Re: What do you think?[long]
Dan BRINEGAR <vr2link -at- VR2LINK -dot- COM>
Sat, 19 Jul 1997 09:48:01 -0700
[Disclosure: I believe the following is *ABSOLUTELY* related to the
Future of Technical Communication (tm). As such, I'm posting it, I have to
If you look at where the major controversies, worries, concerns and
axieties expressed on this list are coming from, you'll see that they are
related to the changes in our industries and societies
-skillsets/etc.)., all of these issues go to the heart of why I became a
technical communicator as opposed to a mechanic, say, or a preacher: I'm a
better writer than I am a tooluser or public speaker, I have more
experience in technology than, say, social work; and I know of things I
want to see happen in the world so that's why I'm here. I'm interested in
tools and scoiology, but I have a better fit here. Some of the following
may seem schmaltzy and emotional, so be it!]
This is not meant as a tirade against you, but whoever wrote the little
snippets you're incredulous about.
I'm more-than-a-little incredulous myself...
This is obviously a case for Crisis Intervention: I suggest that we get
Buck, Elna, and my Dad on a plane, have my brother meet us at the airport
in Traverse, and drive up and give this guy a good talking-to.... mebbe
we'll stop at the Farm on the way back and see Uncle Jim.
>Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 10:06:09 -0500
>I've recently been asked to do an informal review of an introductory
>chapter to a book for instructors of tech. writing in a college
>Snipet One -- Question: Do you agree that the majority of technical
>communication is paper-based?
NO -- manuals may come out on paper, but we depend on technology BEFORE it
goes on paper.
>"Still other instructors have consciously decided against using
>computers in their classrooms.... that the majority of technical
>communication in the workplace is still paper-based and that many
>students will be entering companies where they could certainly get by
>with little more than basic word processing skills.
Techwriting classes that don't include the use of computers and new media
applications involved in the work of tech writers is just Freshman English,
301. Despite all the yelling and screaming I did during Freshman English (
I'd been depending on my professional writing ability for ten years by the
time I had to take it), it did help me become a more-organized and
customer-focused writer, but I still used technology after I wrote my
essays on yellow pads with stubby pencils.
If you sent someone to work with basic word-processing skills and the
paradigms they've gotten from those instructors, and expected them to deal
with Frame, Interleaf or Word '97 as publishing tools, and the vagaries of
engineerese they'd be running from the building gibbering before lunchtime
and looking for the nearest fast-food employer and never look back; OR
they'd just word-process whatever bloodges of text the engineering notes
had in the manuals and the customers would be screwed.
These "other instructors" are fundamentally wrong about business in the
last five years of the 20th Century. The vast majority of new jobs are
being created in small companies that depend on technology to get their
work done and meet their customer's needs.
>Snipet Two -- Question: What do you think of the word "forbidding"?
>"Computers and networks are, as Dale Spender (1995) notes, an
>environment of privilege-created by privileged white men and used
>mostly by them-and those environments are quite often forbidding to
>women and people from disadvantaged groups."
Lemme give ya an example, from almost fifteen years ago... I've been
reticent to write about this, for fear that being a not-very-liberal fat
white guy myself would disqualify me from mentioning the situation, but
it's vitally important at this time;
Dr. Spencer woulda been shocked, then, to have seen the diversity and
technical savvy at the 1983 Thanksgiving Pot-Luck at the First-Sergeant's
house in Germany.... nobody there had experienced any special privileges
during the 1970's, yet that group could have built a secure computer
network from a pile up scrap in a couple of days.
Uhh, lessee: SgtMajor Chung... nobody told him that because he grew up in
some Chinatown somewhere he couldn't build a computer from scratch, and he
Jack Villanueva came all the way from Saipan with his whole family at age
33, to become a commcenter operator -- nothing stood in the way of his
desire to join the Army and learn computers and networks...
Pip and Mrs. Pip, Shelly Brooks, Christine Posey, and Meekers: all grew up
in Rural Georgia within 50 miles of each other, all african-american, all
proud to serve, all good operators and the best classmates and pals anybody
could have. PFC Dale Clement grew up in the Bronx... I dunno where Tom
Weatherly was from <blush>. Sgt. Johnson was from somewhere in New York,
Sgt. Halton and Sgt. Mathis; Kentucky -- more african-american men who
hadn't believed computers were intimidating.
Me, Sgt. Harris, PFC Cooper, my roomie Kurt Kutcher, the Sgt's Yankovic,
our 1stSergeant and Major Ryan (ROTC, thank you very much) -- none of our
parents made more than $19,000 a year when we joined the Army...
