Newsletter of the Society for Technical Communication, San Francisco Chapter
Although the conventional view of a technical communicator as a writer of computer manuals may still represent the mainstream of the profession, July's speaker, Lu Rehling, Director of the Technical and Professional Writing Program (TPW) at San Francisco State University, explained at that many of the program's former students have found less traditional technical communications jobs. These alternate jobs may pay better and involve tasks such as:
Rehling went on to detail the alternate career paths of six of the TPW Program's graduates.
"Isadora K.," a writer whose ethical concerns prohibited her from working in the computer, biotech or financial fields, eventually found work at a university publication office in the East Bay. In developing informational and promotional materials (such as annual police reports) for this college, Isadora draws upon her skills in research, writing, FrameMaker and Adobe Creative Suite.
"Barry Q." came to the program as a highly paid and high-profile accountant consultant for management firm, but wanted to get out of the corporate world entirely. He pursued a TPW certificate focusing on primarily on grant-writing, but in the process he discovered that professional documentation writing interested him. He took an internship at an arts organization, the type of work he had previously envisioned. Since his accounting and managerial background had given him a sharp eye for technical and organization detail, he quickly mastered non-profit governance and budgeting. Barry now works for a political action committee in San Francisco as a Foundations Manager, overseeing a team who do grant-writing, reporting and media relations.
Another student, "Sharon C.," a divorced homemaker with children, envisioned herself working from home as a editor. She really enjoyed online help development, however, and, after graduating, accepted a position doing that for a software company. She then started a business website with a partner, focusing on internationalizing retail sales. They now consult exclusively.
Following a very traditional technical communicator career, "Frances W.," was hired as an editor for a large biotech company in East Bay. After learning electronic document management and compliance requirements, she was promoted within a couple of years to managing the critical systems used by the scientists there.
Finally, "Cecil H." entered the program after having been a process server and paralegal. He completed the certificate in record time and began pursuing a typical career path in software development. In his interviewing subject matter experts, he met a large number of people whom he impressed with his attention to detail. He was promoted first into internal affairs communication, and, after demonstrating proficiency with graphic design and desktop publishing, to a specialized division, which doesn’t share with the general public, but instead with scientists outside the organization.
What these stories teach us is that technical communication competencies are foundational and flexible; remember to sell yourself as a problem solver as well as a technical communicator. Move towards quantitative outcome assessments similar to return on investments: show that your efforts yielded measurable results. Never underestimate the writing needs and writing insecurities of others.
Keith A. Albert is a technical writer in the Bay area.