Alternate Lines of Work

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a piece on alternative fields of business for technical communicators. That’s all well and good, but what I really wanted to write about–and what I shall try to write about now–are alternative jobs for technical communicators. It is possible, after all, for a writer to get burned out on writing. Even if you completely change the topic, you’re still writing for a living. So where else can you go with your technical communicator’s portfolio and/or English degree and you don’t (like a friend of mine) have a burning desire to write the next Great American Novel?

Yes, I’m serious. If you’ve worked around enough managers, you know what you like and what you don’t like in a leader. Perhaps you wish to lead a group of writers, marketeers, or other communicators–a group of people with like minds–but you want to provide the sort of management that you wished you’d had. You might see management as an opportunity to mentor and build up the careers of others.

Project Management
This is slightly different from general management, in that you would be leading groups to accomplish specific outcomes. This isn’t too far from your expertise if you’ve ever had to deliver a very large document on a tight schedule. You learn or teach yourself the necessary survival skills to get the thing done when it’s due. Often you have to deliver your product (proposals are a typical example) with inputs from others. Everyone’s funneling their content to you–guess what? You’re a project manager! The Project Management Institute offers entire courses that enable you to get certified in the discipline.

Programming/Web Design
This is usually a good outlet for technical writers who have worked in the IT or web world for awhile. You’ve seen it done, you’ve gotten a good handle on what works and what doesn’t, and you’ve had to dig into the code to understand what’s going on when users have problems. Perhaps you’ve dabbled or experimented with code, realized that you have a knack for it as well as a user’s sensibilities for what should NOT be done.

Instructional Systems Design (ISD)
This is the formal process of developing adult learning experiences/classes that teach specific skills. I would differentiate this from teaching in two ways: 1) you’re not necessarily the person up in front of the class facilitating the experience, and 2) the types of courses you’d be developing are often in a corporate, not academic setting. I spent some time in this environment and met some very smart people while doing so, including my favorite mentor. Often people working in the ISD field must educate themselves on the topics being taught (that was my experience, anyway), so you have the opportunity to learn as you go. You also have the opportunity to develop creative/fun ways to help adult learners like you absorb the new material.

Game/Simulation Design
I mentioned this in the other article, but it bears repeating: immersive simulations and video games are only going to get better in the coming years. If you’ve had to write about them from the user’s perspective, you already have a feel for how someone needs to learn in that environment. Or, of course, you happen to play multi-person video games a lot, you know what you like and what more you’d like to see.

Product Design/Development
Let’s say you’ve spent a good deal of time writing tech manuals in various consumer product companies…or you’ve had to write copy for the marketing department for your company. You’re close to the subject matter because you’ve had to spend weeks, months, or years translating the technobabble or marketing speak into plain English. You have probably even developed some well grounded opinions on what’s good and bad in the products you’ve worked with–and you think you can do better. Make the leap!

The bottom line with all of these examples–and there are plenty more–is that if you spend enough time around hardware, software, or other products, you eventually “go native” and become the department’s plain-language expert in the subject matter through sheer repetition. That isn’t to say you could jump right in and, say, start designing rocket engines for NASA. However, you’d have a head start if you decide to take courses that put you on the path to becoming an engineer. (Personally, I think tech writers would make great systems engineers because we often have the most exposure to how different parts of a system fit together, but that’s me.)

Just something to consider. Happy hunting!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in careers. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Alternate Lines of Work

  1. tidaro says:

    Great info and insight. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.