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A TechCommGeekMom Milestone: A baby blog is now a toddler

WOW!

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I think my little blog just grew up a bit. I not only reached the 10,000 all-time hits mark, but even passed it. For a niche blog that’s 13.5 months old, I think that’s pretty amazing! I’m a proud TechCommGeekMom!

Thank you to every person who’s a regular reader, who just popped in once in a while, or who came only once for a visit. 10,000 all-time hits is a lot! Now, I know of blogs that have definitely had more traffic than me, mostly because they are much more hyper-focused on a particular segment of technical communications, like everything you want to know about a particular type of software, everything you want to know about a particular strategy, or else they’ve been around for a long time, so they’ve built up a following after a while. I do not begrudge these people, as they are my inspiration, and in some ways, they have contributed to this blog too through curated content now and then. TechCommGeekMom wants to be like those blogs as it grows up!

I trust that you enjoy what you read, and that you keep coming back for more. I’d like to think that the variety presented here, mixed with my own eccentric flair, brings about a lot of different perspectives of what technical communications is and what it can be. As I’ve said in the past, this blog started out very small, as a grad school project to build a community via social media, and I chose to work on building my tech comm/e-learning/m-learning community. I’m guessing that perhaps–just perhaps–I may have achieved my goal of creating a TechCommGeekMom community, and yet I hope the family will continue to grow. If you have any suggestions or ideas of things you’d like to see here, or if you’d like to contribute a guest post, please let me know!

Many thanks from the bottom of my heart for helping me reach this milestone! This blog is a labor of love, and it has opened so many doors for me, which I hope continue to open! I truly appreciate the support!

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Being a specialist or a generalist? Which is better for a technical communicator?

I feel like I’ve stepped into quite the conundrum by entering the technical communications field. As I continue to search for full-time work, a problem that I seem to find almost everywhere I go is that technical writing jobs in my area seem to require that one be a specialist in their field, or do very, VERY specific types of work. Both before and after my technical communications studies, I had always been taught that with few career exceptions, being a generalist was more often a desired skill set, simply because I couldn’t get stuck in one specific direction and find little to no work. Having a broad range of skills and abilities made one more marketable, flexible, and thus desirable as an employee. I know the last place that I consulted for full-time appreciated that generalist ability of mine, because I ended up being the go-to person for web editing, web design, and general graphics design. There were those who had the title of “web publisher” but didn’t even know basic HTML, and I actually did.

However, I’m finding that as much as I did my best in both my career and my graduate studies to study a broad range of subjects, including social media, e-learning design, content management strategy, UI strategy, and technical writing and editing, to name a few, I end up as a Jack of all trades, but master of none. However, it seems that because I don’t have specifically five years of medical or proposal writing background in XYZ software, I’m useless. I was recently criticized for having an “unfocused” resume because it was so broad. When asked what specialization I wanted to follow, I listed all the subjects I mentioned above and then some others. I feel I have the skills to start out in any of those fields if someone gave me a break to go in any of those specific directions.

One of the things that stuck out in my mind from Adobe Day at Lavacon last month was commentary by the panel at the end of the morning, in which the group said that one of the issues right now in tech comm is that there are too many tech comm specialists instead of tech comm generalists. When I heard that, it was music to my ears, and I felt vindicated for taking the approach I had with my career! I’ve already taken steps–specifically getting a Master’s degree in Professional and Technical Communication–to provide myself with an education on understanding all the available possibilities in the technical communications field, and be able to adapt to it. However, one of the other challenges listed in the panel talk was the general resistance to progressive change. I fear that the resistance to change is far more widespread than anticipated, based on my own experiences. Every job listing and every recruiter I talk to seems to want to pigeonhole me into one specialty, and I don’t want to do that. The reason I went to graduate school was to allow me to gain opportunities beyond my knowledge of content management alone, and allow me to flex my editing, writing, design and e-learning muscles some more.

Perhaps because I’m a “newbie,” I don’t understand this strict adherence to being a specialist in only one kind of tech comm. Becoming a specialist is a double-edged sword. On one side, being able to work in a niche field makes your skills more desirable for that niche. However, on the other side, it limits the kind of work one can do if there are layoffs or one finds him/herself out of work.

Since I’ve been looking for full-time work for almost a year now, I talked to my husband recently about this idea, and questioned whether I should commit more to one particular area of technical communication than another. While I’ve done a lot of content management work, I find it constraining when I want to be able to edit what I see as just plain BAD writing, and I feel limited to not flex my brain muscles on all the things I’ve learned in grad school in the last two years. I’ve tried to immerse myself in the tech comm world and the e-learning world to varying degrees, but again, I find myself as a generalist since I don’t have any job to help me hone my professional focus as of yet. Even so, I wondered if I should just resign myself, and just try to figure out what specialty I should focus on, perhaps in the hopes of increasing my job prospects. After voicing this concern, my husband vehemently disagreed, feeling that it was better just to continue to be able to look at a little bit of everything and do a little bit of everything, as it broadened prospects by giving me multiple directions to follow.

