Re: Entry-level tech writers...a new twist

Subject: Re: Entry-level tech writers...a new twist
From: Maury <alsacien -at- IBM -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 06:46:35 +0200

I must admit that the posts I've seen on this thread are almost Kafkaesque.
They sound a bit like Lewis Carroll.

Am I to understand that two subscribers to this list feel that having a
degree in technical writing is a detriment? I wish I could meet you! So
often, I've gotten kicked in the face by department managers who looked at
me through a lorgnette and said, "Only persons with degrees in a
specifically technical discipline are qualified to be technical writers."
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that line, I wouldn't need to
work at all!

Let's get something straight. Nobody can become a technical writer by
finishing courses alone. It's something that suits your character or it
doesn't. If you're the sort of person who wants to learn one set of rules
and to work according to them without changes until pension, I'd say you
don't stand much of a chance of doing anything any more. However, you'd
definitely not be suited for technical writing. It's perhaps even more
dynamic than the fields that it supports. You have to be prepared to
continue learning without end, because what is today all the rage is a
golden oldie in six months time!

One year ago, if you knew HTML, you were considered to be really ahead in
the game. Today, it's just taken for granted that you know HTML -- and if
you don't, it's time you learned! In another year's time, who knows what
will be in vogue then? The answer is that none of us have crystal balls
that work that well!

Just as our media change, so do the topics we document. Even if a person
has a degree in technical writing from the last academic year, that's a
degree that ages fast. I still remember sitting in a programming course in
which we were being taught -- of all things -- Pascal! I dropped out of the
course because I was learning nothing that I didn't already know better
from my own private study in languages far more up-to-date and relevant to
my work. Learning for learning's sake is something a technical writer
rarely has time to do; the demand to learn more is always there.

While I do not have a degree in technical communications and have a long
record of success in the field, I've often been made to feel that I'm a
usurper because I didn't acquire a degree in the profession. However, I've
been made to apologize for my educational history so many times that I've
just decided that any company that tries to make me feel small because my
degree is completely unrelated to the field is a company for which I have
no desire to work.

To learn new subjects quickly, to delve for information, to assess a
project and recommend the most useful way of documenting it, and to see the
viewpoints of both the engineers designing the product AND the first-time
user who will have to cope with it -- that's what a technical writer does.
It's important to know how to write in clear, almost transparent language
that delivers the information effectively, and a creative flair is
invaluable. It's true that a degree program cannot teach a person these
qualities, but a degree program would not necessarily stamp them out, either.

I just wish I'd met more managers in the past who realized that the piece
of paper isn't everything. I still have my diploma in professional music,
but it hasn't made any money come into the house.

- Maurice King

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