First Certified Professional Technical Communicator

Professor Beth Agnew, Seneca College, has become one of the first in the world to receive the new Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC)™ designation from the Society for Technical Communication.

“It’s a great step forward for our profession,” says Agnew. “For 40 years our organization has been trying to hit the moving target of what it means to be a technical communicator. Our skills have changed rapidly along with technology and the many ways of communicating it. Finally, this past year the STC settled on our core competencies.”

Certification requires expert evaluation of demonstrated skills in 9 areas that cover user, task and experience analysis, information design, information development, information production, and process management. It includes a commitment to honour a code of conduct and professional ethics.

Long a skilled and qualified professional, Agnew and others awarded the CPTC™ are now recognized on a par with MCSE, PMP, CGA, and other “Registered” or “Certified” experts.

“It’s exciting that our professional organization now can grant official acknowledgement of our skills that employers and clients can rely upon,” she says.

“Our profession is very broad,” says Agnew. “We deal with all aspects of usability, user assistance, product and content development, customer relationships, and information architecture. That’s a tall order. Technical communicators make significant contributions to improving a company’s bottom line by reducing customer support costs and making technology easier to use and understand.”

Technical communicators are industry independent, working as easily in aerospace and engineering as banking, manufacturing and science, though some specialize in their particular areas of interest.

“Practitioner backgrounds are as varied as our workplaces,” notes Agnew. “Ideal for career changers, your existing knowledge and experience are leveraged into communicating about technology to achieve specific results.”

Agnew’s background?

“Fine Arts,” she laughs. “Specifically, Fiction Writing, but that hasn’t hindered me working for NASA, the Geological Survey of Canada or MDS Sciex.”

Professor Agnew is the co-ordinator of the Seneca College one year post-graduate program in Technical Communication and teaches courses in information technology, web-based training and multimedia. The program is focused on giving students a solid foundation in the areas that will be required for certification when they’ve met the experience requirements.

“All you need are an affinity for technology and some writing ability. New grads facing competition for jobs from all their classmates with the same English, Liberal Arts, Computer, or Science degree can take our program in technical communication and quickly differentiate themselves from their competitors. Plus they get co-op work experience that helps launch their new careers.”

Since 1998, the Seneca Tech Comm Program has been graduating skilled technical communicators who have gone on to work for companies such as IBM, RIM, Siemens Milltronics, TD Bank, Mount Sinai Hospital, engineering firms and government ministries.

“Technical Communication is a very rewarding profession,” says Agnew. “When we do our jobs right, it’s completely transparent. We work behind the scenes, and few realize there’s been a technical communicator involved. The only evidence is that products are easier to use, information much easier to understand, and customers are more satisfied with their purchases.”

“Every company can benefit from having a technical communicator on the payroll.”

For more information on the Technical Communication Program, and to apply, see http://www.senecacollege.ca/fulltime/TECC.html. Contact the Society for Technical Communication at http://stc.org.

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#STC11 – STC Summit 2011

Technical communicators from around the world gathered recently in Sacramento, California for the 2011 STC Summit. While the big news included STC Certification and the emergence of media-rich content in ebooks and ePub format, many of the perennial topics such as single-sourcing, localization, and content management were given a social media facelift and placed in the context of technology trends.

To summarize, we’re doing the same things, really, just a little bit differently, and with “funner” toys!

Attendees tweeted about sessions they were in, driven by their affinity for tech gadgets and their habit of being early adopters. iPads and smart phones were in abundance. The sense of community had already been engendered by pre-conference contact via Zerista.

Superb conference organization had the keynote by Tim O’Reilly on Sunday evening, with an information-packed slate of sessions starting first thing Monday morning.

If the Summit is any indication, there is much for technical communicators to be optimistic about in the coming years. We are establishing footholds in the User Experience (UX) arena, where we have long labored. We are being recognized as the content experts that we always have been. And we are leading the way in adapting to new realities as technology changes and improves.

It’s a great time to be a technical communicator, and the future looks very bright indeed.

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What You Can Do as a Technical Communicator

Listen to the podcast, download the handout, and review the PowerPoint given by Beth Agnew at the STC Career Day, Sep 25, 2010.

In this presentation, Beth talks about the many roles technical communicators can fill, the types of work they do, and the value they add to any organization. She likens them to “Swiss Army Knife” employees, able to use their multiple skills to do a variety of jobs.

 

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Why You Need a Technical Communicator

Every company should have at least one technical communicator. A technical communicator (technical writer) is a valuable addition to the team in any organization, especially one in the scientific, medical, or high tech industry.

