Re: TW and education (was Re: Houston Area Jobs) -Reply

Subject: Re: TW and education (was Re: Houston Area Jobs) -Reply
From: Bill Sullivan <bsullivan -at- SMTPLINK -dot- DELTECPOWER -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 12:27:42 -0800

The indomitable <supportive g> Jane Bergen writes:

> I think this is what the whole thread started over. I certainly
feel experience is worth a whole heck of a lot, but the original flap
started over NEW TECHNICAL WRITERS....and the FUTURE TRENDS of the
profession

And she makes a point worth noting. It used to be that a degree in
English or journalism would get you admitted for consideration for a
TW job. Now, little by little, a TW certificate or degree is listed
on the specs. This is a trend, and it behooves those of us who lack
TW certificates and degrees to take a look at it, and to figure out
what we are going to say or do about it. A few thoughts:

1. What became of diversity and why don't employers look for that? If
you are an employer and you decide you want all of your new tech
writers to have certificates or degrees in TW, you are going to miss
that richness of background that you could enjoy if you opened your
mind to hiring people with other training and experience. A good case
in point was hiring the woman with the degree in geography for the
geography software.

2. Arlen made a good point. You don't need academic training to be a
tech writer. What you need is the ability, desire, compulsion to
explain things clearly. I think Melissa came to that conclusion with
her employment question. An employer would probably want a person who
can work with SMEs and the rest of the team. You could go to the
extreme of making a list of great writers (Hemingway, I think, is
one) who lack college degrees, but that would be both relevant and
irrelevant to TW. What's relevant is that no, you don't need to go to
college to learn the writing aspects of the job, and college isn't
going to give you the desire to write. But you do need an education
to learn what are sometimes politely called the anal aspects of
writing, namely points of grammar and style. And you also need
training (college or trade school) to keep up with current trends
(usability and web page design, for example) and to learn the lingo
of the technical world, and how technical subjects are presented.
This is akin to reading poetry if you are a poet, novels if you are a
novelist and newspapers if you are a journalist, only more so. TW is
highly structured stuff. You must learn the structure. There is
little or no room for individualists like e.e.cummings.

3. This is a thought for some sociologist of the future. There was a
time when a general degree in English was considered good enough to
get a job as a newspaper reporter or an advertising copy writer.
Then, the trend went to hiring people with specialized degrees.
Someday perhaps, some sociologist can look back and try to figure out
whether companies, people, or the world are different or better
because of the hiring of people with specialized degrees. But this is
a side issue.

4. If a big company like an Adobe or a Microsoft wants to hire a
dozen college graduates with TW degrees, they can absorb them into
their organization, put them under the wing of more experienced
people, and nurture them and help them grow. Most smaller companies
lack this luxury or ability, and there are a lot more smaller
companies than larger ones. Therein lies a big glitch with the
training and hiring process as we tend to think of it.

5. The TW job description may be a lot broader at a smaller company
than at a larger one. The smaller company may need greater
experience, or it may not wish to pay for greater experience.

6. As far as a lot of companies are concerned, it may well be that
the best way to get a TW job is to infiltrate, that is, take a job as
a secretary or temporary word processor or salesperson, and gun for a
promotion. Some have complained that this belittles the rest of us,
and it may, but you also have to say that what works works. If you
want to work as a TW, use a guerilla method like infiltration to get
a job if you have to. Don't just sit there on your laurels, your
butt, or your college degree. Initiative and gumption count for a lot
in this country, and it's better that they do.

7. Anybody who gets a college degree at whatever level and thinks his
or her education is complete is crazy. Education is an ongoing thing,
which is why some of us read (and write to) TECHWR-L and other lists,
buy books, join the STC, attend seminars and classes, further our
education, and otherwise make ourselves crazy. Perhaps, when we
present ourselves for employment, we should present ourselves as
willing and anxious to grow and not as grown as far as we can.

8. Stories like the one told by Jerry Kindall (Re: TW and Education)
are exhilarating. I for one am thrilled and excited to think that TW
is a field in which an individual can make his or her mark, and
employers are not locked in to rigid sets of skills. Mitigating in
favor of this sort of thing is the fact that most companies are still
in touch with their roots as independent companies founded by
individuals. Individuals respect other individuals, so the self-made,
self-taught would-be TW with gumption still gets a chance. When the
day ever comes (and it probably will) that employers get to be like
mausoleums or otherwise like General Motors, Proctor & Gamble and so
forth, and they start hiring according to formula, I don't think it
will be a step forward. But don't look for it to not come, unless
some enterprising graduate student can write a killer thesis proving
formula hiring is a bad idea.

Jane also says:
>I think this discussion is healthy because we need to know where
we're going as a profession.

And where we ourselves can go.


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