The Bear Grylls of Technical Communications?

My techcomm, m-learning, and e-learning friends–I need to advise you of a painful truth about the world. It’s rough out there. The world economy has been such a mess for the last five years or so, and it’s been slow to recover from the bad times. At least from my own experiences, I can say that just in the last three and a half years alone, I was laid off, unemployed, working, then laid off again to now where I’m semi-working (working part-time, just finished school) and have a few projects, but nothing that’s long term as of yet. In other words, it’s a jungle out there, and I know from first hand experience that technical communicators need to be survivalists out there, like Bear Grylls or Les Stroud (SurvivalMan). Just like those on that show, “Survivor,” we need to outwit, outplay and outlast others to stay in the game. One has to start thinking out of the box as to how to continue in the world as a technical communicator.

Within the last two days, I encountered two things that addressed this very notion. The first was an article by Miriam Lottner, who writes the Documentation Management and Technical Writing Blog for Tech-Tav Documentation, Ltd. in Israel. She wrote an article called, “Getting to the top and staying there” that addressed the issue of technical communicators looking for jobs where she lives. As someone who contracts technical writers herself, she addressed what she looks for and what she feels are skills that are needed to get ahead today in the technical communications field. She recounted a story of being able to place a person for a very specific project because they had skills that others did not have. The main point of her article was that to stay ahead, one needs to push away the obsolete skills that nobody wants to know anymore, and brush up on or learn new skills, because technology is always changing. She even mentions that she is in the process of writing a book about HTML5 to help other learn and get ahead. (I’m looking forward to getting a copy! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Miriam on Skype, and she’s a sharp cookie who loves techcomm, so I’m sure the book is going to be fabulous!)

Fast forward a day, where I was at the home of a fellow member of the Society of Technical Communications (STC-Philly), along with some other local NJ members, and we sat together to listen to a virtually shared meeting presented by the STC-NYC chapter. The NYC chapter was having speakers Ross Squire and Donna Timpone present a talk called, “Technical Communications: Your Annual Career Tune-Up.” It was an interesting presentation, because while there were great tips to remind those who were participating about making networking connections, it was emphasized that with technology moving so quickly these days, it really benefitted technical communicators to get out and learn new skills. Going back to school or taking an online course on something new was encouraged to not only boost one’s skills and provide someone with additional experience that could be brought into a new job, but the use of social media to make networking connections was also important. Being passive doesn’t work anymore if you are looking for employment of any kind, whether it’s to move up or just find something at all. Staying on top of the game is what is key these days. A key point to Ross’ and Donna’s talk was that e-learning and m-learning, both in acquiring information and putting out information was going to be vital. In other words, being on both the receiving and sending sides and understanding those roles will be crucial. Understanding and participating in social learning is highly important. In other words, if you want to play the game, you have to start gaining the survival skills.

In reading Miriam’s article, and listening to Ross and Donna, I felt a certain satisfaction knowing that in many respects, I’m on the right track with getting my own career started. Less than 3 years ago when I got laid off the first time, I started taking matters into my own hands by starting with my online courses for a graduate certificate in technical communications essentials. I’m glad I kept up with my classes, because now I’ve been laid off again for a while, but I’m about to graduate with my Masters degree in technical communication, and after looking at trends and issues in techcomm, e-learning, and m-learning, I feel like I’m ready to get out there. It may be a little rough and bumpy sometimes, and no doubt I’ll be on my own to struggle to survive, but I believe I have what it takes, and I will be a tech comm survivor. Heck, while I’ve finished my classes and have yet to still get my Masters degree in my hands in a few days, I’ve already started boosting my skills set with learning some new software that will be coming in handy as I move forward with my career in the near future. Learning never ends. If I hadn’t taken some courses or taught myself other IT skills years ago, I wouldn’t even be where I am now.

(Addendum: Look above at the ID/TC Educational Resources if you are looking for some ideas of further e-learning, m-learning or tech comm learning!)

The Boy Scouts have among their important mottos the saying, “Be prepared.” This is so vital these days.

So, do you have what it takes to be the Bear Grylls of technical communications? If not, you need to do some boot camp training soon….

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who currently consults for Cox Automotive, Inc., and freelances as her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, BASF North America, Merck, and Deloitte, 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,, 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. She is very active in the STC, as a former chapter president for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, and is currently serving on three STC Board committees. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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