So, what’s ahead in Tech Comm for 2013?

Mathematician working on calculus equationShortly after the obligatory reviews of 2012 come the obligatory predictions about 2013. Sometimes such predictions are on target, and sometimes the predictions are rather ludicrous. One has to admit, though, some of the ludicrous ones do become true, and some can be purely entertaining.

So what are my predictions for 2013? Good question. I don’t really have any idea.

The past year has been a total whirlwind for me. As I mentioned in my last post, so many things happened to me that were unexpected, and there was so much more information learned than was expected that I wouldn’t know where to begin to make such predictions.

It’s also the time of year that one makes resolutions. As we know, most people have a difficult time sticking to New Year’s resolutions. I am no different. If I could keep a resolution, I would look like a supermodel. 😉 Instead, I try to set goals instead of resolutions. Goals are more realistic, because like resolutions, they are usually for some sort of better condition in one’s life, but there aren’t always time limitations as to when this goal will be achieved. I was determined to get my Master’s degree in two years. It took two and a half years, but I still attained my goal. You get the idea.

Most of my goals this year related to doing things around my house that have been waiting for years, such as remodeling my 30 year old kitchen, or putting new carpeting on the stairs. I’m also trying to see if I can try to travel more this year, because that one whirlwind trip to Portland, Oregon for Adobe Day was exciting for me, and it gave me a break from the humdrum of regular life while infusing my brain with new, uselful information.  I am hoping that I can get to the STC Summit this year, but I have to see about that–it’s not cheap if you haven’t been working for a while, and you don’t have a company to pay for it. It’s on the U.S. East Coast this year, which makes the travel itself easier and more affordable, but the conference–even the early bird rates–are a lot for a newbie technical communicator. But, I’m hoping with the new job, I’ll be able to afford it. Time will tell. I’ve also set a goal that I want to go back to the UK for a visit. I love that country, and haven’t been in twenty-one years. I found out that I have a cousin that lives in London who is an educational technologist, so catching up with her in person rather than through Facebook should be fun.

But what about professionally? I start my new job as a Web Publisher on January 3rd. I’m excited, nervous and anxious all at the same time. I’m always like this when I start a new job. It’s that, “What did I get myself into?” feeling that just about everyone gets. Don’t get me wrong–I think this is going to be a great opportunity for me, but after being out of full-time work for so long, it’s going to take some adjustment to get back into the swing of things. I’m sure I can do the job and do it well. It’s just the “newness” of it all that gets me. Some find that feeling exciting, but it’s nerve-wracking for me until I truly understand my role. I want to do well, after all. So since my job is supposed to involve a lot with content management, some writing, some web design, and even a little bit of videography and audio manipulation, it should be good. They are all things I can do well, and look forward to doing. I’ve been told that if I do well, there are other potential projects beyond this one I’ve been hired for, so I want to do well. I am excited to be a full-fledged technical communicator now after waiting in the wings for a while.

So, as far as predictions, I can’t make any, but perhaps I can make suggestions–specifically suggest some technical communication goals for consideration for the next year, based on what I’ve learned in the past year.

First, THINK MOBILE. This is foremost. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for e-learning/m-learning or just for simple websites, mobile is essential going forward. I think a lot of companies are in denial of this, thinking that tablets and smartphones are a fad, but they really aren’t. I don’t have specific stats anywhere (and feel free to contribute them in the comments if you have them), but I feel like I’ve read that smartphones outnumber landlines worldwide now, and mobile devices are used much more than desktop-style devices as well.  On the road, more people are likely to bring a tablet and/or smartphone than a laptop for basic information that they need to obtain. But, as we all know as technical communicators, mobile devices are not laptop replacements necessarily, so we need to write accordingly for this different devices. A huge portion of 2012 seemed to show me that tools like Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite 4 (see more information in the top right column) and other software tools are keeping up with the times, and providing HTML5 support as well as providing single-source solutions for both desktop and mobile content. As technical communicators, we need to push the agenda that these kinds of tools are essential to more efficient workflows for us, but also are an investment in content management as well.

Related to that, as technical communicators, there’s a real need to push the use of better content. There is always some crossover between marketing communications and technical communications, but in the end, from my own experience, technical communicators have a better edge in managing and writing content. No offense, mar comm writers, but there’s a point–in my view–that marketing communications gets a little too fluffy. It’s too much about the sales and gimmicky verbiage instead of really giving customers the information they need to make informed choices about products and services. Advertising is one thing, but if a customer is going to a website or app to get more information, it’s because they want INFORMATION, not a sales pitch. I’m a consumer, and I’ve also been a consumer advocate in my career, so I’ve been on both sides of this, and I have to side with the consumer on this one. A sales pitch can initially draw a content consumer into your website or app, but once that is done, you want that consumer to be either able to come back, or provide such excellent information that they don’t come back. If there’s good support provided on a site with pertinent information, then there’s customer satisfaction. It’s that simple. And yet, so many companies don’t completely realize this. I don’t know how many companies I’ve seen where the writing is…well…not up to par (to be polite), and I didn’t have the permission to fix it to be more succinct and to the point to help the consumer or audience of the content. It frustrated me to no end. And yet, when I’d try to explain to authority figures that the writing going on wasn’t working well because it was too long winded and needed to be pared down for easier reading while still getting the main points across, I was ignored.  There was a Beastie Boys song called, “You’ve Got to Fight For Your Right to Party!”, and it relates to this, as it makes me think that technical communicators need to fight for their right to, well, do their jobs! We have the skills and know-how, and we can help to elevate companies that should be cutting edge to that level. I can think of so many companies that think they are cutting edge and are actually way behind instead,  very much in denial. Or, for whatever reason, companies would not invest in the technical communications of the company when that’s where the money would be well spent.

I get very excited about technical communications because while it’s been a field that’s been around for about 100 years (give or take a few years), it still is working to earn the full respect that it needs. With technological advances, technical communicators have huge opportunities to really show what they can do. Right now, with the huge and quick advances made in mobile technology especially in the last few years, this is definitely a time when technical communicators can shine. We have to exert and advocate for ourselves to carve out our place more definitively. We need to adapt to the changing environments to make sure that we are not expendible, but rather necessities. We need to be multi-specialists rather than specialists.

I’m sure you get the idea by now. These concepts are what have been driven into me by the best of the best in the tech comm business in the last year, and I know this is what need to move technical communications forward.  When I entered my MSPTC program at NJIT three years ago, one of the motivating factors for entering the program and continuing with the program was not only the subject matter, but predictions that the technical communications field was going to have a big surge. I want to be part of that wave, and be one of the movers and shakers of the movement. I’m hoping that all technical communicators reading this will look at the new year as an opportunity to help shake things up in the world using the skills that we have. Whether we promote m-learning, single-source content management, or just emphasize clearer, better writing, our mission is clear. Make content better for ALL consumers of information. Make this your New Year’s goal– no matter how big or small your contribution is, make your content BETTER.

If goals like that can be achieved, THAT will be what’s ahead for Tech Comm in 2013.

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, 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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