Re: What *is* enough?

Subject: Re: What *is* enough?
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 17:57:18 -0700

George -
> So we add yet another set of parameters when we talk about what should
> constitute a tech writer's skills set. The BA in English, Journalism or
> Technical Communications is not enough. Knowing how to write well is
> not enough. Knowing how to read and write code in a high-level language
> such as C or C++ is not enough. Understanding how APIs work is not
> enough. We now add Biochemistry 101.

Oh come on now! When most of us started college, we were pretty much
blank slates with lots of potential. We then picked majors based, in
part, on what interested us. In some cases, we also picked up some
marketable skills along the way, either as a direct result of a major
like engineering or computer science or some health-related major, or as
a side effort. In many cases, you can apply the same analogy to
technical writing: junior writers start out knowing how to write, and
perhaps knowing some basic tools, but probably not with any specific
technology knowledge. They build the latter up over the years, either
by working within an industry or by taking night classes or just by
learning on their own. However, they are - like the rest of technical
people - at the risk of having their industry take a sudden left turn
and then having to learn something new. You can't really prepare for
that, except to remember how to learn. There is nothing in a tech
writer degree or credential program that will adequately prepare a tech
wrier for what technology will look like in 10 years. If you want a good
example, consider what the internet has done to business in just the
last three years. NOBODY was predicting that five years ago.
> What *is* enough of a skills set for a technical writer?

I don't think there is ever "enough" of a skills set. Which is why I
think it so important that we continually invest in ourselves by
learning new technology as we can. Granted, there are only 24 hours in
a day, but like health maintenance, it's important to at least make an
attempt to stay on top of things in one's current industry. And if the
industry starts to look shaky, to spend the necessary time boning up on
something new.

We have long ago passed the point where what one learned in college will
carry one through all of one's working life. It used to be that the
half-life of an engineering degree was about 7 years. I suspect that's
a little generous now. I know for a fact that my son, who got a BS and
MS in computer science from UCLA not quite two years ago has felt it
important to learn new things about his field all the time.

Rather than looking at post-graduate programs in technical writing, I'd
rather see a basic emphasis in learning how to learn: giving a man a
fish feeds him only for a day, but teaching him how to fish can feed his
family for the rest of his life.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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