Meet the New Generation of Technical Writers at San Francisco State

At the July, 2016 meeting, Neil Lindeman, Ph.D., Associate Professor at San Francisco State, talked about the Technical Writing Program at SFSU as well as their Internship Program. This meeting was summarized by Floyd Smith.

STC-SF Meeting: Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Leah opened with announcements.

Neil Lindeman, SF State

Director of Technical Writing Program

Ex-editor at Conservation International

Meet the New Generation of Technical Writers at SF State

Technical and Professional Writing – Only major program in California!

  • Program dates back to early 1990s.
  • Golden age through dot-com boom and even to ’08 financial crisis. They’re rebuilding now from some lower enrollments and funding challenges. DITA and online help courses have gone missing, with 20-student minimums. They are now more online-oriented.
  • Administratively, they’re becoming a concentration in the English major. 30-40 active major students and 20-30 minors (24 units = 8 classes), plus certificate program w/5-10 people (same requirements as minor).
  • Focus can be technical writing or development work etc., which is professional writing. 30% go to tech writing, rest want to be less technical.
  • Required: Fundamentals class, “technical promotional writing”, document design. Minor of some kind; can be information systems, instructional technology, computer science. For professional writing, can be marketing, non-profit communications, graphic design.

Internship Program

  • Students who are near graduation.
  • Develop job application materials, including coursework.
  • Length is 120 hours of program-related work, ideal for it to all happen in one semester (16 weeks).
  • Students need to be pro-active about finding internships. About one-fourth of internships are paid (perhaps $20/hr) and three-fourths unpaid.
  • Internship sponsor evaluates the student and recommends their grade!
  • No one ever takes it for more than one semester, it would cost them tuition, but the internships – usually paid ones – go on.
  • Do businesses that hire get to see the reflective report at the end? Not usually.

Example: Parrot, Amanda’s Internship

  • Researched documentation needs of the customer support team
  • Presented on 10 potential projects
  • She did first project from her list, wiki based on Confluence, including development and training
  • They hired her for a 6-month contract to finish and train their staff.

Final notes

  • Try for structured and well-defined internship projects
  • Tech Writing focus usually works well, it can be harder to find structure on the Professional Writing side

Q & A

  • Are most students as strong as Amanda? No, they try to fit the internship to the student, and Amanda was a star.
  • How do they get tech experience? Some have a technical background and then come to the program. Others come from English major background and try to fit into technical side. You can do independent projects and submit them. Or join open-source projects! Can include term papers. IBM has a co-op program.
  • Certificates: Costs about $10K, but they also have Open University access for empty seats, with their own free structure; there are often seats.
  • Terms: There are sponsoring programs and supervisors.
  • Ideal: Paid programs with established offices in SF and some remote work allowed.
  • Difficulty? Students have trouble finding paid internships. Only 7-8 students are looking for an internship each semester, only 2-3 of them have a tech focus. Could tie into a CS internship program.
  • There are still opportunities for the fall.
  • Others: Berkeley has an extension program; Carnegie-Mellon has a campus in Mountain View. UC Santa Cruz has an extension in Santa Clara.

Contact information

Neil Lindeman, Ph.D., Associate Professor at San Francisco State.

1600 Holloway Avenue, HUM 423

San Francisco, CA 94132

Phone: 415-405-0493

Also: Cal Berkeley will have a job fair in the fall.

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