Engineers and writers

Subject: Engineers and writers
From: Pete Kloppenburg <pkloppen -at- CERTICOM -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 16:39:07 -0500

Well, I doubt it will do anybody any good, but I'll weigh in here.

I, too, am of mixed parentage. I spent a few years in an engineering
program before throwing up my hands in boredom and jumping
over to an English degree. I managed to get my Master's in
Language and Professional Writing before finally landing in the
computer industry.

So what do I think? Well, here goes: My technical skills allow me to
talk to engineers and programmers on a high enough level that they
don't hate it. When I make suggestions on modifying a UI, they take
me seriously. I can ask the right questions to get the information I want
without taking up all of their time. And on occasion the questions I ask
lead to a crystallizing or shifting of ideas in their own minds.

From a writing point of view, my prose is pretty clean, I'm very good at
organizing information into manageable portions, and I certainly
know my usage and grammar. I'd like to think I'm a good writer.

So which is more important to me? Neither. The best TW I know
happens to be my girlfriend, and she comes from a completely
different background. She did a couple of years of an English degree,
left that to join a computer company, and is now burning up the
town with the things she does. Despite the fact that she hasn't taken
a math or science course since Grade 10, she learned enough OO
to make significant contributions to the design of her company's
product.

That's DESIGN - from the ground up, the basic architecture of a very
complex object-oriented bit of code. She became the de facto expert
on the UI, she wrote all the business cases and test scripts, she does
all the demo's for the big investors and customers. Somewhere in there
she managed to document the damned thing. And it's good.

Her strongest background is Fine Art, for god's sake, but if I had to
pick a partner to found a company with, I'd pick her in a second. More
than anything else, she has a head for design (and I'm talking about
Design with a capital D, that elusive marriage of aesthetics and
functionality). She also has a ton of common sense.

So basically I hold my education pretty cheap when I look at her
and what she's accomplished. The hell of it is, without those degrees
she'll probably have to fight her way into every position she gets. So
I won't get too hot and bothered over the artsie vs techie thing. I'm
striving for that talent my girlfriend has, and I can't say I'm
convinced that it comes out of any particular education background.

Ah yes, the ultimate prod to controversy. In the choice between engineer
and writer, my answer is - none of the above.

Pete Kloppenburg
Technical Writer
Certicom
Mississauga, Ontario
Canada

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