Technical Writer – Career Rankings, Salary, Reviews and Advice | US News Best Jobs

See how technical writer stacks up against other occupations.

Source: Technical Writer – Career Rankings, Salary, Reviews and Advice | US News Best Jobs

Thanks to the STC and Liz Fraley for posting this on Facebook for me to see.

I’m fortunate that I’m friends with Adriane Hunt, the STC President who is quoted in this article. It’s great to know that technical writing is listed as #3 on the US News & World Report’s top Creative & Media Jobs list.  Adriane is a member of the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter (STC-PMC), which I’m currently the vice-president of, and she’s had lots of great takeaways over the years from attending STC-PMC programs and events (like the CONDUIT conference) and other STC events.

This is a great read to remind us why we stick with technical writing and communications.  It’s a profession that continues to grow, even when we think it isn’t, and we can gain great satisfaction from doing the job. It also doesn’t hurt that technical writers are usually great people as well. Adriane is a great example of that.

Check out the interview I did with her almost two years ago…the video is spotty (it was the first time I was doing it, and we had some unforeseen technical issues), but listen to the conversation, and you can see why Adriane and the STC has a great future.

A Conversation with Adriane Hunt

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2016 TechCommGeekMom Year in Review: Yeah, it could’ve been better.

Bored girl expressing, "Seriously though, do you think it could've been worse?"

Seriously though, do you think it could’ve been worse?

As 2017 gets going, I realized that I haven’t written a whole lot in the past year. Why? Simple–not a whole lot to write about, frankly. 2016 was a rough year in many ways, but there were some good elements, too.

It’s hard to write about things when you feel like nothing is inspiring you or giving you little motivation. I remember feeling excited about tech comm for the first few years, and it was much easier, as I was learning new things constantly. Now, while there is still a lot for me to learn, it’s not quite as much in some instances. It’s probably like anything else, in that movements go in waves, and the mobile wave first took hold right about the time I started to study tech comm and get involved in tech comm. Now, it’s something that we take for granted, like electricity or running water in developed countries. There are still things to discover, but the wave of innovation and adapting to the changes to those innovations–both professionally and socially–have generally passed. We’ve adapted, for the most part.  The use of mobile devices like mobile phones and tablets are common place now. Almost everyone has a smart phone. And many companies–not all, but most–have adapted their content and UX to have responsive design to adapt to different devices.  E-learning has gone back to basics with m-learning by re-adapting chunking and also using responsive design and better UX.

From my view, the initial thrill is over, and we are now settling into the “new normal”.   Things that were new and exciting have now become everyday, or have morphed into what they will be. For example, when social media really started to take off, it was an opportunity to create content that could be shared easily in sound bytes or blurbs in a more viral manner than conventional media. It was an opportunity to use content to incite a two-way conversation to discuss and share. Now, social media strategists don’t use social media for discussion, but rather as another marketing medium. Content strategists have been…shall we say…strongly encouraged to look at content as a marketing asset, and look towards content marketing. Content marketers, however, are not content strategists who have some understanding of marketing, but rather it’s expected that they are full-fledged marketers that have some understanding of content. (Trust me. I’ve read the job descriptions posted for many companies.) Both social media and content marketing are things I looked at doing seriously with my career. But as time went on, it was apparent that corporate expectations were shifting, and that these jobs were really meant for business people who were marketers and trained in marketing, not technical communicators. While I have some good sense about business, marketing, and customer service after many years, I don’t consider myself a business person per se. In other words, I would never get an MBA because business topics bore the hell out of me, and there are others who can look and do that sort of thing better than me.

This past year was a year of experimentation for me. When I got out of grad school almost five years ago, I wanted to be an instructional designer until I found that there was no such position as an entry-level instructional designer. I fell back into doing what I had done for years, but with stronger knowledge and experience, which was content strategy and management. I’d been happy doing that work, but always wanted to expand my skills. When I was released from my long-term contract doing content management in 2015, I saw it as an opportunity to do something different. I could start over, if you will. I was hired to do a knowledge management job, but the position was a misnomer. It really didn’t do anything close to knowledge management, and in the end, the projects they had brought me on board for were cancelled, and my contract ended in early 2016.

I was able to pick myself up quickly, taking a copywriting technical writer position. While I definitely had the ability to do the job, I found that my best writing abilities and UX/UI skills couldn’t be used to their fullest potential. I’m used to writing more than two sentences at a time, or re-labeling a button using a single word. I knew I had more to offer than what was required with no opportunities to contribute more than that, so I let that contract expire.

