught seminars in Alaska to younger journalists about freelancing, which to
be successful included audience analysis and planning.

Unfortunately, a lot of hiring authorities (and even some TW instructors)
place too much emphasis on the tool and not enough on the writing, which is
why I am looking to retire soon and sit on the beach whilst sipping a cold
beer and listening to good old rock-n-roll with the waves slapping the shore
at my feet.

HEY...we can all dream. Now it's time to get back to work. Deadlines are
nipping at my feet.

Al Geist
Technical Communicator, Hel, Web Design, Video, Photography
Office/Msg: 802-872-9190
Cell: 802-578-3964
E-mail: al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com

See Also
Fine Art Photography

"We can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used to create
them." (Albert Einstein)


Create and publish documentation through multiple channels with Doc-To-Help.
Choose your authoring formats and get any output you may need. Try
Doc-To-Help, now with MS SharePoint integration, free for 30-days.

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- web -dot- techwr-l -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Please move off-topic discussions to the Chat list, at:

Essential software/programming skills for TC?: From: Phil

Previous by Author: Re: Essential software/programming skills for TC?
Next by Author: RE: Essential software/programming skills for TC?
Previous by Thread: Re: Essential software/programming skills for TC?
Next by Thread: RE: Essential software/programming skills for TC?

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

Sponsored Ads