Re: Advanced Degrees

Subject: Re: Advanced Degrees
From: Alisa Dean <Alisa -dot- Dean -at- MCI -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 1996 11:00:00 -0700

Here's my experience as non-degree'd TW:

I have almost 10 years of experience as a technical writer/editor.
I went to a trade school to learn programming, and this opened the
door for me as a technical writer. I do not have a degree of any kind.

Although I am now well paid and respected in my profession, I worked
the first five years at relatively low paying positions. I learned
tech writing completely as OJT, with supplemental classes that I took
on my own time as I could. The first five years were hard, because
most employers look for a degree or "equivalent." I've found that
"equivalent" means the same number of years in experience.

BTW, the first three years were the scariest for me, because I was
so afraid that someone "who knew better" would come and point me out
for the fake I was. <g> However, by listening and learning, and trying
to do it the way I would want to see it as a user, I seemed to satisfy
everyone. I have learned lots of techniques and how to write
by experimentation; trying something and asking for feedback. In one
way, all of my learning was from the user's point of view, since I
didn't have all the methodologies to get in the way of just asking
what people thought of what I did.

I overcame my lack of degree by trying harder and learning.
I am open to learn anything about anything. I've tried lots of different
things, and I've made a strong effort to stay current on technology.
I have taken additional programming classes, so I can talk to programmers.
I have learned as many of the new softwares as I could. I experimented
and never hesitated to stretch my abilities. I did study those methodologies,
and pulled the pieces that I thought would be useful. I ask people
for feedback, and have gotten great ideas from the most unexpected

All of these things have allowed me to succeed very well in spite of
not having a degree. When I interview, the prospective employers are
impressed with my areas of knowledge, and with the samples that I bring.
Before I had samples from employment, I created my own samples. In
addition, I have been told by several interviewers that the reason
why I was offered a position was my personality and attitude. The
new hiring philosophy is that technical competence can be teached,
but personalities cannot. Employers would rather hire someone who
is a little weaker in technical knowledge, but with a good personality
vs. someone who is technically stronger, but has an abrasive personality
and may interfere with the team.

To be honest, the lack of degree has been an obstacle to me, even now.
I have lost at least 5 major opportunities, two in the last 3 years,
because I did not have a degree. It seems that HR will set this as
an absolute minimum in some places, and it doesn't matter my knowledge
and experience base. I was once told at a job fair that even if I had
a liberal arts degree, I would have been hired. Or the interviewer
had a snobbish opinion that anyone without a degree is inherently inferior.

(On a side note, in one interview that I had, the interview sniffed after
I told her I did not have a degree, and then started asking about a
bunch of acronyms. At each one, I said I wasn't familiar with it.
Finally, she rolled her eyes and asked me how I created a document.
As I described the process that I usually use, she kept saying,
"Oh, that's so and so acronym." Finally, she asked me how I knew all
of this if I didn't have a degree. I said that by trial and error, I
found these processes to be the most successful. I still didn't get the job.)

Despite my personal opinions about this, the reality is that having even a
BS would have eased my job searches a lot.

If I had the opportunity, even now, I would go back to school and get
my degree. It would give me more confidence in interviews, and help
remove some of these artificial, but real, obstacles. However, my
problem is that I've gotten kind of used to eating, wearing clothing,
and sleeping in a warm place, so I can't afford to do this now. Night
school has never been successful for me because of conflicts with work
and my life. I believe that if and when it does become a priority,
I will do it. Right now, I'm getting along just fine without, so it
hasn't become imperative for me.

Regarding the benefits of having a higher level degree,
I have not seen that it provides a noticeable difference in income,
according to my co-workers. It may be worthwile to compare the expense
of getting the higher degree vs. the potential increase in income.
However, if you are getting the degree for personal satisfaction,
then go for it.

Alisa Dean
Sr. Technical Writer
alisa -dot- dean -at- mci -dot- com

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