After trying those two other avenues, I found a short-term job doing content strategy and management again. Oh, it was exciting for me! I felt so comfortable doing that kind of work, and I felt confident again in my abilities. I was right to trust my instincts–that there was more to me than writing two sentences at a time, and doing something that I like doing. That, in itself, was a big discovery.

So, through this period of self-discovery, it was rough. I was unhappy with the work I was doing, unhappy with my lack of progress in a positive direction professionally, began to doubt my professional self-worth, and felt conflicted about next steps. Okay, so I’m still working through some of it, but I think the worst is (hopefully) over.

This isn’t to say that it’s all been bad. From those events, I can say that I learned what I’m good at, and what I’m not good at. I learned what I like and don’t like. I started to have a better understanding of my self-worth, at least professionally. Those are big realizations in themselves.

There were also other good things that happened that proved to be positive challenges. I had post-weight loss surgery, and recovered from that well. I’d never had major surgery in my life (and will be avoiding it in every way possible in the future), and found strength within myself to recover quickly and push myself.  I attended three conferences in 2016, namely CONDUIT, TC Camp – East, and the STC Summit. All went well, and it gave me a chance to learn and reaffirm my passion for tech comm, meet and network with old and new colleagues, and remind me that this is the profession where I belong.  I got more involved in my local STC chapter, and now I’m the vice-president of the chapter, and working my way up the STC food chain, as one might say. I’ve been in charge of STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter’s programming this year, and I’m also co-chair of their conference, CONDUIT, so it’s been very busy for me that way as well, as I gain some new soft skills–and enhance ones I already had.

The election outcome put me in a very bad funk for the latter part of 2016. Dealing with my teenage autistic son has been more challenging than ever. End of the year holidays also don’t put me in a happy mood, usually. It’s usually a stressful time on a number of levels, and I couldn’t wait for the year to be over.

While in many respects, the start of 2017 is a chance to start fresh again, it’s an artificial starting point. I say that because we can start over fresh anytime we want to, if you think about it. It could be in the middle of August, or the end of March, or anytime, really. But with the stress of the holidays and year-end activities, January 1st was as good a date as any to start over, and it’s not something that is only on one day.  Fresh starts can take days, weeks, or months. I’ve made some big decisions going forward that will take some time. I will need to be more patient with myself in achieving those goals. I am going to have many challenges, but I have support from my family and my colleagues to move forward in the direction I am intending.

The number one thing that I’ve decided that I need to do in 2017 is I have to get to a place in my life where I can be happy with what I do, and do what I enjoy.  That’s easier said than done. To that end, I’m going to focus more on building up my independent consulting business, which I had intended to start after that long-term contract ended in 2015. I got majorly side-tracked in 2016, so 2017 is going to be focused on getting back on track with that. No agency contract distractions like in the past year. I’m going to do it on my own, using entrepreneurship and networking skills. It may be slow going to start, but I have a few good leads so far. Time will tell if they work out successfully. I know I’ll put my full efforts into any projects I do get. I’ll also be learning, both independently and with help, how to run a successful business.  Hopefully, this will encourage the spark for me to write here more often about things that are going on that I see in tech comm, and how I view things that I’m learning in the process. I had a recent head-start with my adventures in learning DITA. My initial plans are to continue to train and practice using DITA. I’m also going to be learning Drupal next month, as that seems to be a widely used CMS in my area with some of the leading employers in the area. I’m hoping that adding DITA and Drupal to my “arsenal” of skills will be helpful for my business. I’ll attending CONDUIT and the STC Summit for sure this year, strengthening my professional ties and knowledge. I’ll be working hard still for the STC-PMC, as I intend to run for President of the group this year (we’ll see how that goes!).

Outside of my professional life, there are some hurdles along the way as well, but my goal this year is, well, to get through this year unscathed, or better off than I am now. I don’t mean just financially or professionally, but personally as well. It’s going to be a rebuilding year, and I hope that this time next year, I’ll be a little more upbeat about things, and I will have been able to share more with you over the course of the year.

What are your professional goals this year? Include your comments below.

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The Most Important Design Jobs Of The Future | Co.Design | business + design

Design leaders at Google, Microsoft, Autodesk, Ideo, Artefact, Teague, Lunar, Huge, New Deal, and fuseproject predict 18 new design jobs.

