Re: Technical Writers and Programming Skills

Subject: Re: Technical Writers and Programming Skills
From: Pete Kloppenburg <pkloppen -at- CERTICOM -dot- CA>
Date: Tue, 13 May 1997 15:08:08 -0400

Mike Collier asked about tech writers with programming skills.

I work where I have limited access to the developers, and I work mostly from
the header files to their C code and their own internal documentation. As you
can imagine, this is rather sketchy at best, and has little to do with our end users.

Our end users, as it turns out, are programmers. So my programming skills
are mostly put to use A) deciphering the header files and B) putting myself
in the place of my programmer audience.

Personally, I have written a database application in Visual Basic, and I have
dabbled a bit in C just to get me started with the header files. I think that
programming skills are invaluable (I'll say the word without shame) to
tech writers. Even in products which are not aimed at programmers,
knowing a bit (or a lot) about the back end of computers can help enormously
in figuring out products, making interface recommendations, helping with
testing, 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?

I think that would be akin to asking a music critic to review an album from
the sheet music. I agree with Ernie on this one: anybody who can do that
deserves all the money in the world.

Pete Kloppenburg - pkloppen -at- certicom -dot- com
Technical Writer
Mississauga, Ontario

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