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Subject:Tech Writers: Strictly Tech? - Reply From:Sarah Lee Bihlmayer <tecscrib -at- SIRIUS -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 19 Feb 1996 18:53:12 -0700
Ben Milstead writes:
>Almost all of these job solicitations/posts ask for a substantive
>amount of technical background--closer to what I'd call an engineer's
>or programmer's knowledge than a writer's.
>Hence, what's the scoop? Are you engineers-turned-writers or
>writers with a technical bent/experience/talent-for-learning-a-new
>-piece-of-software-on-a-familiar-platform-in-no-time-at-all (has to be
>a word for this somewhere :)?
Well, I'd say I fit into the latter category with a few modifications. I
definitely have a technical bent and a talent for speedily learning new
technology of any kind on any platform---familiar or not--and documenting
it for either non-technical or programmer/engineer audiences. I call
myself a "computer shark"--i.e., I know where the food is; throw me in the
water and I know how to swim instinctually.
Interestingly enough, my only formal training consists of degrees in
screenwriting and graphic design. The type of screenwriting I studied
(instructional/documentary) has proved highly transferable to technical
writing, since to write this type of material for the screen one must use
words very precisely and sparingly to describe how to visually communicate
topical content to the viewer. The graphic design background is also
rather useful for technical writing.
The biggest hurdle I've faced is the bias toward subject matter expertise
and formal technical background as necessary qualifications for tech
writing. I've overcome this by developing a track record of being very
well able to do the work without an engineering background. It was rocky
the first couple of years, but time and again I've been able to demonstrate
enough conceptual understanding while interviewing for a very technical
project to get hired on a probationary basis and then prove myself more
than up to the task. (I have a boundless fascination with and enthusiasm
for technology, which probably helps too.)
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