Ideal Second Career

Changes in the economy often mean unexpected layoffs and situations that prompt one to think of a career change. Technical communication is a profession that allows you to leverage your prior background and training into a new career.

No matter what industry you worked in, you can take those skills and reapply them in a new way, by becoming a technical writer, a usability specialist, a content provider, or an instructional designer.

Has the market for bakers shrunk? Consider the equipment used by professional bakers, and others in the food service industry. It all needs documentation. Manufacturers of food service and restaurant equipment need website content, interface advice, and even training materials.

With existing knowledge of any field, you can transition easily into a new career writing and developing information about that industry.

Technical communication relies on skills that involve plain language and procedural writing, researching, interviewing, audience analysis, and project management. Good communication skills are necessary, but do not have to be Governor General’s Award-winning calibre. It is sufficient to be able to write clearly, concisely, logically, and appropriately. It is more important to target information correctly for the audience than select a poetic turn of phrase.

The writing and facility with technology can be taught. Seneca’s 1-year program in Technical Communication teaches the basic skills, tools, and approaches needed by technical communicators. The certificate you receive upon graduation from the program indicates to employers that you have the processes, skills and understanding to communicate complex, technical information to a range of audiences, no matter what the industry.

In good times or in bad, communication is always required, and practitioners who know how to get a message across to the target audience are always valued.


Building Bridges

Technical communicators are always building bridges — between technology and its users, between content and design, and between groups or individuals so that the flow of information can be smooth and easy. In that way, we are always making connections. We connect people with the information they need to solve a problem, perform a task or answer a question. We often connect people with other people, even though there may be another type of interface between them.

Continually standing in the gap, as it were, we see both sides of a situation. We are also very familiar with the chasm that can exist between information and understanding. If you’ve ever fallen into that chasm yourself — flailing helplessly because you don’t “get” whatever it is you’re supposed to be getting — you know how much of a relief it is to finally have that dawn of understanding when the lightbulb goes on and what you’ve been struggling with makes sense.

That’s a situation our students confront all the time. From their own uncertainties, they forge structures that help them get from the unknown to the known. Learning to build those bridges makes them very effective at creating similar structures for their readers and users. It is our empathy with our target audience that helps us correctly choose and shape the information we convey so that it does the job intended.

You don’t have to be an engineer to be a good technical communicator, but it helps to be able to think like one.


Seeing the Big Picture

High tech companies have a lot of moving parts. There are numerous projects on the go, multiple teams at work, different divisions to oversee company operations, and the need to continually keep one eye on what’s going on outside the company as much as what’s going on inside it. It’s very easy to lose sight of the big picture with all those details to manage.

Technical communicators are often among the few people in an organization who really do see the big picture. The reason for that is because we routinely talk to other teams and departments within the company. Our work may be anchored in the development department, but because it has implications for other areas such as sales, marketing, customer support, and training, we have to develop relationships with these other stakeholders. We talk to them, and we find out about the aspects of our project that affect their deliverables.

When questions arise, who better to answer them than the technical communicator who not only can explain things clearly, but who literally “wrote the book” on the product. No one knows it better than we do, because we’ve seen it from the inside as well as the outside.

Technical communicators also are adept at facilitating communication. Even if the discussion is about something other than the product we’re working on, we help by ensuring understanding. We might pipe up with the questions that everyone is thinking but are too reticent to ask. It’s our nature, and our job, to be bold in order to get information for our users. In a group situation, we often act as the user advocate and take a kind of responsibility for ensuring that everyone is getting the message.

If you don’t have technical communicators in your organization, what else are you missing?


Gadget Junkie Heaven

  • If you were the kid who took all her toys apart to see how they worked…
  • If you love to browse the tools, products, and gadgets in every Big Box store you see…
  • If your version of the ideal present is something that whirrs, clicks, or runs on electricity…
  • If you’re an inveterate tinkerer…

…You might be a Technical Communicator!

Many of us get into this profession because it gives us access to technology in many forms. We have the mandate, if not the divine right, to fiddle with new products or investigate technology we’ve never seen before.

FACTOID: HALF of the top 10 blogs are about gadgets and technology.

To be a good technical communicator, you must have an unending curiosity about how things work, but more than that, you care about how they work for people.

Knowing that technology is only as good as it is usable, meaning that it allows someone to accomplish their objectives with it, we explore and assess new gadgets to make sure they do what we need them to do. And then we write about it. We communicate what we’ve learned about the technology so that others can use it better.

And sometimes, we read instructions just for fun.