TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: Career Choice and Degree From:"Travis D. Epes" <TravisE -at- AOL -dot- COM> Date:Fri, 14 Apr 1995 17:42:18 -0400
On April 13, Richard Lippencott posed the following question in his comments
pertaining to the degree(s) of *the technical writer*. - -
> What degree should the folks writing documentation for the Sea-
> wolf submarine have, and where are they gonna find jobs if/when
> that project is terminated?
As one of the group working on the Seawolf documentation I can only say that
we represent an almost complete spectrum of educational backgrounds. With
regard to the male element of the group, the majority of us were educated in
the US Naval submarine service. Some of us hold degrees in electrical
engineering earned while in the service. Some of us can boast only of
educations obtained while a student or while preparing to instruct at a
*service school* while in the service. There are personnel with hands-on
experience in operating and maintaining equipments that include nuclear power
plants, inertial navigation systems, automated communication systems,
ballistic missile guidance systems, oxygen-generating systems, and other
computerized systems too numerous to mention. Most of the information we
obtained was from the *school of hard-knocks*. The things the writers in
this area have in common, male and female writers alike, is -- first -- a
love of the work we do, and -- second -- a belief that we are supporting our
country. [The money ain't that great!]
With regard to the jobs we might find upon termination of the Seawolf project
-- there are many opportunities for those of us who are interested in
working elsewhere. Several of our writers have left in response to lay-offs
and rumors of lay-offs that came with the *outbreak of peace*. Those people
have found jobs with Interleaf, Honeywell, IBM, Lotus, and numerous other
corporations whose recruiting personnel were capable of recognizing
individuals with intelligence and initiative! Their *track-records* didn't
Concerning the question regarding the best degree for a tech writer -- I have
no answer for that question. At one time I had a gentleman with a PHD in
English [Medieval English Lit] who was also an electronics technician in the
Navy Reserve. The fact that he had a rudimentary background in electronics
was the reason for his being hired! Prior to coming to work for us he taught
(but had not earned tenure) at a local state university! We currently have
writers with past experience in the Air Force (electronics) and a lady who
once worked as a QA inspector for an electronics manufacturer! Both are
excellent writers! We have ladies with electrical engineering degrees and a
couple who are graduate computer programmers. Each writer is an individual
that lends his/her tone to the group output. The college or university
attended by the individual for such a miniscule period of one's life has
little to do with it.
Past education of the individual may lend to the value of the individual to
the group (and get him in the door) but it is the education obtained while
working as a technical writer that is the most valuable. Don't we all learn
from our research into the various articles of subject matter? Isn't that
what our work is really all about? Don't we strive for a better
understanding of the subject matter so that we might convey that
understanding to the end user?
When all else fails, I have to remember that looking for a job is nothing new
to me! I was doing that when I found the one where I am presently employed!
'Nuff of that speech! Sorry 'bout that! Contrary to the advice of my hero,
William Zinsser, I tend to be verbose!