Tools? We don’t need tools. (Or do we?)

One of the things that is highly debatable in the tech comm world, as well as the e-learning and m-learning world, has to do with software.  It’s always the eternal question.

WHAT’S THE BEST SOFTWARE TO USE?

I’m here to tell you….I have no idea.

Really.

I’m not joking.

One of the regrets I have about the Masters program in technical communications I’ve been in is that while we were introduced to several different types of software, most software applications used were either free or low cost, or we’d have to use the free trial version as quickly as possible, but they were not necessarily the industry standards employers use.  If it weren’t for the fact that I would read industry magazines and look at plenty of “help wanted” ads, I wouldn’t have any idea what these software packages werethat many tech comm and e-learning professionals use. The arguments that my school made for not teaching us some of these software packages was a) it was too expensive, and b) upgrades on packages are made so often that they’d never be able to keep up with the constant upgrades.  While I understand both arguments–and they are valid ones–I don’t agree that they are doing us any favors.  I am taking classes through a technical institution, and it seems unfair that many types of similar or more expensive software packages are being purchased and licensed for the engineering students, but not for tech comm students. We can access MS Office products…and that’s about it. No Adobe. No MadCap. Nothing like that. And yet, that’s what prospective employers ask for–not only technical communication know-how, but experience using “X” software or something similar.

I know that it can be expensive, but it’s more expensive long-term not to help us learn the basics of these packages.  I’ll use the example that I’ve mentioned to some most recently. The first version of MS Word that I ever used was the very first one–Word 1.0. Yes, it was a long time ago, and I know I’m old, thanks. But the point is, I haven’t taken a training session or class on how to use Word since learning that first version. I’ve just figured out the upgrades through trial and error, like most people, but I already understood the basic concepts.  If I was taught from an “old” version of Flare, Robohelp, FrameMaker, etc. I’m sure that I would figure out the upgrade pretty quickly, since I already understand how the software program works generally. See my point?  The software packages that I just listed, and more of them, are a technical communicator’s bread and butter.  While exposure to using MS Office in a creative way, and using free products is good to understand concepts, it’s not what will help burgeoning technical communicators like myself find work. I can write storyboards, and I understand the basic principles of instructional design, but if I can’t use Captivate, Lectora or Articulate to expedite those things, then none of that matters unless there is an employer willing to either train me or let me figure out how the software works.

As I just mentioned, this applies to the e-learning and m-learning world too. If you don’t know how to use Captivate, Lectora, Articulate, or one of the other great instructional design software packages, you are up a creek.  Add the mobile factor in it, and considering that not all software packages– for e-learning or tech comm– have kept up with the mobile revolution…it really makes things difficult, to say the least.

My main argument is that if you learn one package, more than likely you can figure out the others–there’s just a slight learning curve.  Bringing back that MS Word example again, up until the time that I started using MS Word, I was a diehard WordPerfect user, and had used that for many, many years. (Okay, you can stop with the old jokes now!) Because I understood how to use WordPerfect, I understood how to do word processing, and it was just a matter of learning which types of buttons or commands were the same, and which ones were different. I haven’t used WordPerfect for many years, but I’d bet you that I could figure out whatever the latest version is, simple because I know how to use a word processor in general.

I’m not promoting any specific product here–I mean, I’m willing to learn any of them! Part of what holds me back is the cost. It’s expensive to try to buy these packages, even with my student discount when applicable. I was looking at one of these software packages just today, and for a single license it was $1000.00! Really? I supposed if I was in business for myself and I already knew the software, I could consider it an investment and make it a business write-off in my taxes the following year. But a thirty-day trial isn’t long enough in most cases, or they are limited as they will only allow you to use the product, but not save your work. Or, let’s say you have one of those thirty-day trials with full access, and you get hooked, but then you can’t afford the software. What good is any of that? You can see why this would be incredibly frustrating to a fledgling technical communicator.

So, if I am to learn any software products, and I can’t spend a fortune to buy all of them, which ones are the best to learn that would allow me to adapt to other software packages easily? Should I learn Flare, or should I learn Framemaker and Robohelp? Should I learn Captivate, Lectora or Articulate? These are all industry leaders. But for all I know, some other product might work better and be the best at teaching me how to be adaptable to all of these.

Any suggestions? Please comment!

This topic totally exhausts me.

 

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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