Source: The Most Important Design Jobs Of The Future | Co.Design | business + design

As 2016 closes, we look to the future to see what are the next tech jobs out there. These are some suggestions. Looking at them, it makes me feel so overwhelmed that I’m still underprepared for anything at times. How does one train or learn to be these kinds of positions? Many of them make sense. I’m still trying to make sense of where today’s tech and design jobs are and how to catch up with those.

What do you think of this list? Include your comments below.

–TechCommGeekMom

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Remembering Carrie Fisher, Writer

As the list of favorite celebrity talent seems to grow even as 2016 comes to an end, I thought it would be good to share this video, created by the website, The MarySue.

Carrie Fisher, one of the latest stars to have passed (just today, at this writing), is usually thought of for her iconic role as Princess/General Leia Organa in the Star Wars movies. But while I enjoyed her in those roles, I think I appreciated her more as herself. She wasn’t only an actress who appeared in other roles than the Star Wars movies, but I was always impressed by her success as a writer. I admit that I haven’t read her books (but I think I need to look into them now), but I saw the movie based on one of her books, Postcards from the Edge.  I always enjoyed watching interviews with her, especially in recent years. I know she was very open about talking about her battles with substance abuse and mental illness. She made it okay for people to realize that you can “have it all” and still have some serious issues, and come out of it in one piece. She helped to de-stigmatize mental illness and show that there can still be a smart, witty person attached to that mental illness who can contribute to society.  And for that–I am grateful she made her mark.

The video below also showed a related talent that used her writing skills, specifically as a script doctor. Now doesn’t that sound like a cool job? What struck me in this video was what she’s quoted as saying in the end of why she stopped doing it. It was something that as a technical writer/communicator, has happened to me, and I think happens to a lot of technical communicators these days. We contribute ideas and work for what we do, and don’t get the fair credit or compensation for it. How many times have I done “tests” for companies only to not get the job or hear back from them? Yeah, unfortunately it seems, based on Carrie Fisher’s comments, that it’s not only for technical writers, but script writers as well.

Carrie Fisher was incredibly human–she wasn’t afraid to show her vulnerabilities, and we loved her for it. She definitely knew, by the end of her life, that she had a lot of worth as a person of many talents, and she used them. She will definitely be missed by this geek mom.

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UCSF Lays Off Tech Workers, Stepping Into Jobs Outsourcing Controversy | News Fix | KQED News

UCSF says it is following what its competitors have already done and has to lay off the workers to cut costs.

Source: UCSF Lays Off Tech Workers, Stepping Into Jobs Outsourcing Controversy | News Fix | KQED News

While this kind of thing has been happening for years–I’ve seen it going on in the last two decades–it does seem to be getting worse. While this focuses specifically about a case happening with an American research university and their IT workers, it directly affects technical communication workers as well. Some of us are included in the IT departments, some are not, but we’re all directly affected. When layoffs happen, it’s always the consultant/contractors that go first, and in tech comm, that makes up a good portion of our workforce.

I’ve been told that sometimes I’m too panicked about the state of the tech comm workforce because of my own struggle to find long term work, but the more I talk to other technical communicators who are often also contractors, they are feeling the stress as well. It’s articles like this that further my argument that if we can’t keep up and be adaptable, and prove our worth in the market, all the jobs–at least in the U.S.–will go elsewhere. This is not to say that other countries should be able to create new jobs to build their economy, but there’s a point where if all the jobs are exported elsewhere, what’s left for us?

What do you think? Is this just another layoff story, or is it a foretelling story of things yet to come? Include your comments below.

–TechCommGeekMom

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Confessions of a Failed Technical Communicator

homer_confession

Really, Father, my only sins are beer, donuts, beer, donuts, not knowing DITA, beer, donuts…

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned! I am a failure in technical communications.”

OK, perhaps in many eyes, I haven’t been a failure in technical communications. It will be five years this spring since I graduated with my Masters degree in Professional and Technical Communication from NJIT. In many ways, that feels like it was just yesterday, and I’m still a “new graduate”. But with the change this year in my STC Membership that’s moved from “Student” to “New Professional” to “Classic”, I supposed I’m not anymore.

While graduate school gave me a good foundation to move forward, I learned very quickly that I needed to continue to educate myself. As I attended conferences and presentations, and paid attention to discussions in social media, I found out that graduate school lessons barely cut the surface. I’ve tried my best to continue my studies by attending as many webinars, conferences, and presentations that I can. I even took another university graduate certificate course on digital marketing, hoping to get some insight that might help me going forward.

