I read an interesting article (which is itself a response to another article) that discusses how data analysis companies define themselves (or are defined) by the software-consulting spectrum. Basically, will the company be more focused on training users and sending them off to analyze their data, or will the company focus on a high-touch model where consultants do most of the work?
Almost 17 years ago, I had my last annual review at my first job as a technical writer. My manager was on maternity leave, and months of bad news about the company (caused by illegal financial manipulation) led to poor morale and attrition. But this post isn’t about that.
I was recently approached by a company that recognizes that they have a knowledge management problem. They’ve just realized that there’s a lot of information held by individuals, and they need someone to solve the problem of insufficiently distributed information before it gets too big to handle.
This is great, and I love it when companies realize this (not least because it keeps me employed). But then I thought about times I’ve encountered people who zealously guard the information they’ve collected. This is bad. This is expensive. And there’s no excuse for it.
I hate the phrase “it’s not my job.” It’s something I’ve heard in the darker corners of large companies, and it’s a big reason why I exchanged security for the chaos of smaller companies. That phrase is loaded with a lazy, irresponsible attitude and flags the shiftless lout uttering those words as a roadblock as clearly as any safety orange traffic barrier festooned with flashing lights.
It’s also a mantra that I’m trying to embrace.
At the beginning of the year, I reviewed the goals that I set for last year. The results were hugely disappointing. I hadn’t fulfilled any of them to the degree that I’d hoped. I had started making progress on a few of them, but I was never able to make enough progress to consider any of them a success.
I was in a career situation that wouldn’t allow me to succeed in the way that I wanted to. I was frustrated and looking for a change, and found an interesting opportunity.
But not as a technical writer.
A big part of a technical communicator’s job is research. The information we use to create content comes from a wide variety of sources: technical specs, product research documents, business proposals, white papers, internal wikis, customer support tickets…
And even from actual people. There’s lot of good info locked away in our coworkers’ heads. Getting to that info isn’t always easy, but I’m honestly surprised how often one question comes up both in interviews and in discussions with other tech writers: “How do you work with engineers?”
It’s been a month of organizational changes at work. Actually, just a particularly chaotic month, after about 5-6 months of changes. Which is stressful in general, and I’m finding it also saps my will to blog, and leaves me with few new things to blog about. The “document the product” part of my job has taken a distant third place to customer support and establishing a training program.
It also means that I have to make decisions about what I want to do. And, again, stop being a damn hero and trying to do everything every day. I want to be a “working manager”: Leading a team, but also doing a bit of day-to-day work (content development, ideally, but that could also include customer support). And although it’s different from when I started as a tech writer, it seems like the working manager is now the norm.
Connie Giordano has an interesting take (and a reader poll) on technical writing as a craft vs. a commodity. She’s writing something of a rebuttal to my post about the same topic. When I checked before posting this, the results were tilting towards “Tech writing is a hybrid profession,” slightly ahead of “Heck yes we’re craftspeople!” I voted for “hybrid” even though I’m not entirely sure what that means. But I think it’s closer to my argument.
Continue reading “Responding to Craft vs. Commodity”
In my last post, I suggested a few reasons why technical writing is dying. And it is, at least as a career with a single focus on writing documentation for end users.
What’s happening, and what do we need to do?
For a few years now, I’ve been worrying about the future of technical communication as a career. Not that user docs will disappear (as much as most people might want that), but techcomm as a unique job title, as opposed to one of many tasks that someone might have. I remember hearing Noz Urbina telling us that we were doomed, back at Lavacon 2012. And I attended a few webinars at that time that were also very negative about future prospects.
They’re right: We’re doomed. Pack up your pens and find another use for that English degree.