It makes me wonder how other graduates–whether they are from undergraduate or graduate school–find a job at all. How is someone supposed to be able to do a technical communications job with little to no experience? How the heck can they become specialists without first being generalists given a direction from their first jobs? I know I have the flexibility and know-how to go into many jobs, but it’s autobots that read my resume instead of people more often than not, and autobots don’t understand the value of what I can do and my ability to learn on the spot. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this rut, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any flexibility on the part of employers. There are plenty of us who are more than willing to be dedicated employees with a strong skill set foundation, and we aren’t given a chance.

So, what is better? Being a specialist or a generalist? Write your opinion in the comments below.

For me, I’m still torn, and my problem is that if I do need to be a specialist, I don’t know what direction to follow, because I like so many aspects of tech comm. Should I find work as a full-time blogger, pursue my desire to be an instructional designer, go back to content publishing and management, become a technical evangelist, become a teacher or trainer…or what?

(If you know of any telecommuting/remote jobs or jobs in the Central NJ area along these lines, let me know!)

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Hard Work and Persistence (Who Says OCD Is a Bad Thing?) Pays Off! : How I won an iPad

As someone who participated in Adobe’s TechComm Conundrum contest on Facebook, I can confidently say that it was not for the faint of heart! It combined one of my favorite topics—technical communications—with the thrill a researcher gets when hunting for clues. Many of my favorite television shows and movies often combine finding historical facts and clues to find a treasure of some sort at the end, whether it be an “ah-hah!” piece of important information, or some physical prize at the end.  As it turns out for me, it was a matter of having both at the end of my journey!

The TechComm Conundrum, for those who did not participate, was a series of questions and clues to learn more about technical communication history, as well as Adobe’s role in technical communications, on the way to find Adobe’s missing employee, Tina.  Being that I was trained to do research while I was a graduate student at NJIT’s MSPTC program, I knew that sometimes answers would be very obvious, and sometimes I would have to read between the lines.

Like many who did participate, I hit some brick walls along the way.  Many of the answers were right in the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4 videos, blog, and product page. Other answers required deeper searching, and using extensive Google searches, I found the information I needed. Some responses were more obvious than others, and I admit I learned a few new things about the technical communications field and its fantastic history. It made me proud to call myself a technical communicator, and reinforced the idea that I was glad to be a part of this field. It was fun.

For those who got that far but got stuck, like I did initially, the last question was the trickiest of all. Finding a connection between a photo of actors Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, the logo of FrameMaker, and a photo of produce at a market was daunting.  I found a connection between the actors, as they were all in the film titled, “The Kids Are Alright.”  But beyond that, I couldn’t figure out what that had to do with a photo of vegetables or FrameMaker.  I tried so many combinations of ideas to figure out the answer, and wasn’t getting very far. I wrote down all the answers on a sticky note by my computer, and for at least a good week, I would enter all the answers for the questions and get stumped at the last one.

Finally, I decided to look more carefully at FrameMaker’s history to see if that would yield any clues.  It was Wikipedia that finally yielded the clue I was seeking. In Wikipedia’s first line of the history of FrameMaker, it explains that FrameMaker’s original author, Charles “Nick” Corfield, designed FrameMaker to be a WYSIWYG document editor. Wait…WYSIWYG…that acronym stands for “What You See Is What You Get.” My mind started racing, as that’s an acronym I like to often use myself. Was it really that simple in the end? I was told later (after the contest) that Mark Ruffalo’s character in the movie owned a restaurant called “WYSIWYG”, although I didn’t know that since I hadn’t seen the movie. Nonetheless, I tried the acronym as my response, and gingerly hit the “Enter” button on my laptop to submit it.

EUREKA! That was it! The explorer finally had her “ah-hah” moment! There was true joy in deciphering something that was still stumping everyone else still playing. So, yesterday, when I found out that I had actually won one of the “grand prizes”—a new iPad—I was actually thrilled. I was informed that only two people—I was one of them—figured it out. The hard work to crack the code paid off!

Hopefully, Adobe will bring this contest back as a fun game, as I think the quiz is great for new technical communicators to learn about the rich history of the technical communications.  Talk about your active learning exercises through e-learning! (And I’ll bet it was created on Captivate, which is a featured product within Technical Communications Suite 4, too.)

Thanks, Adobe for such a fun ride—and the iPad!