Re: Interest and Learning (was no subject)

Subject: Re: Interest and Learning (was no subject)
From: Kent Newton <KentN -at- METRIX-INC -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 1996 20:43:00 PST

Hello Susan,

I'm going to start with the end of your post. You wrote:

>Maybe, if you can't stand the heat, you otta think about gettin' out of
the kitchen. ;-)

Someone else told me basically the same thing on this very subject,
except he said if I can't stand the heat, I should go cold turkey. Same

Before I address the rest of your issues, let me explain my position in
full. I am not against learning new technologies. I, too, enjoy playing
with the newest "toys." I'm a technophile who loves to get the latest
version of a software package. When I get a new program, I pore over the
manual to learn the ins and outs. I'm _for_ learning new technologies --
up to a point.

What I am against is the idea that you must know a certain piece of
technology to be marketable, as if the technology makes you an asset
instead of the core skills that make use of that technology. If you know
how to research and organize material for online use, that knowledge can
be translated to CD-ROM, WWW, Visual Basic, etc. It's the psychology of
how information is processed online that is important, not the mechanics
of how it gets online. One may know how to design the _coolest_ web
page, but if the information is inadequate or poorly conceived, the style
of the page is for naught.

On the other hand, if one knows how to gather the appropriate information
and how to organize it in the manner an on-line reader is most likely to
want to access it, one can apply the mechanics of PDF, HTML, or whatever
new technology comes along. People -- writers and employers alike --
seem to be overlooking the basic knowledge and skills in favor of the
latest fad.

Now for the rest of your quote:
<I snipped Win's and my exchange about the mad pursuit for technology,
then you added...>
>There are very few occupations today that do not require continuing
>education as a requirement for success. If you were in the medical
>field, the insurance industry, real estate, etc., you would have to
>provide proof of continuing education to remain licensed. I doubt
>you'd place much confidence in a doctor who still gave asprin to
>feverish children because "that's the way they did it when I graduated
>med school" or a paramedic who walked up to an accident victim and
>gave artificial respiration (out with the bad air -- in with the
>instead of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (sp???). And, yes, learning
>new technology does take time -- nothing worth having comes free.

True enough. However, in all the cases the practioner must first learn
and exhibit the basic skills and knowledge. For example, the doctor must
learn the basics of anatomy, physiology, endocrinology, and so on.
Without that basic knowledge, the new skills are pointless, if not
impossible to learn and apply. With the new technology available for
technical communications, that is not always the case. I've seen many
web pages that looked hot, but when you actually got down to reading it,
the information (what little there was) was poorly written, illogical,
confused, and sometimes downright laughable. The same applies to CD-ROM,
even manuals.

>You may not need to learn the ins and outs of HTML immediately, but
>you're shortchanging your client/employer if you don't know enough
>about it to make an intelligent decision on when and where to use
>it. We claim to be experts in the field of technical communication.
>That's what our clients/employers pay us for and it's up to us to
>remain aware of current communication methods and techniques so that
>we can design the most effective communication strategy for the products
>we document.

I agree. It is important to know the trends in the field, their
strengths, their weaknesses, and their basic structure. We do owe it to
our clients/employer to keep abreast of these things. But we also owe it
to them to make sure they don't neglect the basic skills and talents in
the mad rush to jump aboard the latest technology train.

What I am against is the idea that a writer needs to know a particular
package to be taken seriously. "Oh, you've worked with Framemaker, but
you've no experience with Pagemaker. I'm sorry, you don't have the
necessary skills." They forget that most of the skills required to
operate Framemaker port to Pagemaker. They also forget that it doesn't
matter if you can use Pagemaker if you can't also write a cogent
sentence, if you don't understand the way a reader processes the
information on the page, or if you don't know the basics of good page
design. Those are skills and knowledge that transcend the package you
use. Those are the skills I'm advocating, and those are the skills that
I'm trying to get people to acknowledge as more important.

>I find learning new technology exciting... stimulating... gratifying.
>Learning new stuff and getting to play with other people's expensive
>toys is part of the "glamour" of tech writing. If I had to do the
>same thing in the same way time after time, the occupation wouldn't
>hold me the way it does. I learn stuff. I tell other people about it.
>That's my job. I *like* what I do. Maybe, if you can't stand the
>heat, you otta think about gettin' out of the kitchen. ;-)

Again, no arguement from me there. I like learning the new stuff. I
just don't think we should favor the new stuff and neglect the basics.
And, just in case you were wonder, I have no intention of getting out of
the kitchen. 8-D

Kent Newton
Senior Technical Writer
Metrix, Inc.
kentn -at- metrix-inc -dot- com

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