What privileges did any of the good folks at this Thankgiving have, then?
Certainly none of the privileges Dr. Spencer would assume to required for
entry into high-tech communications at the time...
We did *all* have one advantage, tho -- we were Americans, and didn't
believe we couldn't do what we were doing.
[Disclosure: some the people mentioned above literally saved my life in May
of '84 when a week before I was to reenlist I was laying
unconscious-and-dehydrated in my barracks room with a 106 temperature and
month-old mono... Weatherly, Clement, Villanueva and Brooks worked two
whole shifts without me there to run it, and then when nobody else had
bothered to find out where I was went to the barracks at 1am, broke open
the door and got me to the hospital... so yeah, I have a special interest
in celebrating these good soldiers and friends!]
Throughout my career, 90% of my bosses, commanders, project managers,
and/or lead writers, half the engineers I've ever worked with and so on
were females, minorities, or minority females -- if you see a privileged
white man kick his butt.... <smirk>
"and _The Man_ took the silver frikkin spoon outta *my* mouth to send me
running around Grafenwoehr Germany stringing WD-4 and setting up crypto
Every privately-owned business I've been employed by in the last two years
has been owned or run by women. The project coordinator at Motorola
Computer Group was a woman (apparently she didn't believe 'em when they
said thirty years ago she couldn't get into TC)...
My boss at Scottsdale College was a woman. Apparently NOBODY EVER TOLD the
older, second-career interns we had at Scottsdale that because they were
"disadvantaged minorities," they shouldn't have been doing computers
fifteen years ago, and the idea that they could come to work with us and
learn the newer computers and the new networks coming on stream was
forbidden to them.... Why, these guys had forgotten more about keeping 286
PCs running than I ever knew -- funny, too that they didnt consider NT and
I think the breakdown is, what, 63% of STC'ers are women, right?
>Snipet Three -- Do you think that your employers will be willing to
>train new hires in technical communication on how to use a computer
>to do their jobs?
I think I got more than one gentle admonition the last time I responded to
that question here...
Most can't afford the time or the expense... there are thousands of small,
smart, hungry, computer-literate companies out there who would gladly do
whatever job needed doing while their competitors are busy training new
hires to use computers...
An article in the Arizona Republic Business section here in Phx. a couple
of weeks ago pointed out that the Motorolas and Intels here in the Valley
of the Sun couldn't find enough qualified literate new hires to work in the
fabs and assembly plants anymore, and were initiating training programs for
new high-school and College grads... not because more of these groups are
barred from entering high-tech, but because
*there are simply fewer HS and college grads these days (cos
there's fewer teenagers in general than there were fifteen years ago),
*high school is not preparing them for high-tech careers... and
*there are FAR fewer opportunities in the military than there were
for my generation (the military is less-than *half* the size it was then).
I believe it boils down to more jobs chasing fewer qualified teenagers.
The qualified teenagers who *are* technically inclined are working in small
outfits doing Internet, software development and so on: They'd never
considered working for Motorola or Intel.
Yes, there are disadvantaged areas in the US, and all over the world, and
it shouldn't be that way.... If yer looking for a way to alleviate this
problem, I believe anybody who's caught up on bills should take some time,
find their favourite business owner, community college administrator and
their pastor and get to gether and read Michael Porter's _The Competetive
Advantage of the Inner City_ and go read the Toffler's _Renewing American
Civilization_ (and Newt's website), and then get to work! <duck> see, I
told ya I wasn't that "liberal."
And yes, academia *has* lately been telling *ALL* kids that they're
disadvantaged and barred from entering high-tech, but still, many of these
kids didn't believe it, and learned Linux and C++ and HTML all by
But none of *these* kids want to be technical communicators, cos they've
never heard of it.... they're gonna be engineers.
These are the GeX'ers I have so frequently appeared to be worried about...
but generally I speak of them with tongue planted firmly in-cheek: anybody
remember my tale of running 250 GenX'ers around Ft. Knox and then going off
to boot camp with them? They weren't untrainable, but they were harder to
train for us Boomer/Cusper Sarges 'cos they were *mad as hell* at us!
And because they're mad-as-hell, the ones with drive, passion, and
intelligence are ignoring most of the institutions and traditions the
Boomers and Cuspers still depended on...
