RE: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing"

Subject: RE: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing"
From: <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2016 09:48:49 -0400

David,

I am having a hard time seeing how it is a problem that there are few training opportunities for jobs that no one is hiring for. Technical writing, like every other profession, does not exist because it is a good in itself, but to meet a demand. If there is demand and no supply, that is a problem for society that needs to be addressed. If there is supply and no demand, that is a problem for the supplier who needs to learn to supply something else. If there is no demand and no supply, that is not a problem for anyone.

But I think we have to make a very clear distinction here. There is an enormous demand for technical communication. We have a lot of technology, with more coming every day, and we need to communicate about it. There would appear to be a diminishing demand for consumer technical publications -- manuals in the boxes of consumer and office products. This should not surprise us, since there was clearly a bubble in such demand in the 80s and 90s when all this tech was new, people had no experience with it, and the UI sucked.

But if the demand for technical communication is strong, the question becomes, who is doing it? Any kind of communication demands two things: knowledge of the subject matter and skill at communication. Of the two, knowledge of the subject matter is the more important, since lucid ignorance does no one any good, while it is possible to struggle through opaque knowledge with sufficient perseverance.

It is quite clear that many products sell successfully despite poor information. They sell based on their capability, their price, or their reputation. Documentation quality only affects sales performance when it becomes a differentiator. That only happens when the differentiators that people care more about are a wash.

Where information is a differentiator, it is not necessarily documentation that makes the difference. For many products it is much more important that it be Googleable, that it have an active user community. For programming languages and APIs it can be much more important that they have good coverage on Stack Overflow than that they have good documentation.

But within organizations, many different roles requires technical communication. Sales, sales support and engineering, marketing, training, public relations, engineering, business analysis, operations, and the people in finance responsible for innovation tax credits all communicate about technology as a significant part of their jobs. CEOs of startups spend much of their time communicating about their technology.

Recently, the SouthWestern Ontario Chapter of the STC joined forces with the Kitchener-Waterloo based Communitech organization to create a Technical Communication peer to peer group. (Communitech sponsors peer to peer groups for all kind of technical subjects.) We very deliberately made the focus of that group be the communication of technical communication in all roles in the organization. The peer to peer group is not about the careers of people with "technical writer" on their business card, it is about how to communicate effectively about technology no matter what your role is.

Our very first event for the peer to peer group had more than three times the turnout of than any chapter event since I have been a member. So far, the signups for or next event are even higher.

Technical communication as a task and a function is huge. Those who enjoy it and excel at it should follow it where it leads and worry much less about where they sit or what title is on their business cards. (And the Society for Technical Communications should focus much more on being a society for technical communication and much less on being a society for technical writer jobs.)

Mark

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of David Farbey
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 4:25 AM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing"

I agree with the criticisms of the tone of the article that have already been expressed. There were too many generalisations and no attempt to introduce any evidence, even anecdotal evidence, to back up the statements being made. For example, if you mention "a recent survey" as a justification for your assertions you need to provide a link or a reference to the source. The only source mentioned in their references is a five-year-old personal blog contribution, and it is not really relevant to the article.

However...

In the UK the technical writing profession is indeed facing challenges, but they are very different from the ones mentioned in the article. On the supply side, there are limited training opportunities, and no academic courses at all. The ISTC (http://www.istc.org.uk/) is looking for ways of addressing this deficit, by accrediting courses offered by private providers, running a mentoring scheme for new entrants to the profession, and encouraging members to engage in lifelong learning through our outputs-focussed CPD scheme. (Disclosure - I'm on the ISTC Council and these three activities come under my remit.) On the demand side, fewer companies appear to be hiring technical writers, and third party non-specialist recruitment agencies often don't understand that a technical writer doesn't necessarily need to be an expert programmer or engineer to be the best person for the job.

Interestingly, the special focus theme for this year's TCUK conference that takes place in September is "From Novice to Expert â Writing Your Career Path as a Technical Communicator" and the deadline for submitting your speaking proposals is Thursday 31st March 2016 (
http://technicalcommunicationuk.com/index.php/call-for-proposals-tcuk-2016)

But maybe the authors do have a point? I now work as a technical consultant for a financial services company. My job involves writing about technology, but it isn't "technical writing". I haven't moved to Thailand, though, I'm still in London.

Regards,

David

David Farbey - david -at- farbey -dot- co -dot- uk
Mobile 07538 420 800
Twitter @dfarb
http://about.me/davidfarbey


On 22 March 2016 at 00:27, Gene Kim-Eng <techwr -at- genek -dot- com> wrote:

> Looking back on my manager days, I would much rather build a pubs team
> from a bunch of programmers, lab or service techs who could string
> words together into coherent paragraphs and support them with a good
> editor and illustrator than from people educated as "one-person pubs
> teams" with no technical knowledge. Producing usable docs happens much
> more smoothly when the writers know the tech and are open to an
> editor's input on their grammar and composition.
>
> And it's way easier to get engineers and other developers to talk to a
> writer who can look at the raw design and ask, "is it this, or is it that?"
> rather than "can you explain to me what this is and what it does?"
>
> Gene Kim-Eng
>
>
> On 3/21/2016 5:00 PM, Monique Semp wrote:
>
>>
>>
>> I was hired as a "Senior" tech writer for my very first tech writing
>> job because a flexible (ok, maybe she was just desperate) tech pubs
>> manager was willing to hire a programmer who could write a coherent
>> paragraph :-). And happily, those were the days of companies having
>> whole teams of writers, so there were mentors available to teach me,
>> and sufficient staff to be productive while new writers were being trained.
>>
>
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Follow-Ups:

References:
"Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing": From: Cardimon, Craig
RE: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing": From: Dan Goldstein
Re: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing": From: Lauren
Re: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing": From: Gene Kim-Eng
Re: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing": From: Monique Semp
Re: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing": From: Gene Kim-Eng
Re: "Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing": From: David Farbey

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