Technical Writers and Programming Skills

Subject: Technical Writers and Programming Skills
From: Mike Collier - SSG <MikeCol -at- SBSERVICES -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 13 May 1997 14:28:24 -0400

I have a couple of questions for technical writers who use programming
skills in their jobs. I'm talking about software development languages
such as C++, Java, Visual Basic, and C.

What level of programming knowledge is required of you in your work ?
For example, are you required to be able to read blocks of code and
explain what it is doing, and/or do you write code samples for use as

If you've recently learned a programming language, have you been able to
learn effectively and apply what you've learned from books of the "Learn
[whatever] in 21 Days" variety? What other means have you used to learn

What is more important to spend your time on-- developing and refining
programming skills, or other technical writing skills, such as using
document production software and writing and editing ?

If you (or if you would) hire technical writers with programming skills,
how would you evaluate their skills in a job interview (e.g., explain
the inputs and outputs of a block of code, comment a block of code,
write a simple program, etc.)

I have seen some help wanted ads looking to hire technical writers who
can write user documentation straight from the application's source code
(I assume without analysis, design or other project documents to use as
reference). Isn't this asking too much, even of a skilled technical
writer with modest programming skills? If you've done this, how did it


Michael Collier
mikecol -at- sbservices -dot- com

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