>"It's true that many workplaces are still primarily paper-based, but
>does that mean we should ignore the enormous growth of electronic
>media-the journal Electronic Publishing estimates that by 2001, 30%
>of all workplace documents will be at least partially electronic
>(Romano, 1997)-in the hopes students will find an employer willing to
I think it's more like 90%, but I don't believe technical communicators
will have much to do with that unless we get on the ball... the 19-year-old
wannabe engineers I met just a few years ago when I jumped into the
Internet full-time were doing it all -- 80% of the ones I'm still in
contact with own their own businesses now or are "executive level"
developers -- and their daddies didn't give 'em the money for it...
probably the reason I'm still in contact with these folks is that they
listened enthusiastically when I evangelised user needs and customer focus,
and the principles of good communication as applied to electronic media
(they do apply, you see). But note that in order to keep working with them,
*I* am gonna have to learn more about hands-on system administration and
programming than I've ever known, because they don't think of techwriters
(usually) when they need something done....
I've unfortunately had recent experience with paper-bound companies, but
they don't use technical communicators, and even if the primary function of
the business is fixing computers the business is not truly high-tech ...
and the business is doomed.... because there *are* high-tech companies that
fix computers, use new media to communicate with their employees and
customers, and fix computers better and faster than the old-line,
styled-after-mainframe-business-models outfits. Y'know what? Those
paper-bound businesses would seem to be just the ones who need to train
their employees to use computers to communicate, right? Wrong -- the
paper-bound computer-repair outfits have 300% employee turnover in a year,
it doesn't pay for them to train their employees, either.
Lemme talk for a moment about two of the truly "privileged" people I've
known in the last few years...
When I was doing Internet Tech Support a couple of years ago, I was handed
a service call from the morning shift who were unable to handle the "rich
old guy" who'd just bought himself $4000-worth of Macintosh, and wanted on
the Internet today... he was a retired pharmacist who had never, EVER, used
anything more computerized than the navigation system on a C-47 in WWII...
I spent a couple of hours with him on the phone, but even I couldn't get
the point across... so I put on a clean dress shirt and drove over to his
house... his big house... his big $2 million <boggle/jealousy> house....
He came out to greet me, led me up the drive past the $50000 Jaguar, into
his house to meet his
$million daughter <blush>, and sat me down at more Mac than *I'll* ever be
able to afford.....
While I'm setting him up and showing him everything I'm doing, I'm looking
at the pictures on the wall above the machine: okay, there's the C-47 troop
transport plane... and the sepia-tone picture of seven kids and Mamma
apparently living in some old shtetl in Russia... one of those kids
astride a horse in a too-big 1930's Cavalry Uniform with a carbine at least
as big as he was.... a frame with medals and a Screaming Eagle shoulder
patch... the medals.... Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star, Purple
Heart, POW Ribbon, European Theater Ribbon, Berlin Airlift Medal <pop to
attention> Sir! Yer a hero! (I'm incredibly vulnerable to hero-worship).
See, he and his C-47 had been shot down during Operation Market-Garden in
Holland near the end of WWII... I can't imagine how the Nazis must have
treated a Jew from New York in the Stalag.
"Nah;" he told me, "just a kid from da Lower East Side who worked hard for
50 years.... I've always wanted to learn computers. This Internet stuff is
so exciting, so why not? I'm only 70!"
<2000 pushups> *that's* who my customers are....
The other privileged person? Well, her father owned a baseball team
once.... when she tried to get on the net in '94, some UNIX geek told her
she couldn't no matter how much she spent, cos she'd never used a
computer... so she spent a million-and-a-half to start an ISP whose mission
it was to get anybody who wanted to on the Net... (oh, and put that geek's
company outta business <grin>). There was a woman who was *NOT* going to be
intimidated by technology or technologists... Women wrote the business
plan, identified and hired the technologists who would work there.
For nine months we worked 12-hour days to do just that... and it worked
pretty well... we got 5000 people on the Net.... we had a dream and a
mission, and we still have it....
One of the women who wrote the business plan, and runs her own
Web-development company, and her 21 y/o college dropout genius business
partner are my favorite clients, dontchaknow.
>What do you think?
I think the advice and opinions of many social-academics should be taken
with a very LARGE grain of salt -- cos trust me, they aren't gonna believe
me <grin>, and fair's fair.
May the Force be with You....
Dan BRINEGAR, CCDB Vr2Link
Performance S u p p o r t Svcs.
vr2link -at- vr2link -dot- com
"Show up, be there, think it up and do it, exceed your job-description,
control your own means of production (that's yer brain)! "
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