However, in the end, I failed to do one thing that might actually boost what I’m doing as a fledgling content strategist, and thus, my confession: I needed to learn DITA.

For those of you who don’t know what DITA is, it’s the acronym for Darwin Information Typing Architecture, and it’s a commonly used method for creating structured authoring using XML coding. The idea is that documentation done using DITA methods will allow for single-sourcing for content elements, and equally make it easier to integrate that content into print or digital outputs in a super-organized, modular way. It’s a standard that helps because it’s generic to almost any system out there. Any system that can read XML can read a DITA document, for the most part. When moving from one system to another, the content can stay intact if done using DITA/XML methods.

I don’t remember learning much about DITA in grad school, other than understanding what it was in general as I explained it above. I never learned the details. In my work life so far, I haven’t needed it.  It’s always been unstructured authoring. I try to take some small steps to create some single-sourcing content when possible in content management systems, but that was hard to do sometimes. One of my recent jobs made me realize that we needed some sort of structured authoring done, but I didn’t know how to go about it. We created our own coding tags to describe things going on in copy decks. It wasn’t the best, but it was better than nothing.

In the past year, I’ve tried to figure out ways to continue to improve my skills, and make myself more marketable as a content strategist/content manager. I talked to the leading experts in the field. (It’s one of the benefits of getting involved with the STC and attending STC events–you get to know these people personally.) And the one thing that seemed to come back to me again and again was that I had a good resume, and I have some great skills under my belt, and they knew that I was a good writer from this blog. The biggest sore spot in my skill set was that I lacked an important skill–knowing DITA and using it.  And while I looked for jobs in my area that included DITA practices (I think I’ve only seen one listing in three years), I’ve been assured that if I could learn DITA, the remote/telecommuting possibilities could be much better for me. And since remote opportunities are my best bet right now, I have to do what I need to do to make that happen.

So, as the saying goes, I bit the bullet. Fortunately, the STC was promoting a course about DITA Essentials taught by Bernard Aschwanden, the Immediate Past-President of the STC, and the proprietor of Publishing Smarter. Bernard’s a great instructor, and he’s taking it nice and slow. One of the best parts of the course is hands-on experience, even if it’s in the simplest ways. That’s the way I tend to learn best–learn the logistics of how something is done, then I need to learn to do the work through trial and error.  Last week’s assignment was particularly challenging for me. While I understood what I had to do conceptually, since I was also trying to familiarize myself with a few XML editors at the same time while applying what I wanted to do with my assignment, I got very frustrated. I sent in my assignment, along with notes about where I was getting frustrated and needing some guidance. Bernard assured me that all would be well, and asked me if he could use what I had turned in for my assignment for the most recent class. He also warned me to have a glass of wine ready while taking class, because I’d be needing it. Yikes!

I was told to prepare for the onslaught of big corrections to my DITA homework with a glass of wine. I took the suggestion seriously, thankfully.

I was told to prepare for the onslaught of big corrections to my DITA homework with a glass of wine. I took the suggestion seriously, thankfully.

The glass of wine was done by the end of the class, and yes, he ripped my assignment apart, but it was okay in the end. I knew there were problems with it, and he showed me where my original thought process was correct, but I didn’t know how to execute it properly. One of the mistakes I was making was my use of XML tags, particularly using the correct ones. While the XML editing apps all have guidance features to help you with using correct tags in certain situations, I still wasn’t using the best choices. Most of that was because I’m not familiar with what these XML tags mean, so I was using them at face value. For example, I was using a step example tag in part of my content, and Bernard understood why I used it, but felt that the way I used it was incorrect, and didn’t allow for cleaner coding. Okay, I can deal with that, especially when he demonstrated the correction.

So, as much as I’m struggling with DITA, I do understand the essential concepts behind it now. My biggest problem is learning how to use it beyond the most elementary tasks. I haven’t had any “real world” scenarios to date when I could implement and learn how to use the XML editors and use DITA practices in writing or rewriting content.  I need to figure out how to find content and start having a way to truly play with something so that I can get the full experience of that trial and error to master DITA.