Technical communicators:

  • Facilitate communication
  • Translate technical language into plain language
  • Document processes and procedures
  • Communicate technical & scientific developments to a lay audience
  • Help turn information into knowledge

The techwriter gets to know the market (audience, users) and works with marketing and sales to provide information that assists them in reaching the market with clear, easy to understand information. This is particularly important if complicated scientific, medical or technical information is involved, or if you need to explain policies or procedures. As experts in plain language writing, techwriters help demystify things like contracts and difficult procedures.

If new products are in development, technical writers work with the development team to document every aspect of the new product or service. This information then becomes manuals of instruction, training materials, and website content.

Technical communicators are very technically adept. We can quickly get up to speed with technologies we have never seen before, and we use a variety of leading edge technologies to communicate with our audiences.

When creating or improving a website, a technical communicator works with the web designer (who makes the site pretty) and the web developer (who programs the site and makes it work) to make the content and navigation easy to understand and usable (usability refers to the viewers ability to accomplish goals with the site).

Technical communicators are one of the few people in a company who interface with nearly every department within that company. We routinely work with customer support to ensure they have up to date information to help customers with problems. We work with quality assurance to perform user testing, standing in for the user with our expert knowledge. Consequently, technical writers can reduce customer support costs and help improve a company’s relationship with their customers. We work with marketing, to share information about the market or end user. We work with sales, contributing to sales literature and getting to understand the customer.

Technical writers are industry-independent. While you may find one with a specific background that is more relevant to your industry, a technical writer with a degree in Fine Arts is just as capable as one with a degree in Engineering when it comes to simplifying complex things. It is more important to look at the writing, editing, and consultation skills a techwriter brings to the table.

Further, technical communicators are skilled in project management, because they drive their own documentation projects in concert with any service or product development projects, and they have good people skills, being able to interview subject matter experts, as well as being able to develop rapport with a company’s customer base.

Technical communicators have skills in:

  • Project Management
  • Leadership
  • Interviewing
  • Publishing
  • Human Resources
  • Management & Budgeting
  • General Business Skills
  • Negotiation, Risk Management, etc.

(Add accounting to that and it’s pretty much an MBA!)

If your company has need of any of the following, you should have a technical communicator on staff:

  • User guides
  • White papers
  • Marketing brochures, spec sheets, labels, signs, packaging, press releases
  • Help files
  • Error messages, interface tooltips and labels
  • Installation instructions
  • Usability testing
  • Technology transfer
  • Project documentation
  • Technical reports
  • Web sites
  • E-Learning
  • Corporate videos/documentaries
  • Product demonstrations & trade shows
  • Focus groups & customer advisory boards
  • Single-Sourcing
  • Knowledge management
  • Content management
  • Science writing
  • Customer newsletters
  • Beta testing programs
  • Voice mail script writing
  • E-mail response writing
  • E-book publishing
  • Mass personalization
  • Meeting facilitation, especially video conferencing

Technical communicators are the Swiss Army Knife-employees you can plug in anywhere in your company and have them be productive and add value to your bottom line.

If you’re interested in hiring a technical communicator, contact me or communicate with the local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication in your region.

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We’re Growing!

This September marks our largest ever Tech Comm class at Seneca. One of the reasons for this larger class is the Ontario government’s Second Career initiative which assists people in going back to school to retrain for a new career or upgrade their skills so that they are more employable. It’s a great program, and we are benefiting from having top notch candidates enroll in TECC.

The other reason we’re experiencing a growth in numbers is that our promotional efforts are beginning to pay off. Over the past two years, we have promoted the program through the media, related organizations, and word of mouth. Our current increase in enrollment is due to stronger industry partnerships, closer connections with the Toronto chapter of the STC, increased co-operation and relationship building among departments at Seneca, and leadership that brings all of those parts together into synergy.

I always tell our students that Technical Communication is a relationship-building profession. We need to have excellent relationships with our audience, our Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), our co-developers, our employers and clients, and of course each other. Networking is strong in our profession, not only for obtaining work but for keeping up on trends and new techniques as well.

And it doesn’t hurt to have some friendships among other technical communicators — for those frequent days when being a professional gadly isn’t always as much fun as you might think.

Each of our Tech Comm classes travels through the semesters together. By graduation, firm friendships and professional bonds have formed, laying the foundation for future success. Even though this year’s class is that much larger, I am certain the same bonding will occur. It’s wonderful collaboration, and we all benefit.

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