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: Houston Area Jobs From:Walt Tucker <walt_tucker -at- MENTORG -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 9 Dec 1996 12:52:56 -0800
At 07:10 PM 12/9/96, David Locke <dlocke -at- PHOENIX -dot- NET> wrote:
> Look somebody GAVE you your first TW job. The day is coming real soon where
> you won't be able to get a job without a TW degree. And, guess what you
> would be out of luck.
I came in on the middle of this thread. Forgive me if I am quoting out of
I have worked 17 years in the technical writing field. About half that time
I have been a technical writing project leader, but was also a manager for
a short time. I have an associate degree in electrical engineering technology
and a bachelor degree in business administration. I have also taken several
other programming and technical classes. The company where I have
worked for the last ten years produces UNIX-based software for electronic
design automation. The typical user of our software is an electrical engineer
doing circuit board design. Our software is also used to design integrated
circuits (I believe that Intel used our software to help design the Pentium).
Our software can also be customized through extension languages.
Because of the technical nature of the audience of our manuals and the
technical depth of the software products we document, my company
has always stressed technical experience. Most of the technical writers
at our company that were recruited directly out of college do not hold
technical writineg degrees but were rather either computer science or
electrical engineering majors. In the 10 years that I have worked at
Mentor Graphics, only a few of those college recruits have moved on to
engineering positions; most have been happy as technical writers. Keeping
technical writing pay scales on par with engineering pay scales probably
Of the many technical writers I have worked with over the last 17 years,
their educational background has been diverse -- there have been those with
a masters in english, masters in mass communications, bachelors and masters
in business, bachelors in computer science, bachelors in electrical
engineering, bachelors in physics, bachelors in french literature, many
with associate degrees, and some with no degree at all. I've had many
entry level writers pass through projects I have led. Of the two entry level
writers that I consider to be the best, one was the person with a degree in
french literature, and the other had no degree at all (but was
a "natural" as a technical writer). I've had no writers with
technal writing degrees in my group, and have only ever worked with one.
Her technical writing degree was from Carnegie-Melon University and she was
excellent. I also once interviewed a technical writing graduate for an
entry level position that had high college marks but was a complete washout
for the position among the five people that interviewed him.
So, what does this all boil down to? In the real world, I've found that
for mid-level and senior level writing positions, experience counts for
more than the discipline in which you might hold a degree. Some companies
will place more emphasis on a degree than others (a manager at
Hewlett-Packard once told me several years ago that company policy was that
all their writers had to have a bachelor degree, although they didn't care
about the major).
In the companies where I have worked as a technical writer, which have
all been very technical, we have always looked for a technical understanding
of the subject matter and, preferrably, technical writing experience in of
subject matter that is similarly deep. In all positions, enthusiasm,
being inquisitive, being able to work independently, confidence,
and self-motivation counts for a lot.
For entry level positions, writing samples and examples of where you might
have taken the initiative to go "above and beyond" are helpful. For example,
in the person that I cited with the french literature degree (whom we hired
directly out of college), she had amassed a fair amount of programming
experience and system administration experience in the college lab
simply because she thought it was fun. But, don't dicount that fact that
sometimes gaining an entry level technical writing position is simply a
matter of being in the right place at the right time.
-- Walt Tucker
Senior Technical Writer
Mentor Graphics Corp.