After the STC course that Bernard is teaching, I plan to follow-up with Scriptorium’s DITA tutorials as well, and see if I can learn some more about XML coding. I have a lot to do to figure this out, but I know that in the end, this will be a big skill that will make a lot of difference in how I approach content. The content strategist skills I already have acquired have helped me frame DITA much more easily than if I learned this with no prior knowledge. But, I can tell that I still have a long way to go before I feel that I’ve mastered this.

So, this ends my confession. I have needed to learn DITA.  If it’s not taught in university classes in technical writing, it should be. I think it would have saved me a lot of frustration, and provided more opportunities for me sooner. If I can get a better handle on this, I’m hoping that I can start exploring how XML Editors can integrate with CMSs, like Adobe CQ. I’m not an Adobe AEM developer (I’m not a developer at all!), but I know how to create websites and pages with AEM, and hopefully I can start figuring out how to integrate those skills with DITA skills. I was told by one mentor, that would make me a very desirable job candidate, and I think she’s onto something. Of course, I need to brush up on my AEM skills, since it’s been a couple of years since I’ve used them regularly, but with all things, once you master them, it’s like riding a bicycle. You might be a little unstable at first, but you never quite forget how to do it once you get started back into it again.

Here’s hoping that in 2017, DITA will become a “bicycle” skill for me. I’ll go say a few rounds of the Rosary in the meantime for my penance.

(What do you think? How important is DITA in technical writing? I’ve heard some say it’s a passing trend, and others say that its usage continues to grow. Include your comments below.)

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Old Way of Thinking vs. New Way of Thinking–Does it work for Tech Comm?

I was casually reading my LinkedIn feed today, and a new connection of mine had liked this particular infographic that one of their connections made, and that connection had obviously gotten it from somewhere else, so I apologize for not being able to name the direct source.

But it’s something that I think is an important part of anyone who is still working and especially for employers who want to understand those who are job seekers. It’s a very different world from even five or ten years ago (trust me, I was job searching that long ago), and while this chart really can apply to anyone, I truly see this definitely applying to technical communications:

infographic old thinking vs new thinking

What got me is that it isn’t generational–a Baby Boomers and Gen X way of thinking versus Millennial thinking.  I’ve had Millennial bosses who thought in the “old thinking” ways, and I’ve had the older generations think in the “new thinking” way.  I think the problem–at least in the United States–is that we operate on a factory mentality from the 19th century that still is in place. (Operating from 19th century thinking applies to our educational system too, but that’s another argument.)  Productivity and profit was made when thinks were much more manually done. Even in a factory with machines, it was always down to productivity and profit, and bottom line to get those things done.  While those are still important factors motivating business now, time has allowed us to reflect on those values, and see the impact on people over 100+ years time. By following the “old thinking” methods, quality of life became impacted. People were things to be manipulated at the cost of time with families, company loyalty, pride in their work.

EVERYTHING in that “new thinking” column embodies what technical communication is right now, and what technical communication jobs should be, but often are not. I’ve heard companies use language that speaks of this “new thinking”, but continue to practice hard-line “old thinking”.  This is the 21st century, mind you, and technology and society has come a long way. It doesn’t matter what you do, whether you are a technical communicator, or a factory worker, or someone plowing a field for crops. The best working conditions are those that embrace the new thinking. It allows workers to be creative with solutions after failure, and allows them to work in a more relaxed setting, and if it’s a matter of behavior over skill, the skills will catch up with the behaviors if they are good ones. Happy workers are productive workers.  Working in a variety of different jobs over the past 26 years have told me that when I’m a happy worker, I get it done. I produce my best work, and my productivity increases, and my bottom line is more willingness to help that company become more productive and profitable. It happens naturally, instead of being forced.

It’s kind of like that kid doing homework who hates school (I have one of these kids). When it’s time to do homework, some kids need someone over their shoulder, constantly making sure that they do it right, they get it done quickly, and they need to do menial tasks that might not really need to be done.  Kids who are given a little bit of room, given tasks that provide some meaning to the material and work they need to produce, and aren’t rushed, tend to get the work done better. Why can’t that apply in the work world as well? We all have deadlines–kids do too. Why not create realistic expectations, which is what much of this “new thinking” is about?

I wish more employers adopted this “new thinking” instead of holding so tightly to the “old thinking”, or at least stop preaching the “new thinking” while actually doing “old thinking”.  It would allow a more open way of working that would allow for creativity and better problem-solving, which would help the bottom line. (In other words, allow for more remote workers to get the best results possible!)

What do you think? Include your comments below.

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