As noted on Thursday, I attended the 2018 STC Summit last week, with the dual purpose of learning what the tech writing community was talking about as well as collect additional information for my tech writing book project. I received some interesting inputs!
I took a different approach with my hallway discussions and Twitter requests for feedback. In addition to reaching out to my target audience…
I also decided to speak with professionals closer to my own age (40+) to see what they had to say about skill or behavioral gaps among individuals new to the tech writing field:
From the Seasoned Professionals…
The first person I spoke with, who worked as a lead technical writer with a medical device company, expressed her concerns about younger employees not being able to write well, not being adaptable, and not knowing how to use the tools of the trade (e.g., style manuals).
Another person in the same conversation (Jackie, a business systems analyst) expressed concerns about students coming out of universities not really knowing how tech writing was practiced (“They think they know, but they don’t”). She also didn’t like the “academic” style of writing students come out of the English department using. She noted the challenges many technical communicators who are non-native English speakers have in working from source documents that are in English. “They are having to translate the English into their own language to understand it, then compose their content in their native language and retranslate that back into English.” The best advice she could offer in that situation was for non-native English speakers to try obtaining source documents already written in their own language.
Ryan, a technical writer for an insurance firm, pointed out the importance of young people having a basic understanding of personal finance: balancing checkbooks, saving for retirement, etc.
From the Young Professionals…
Lakisha, a technical writer contractor for a government agency, observed that college really doesn’t prepare people for dealing with differing business cultures. “For example, the military has a very strong male-dominated culture. It’s not about the [tech writing] craft, it’s about the environment.” She did point out that a lot of the cultural lessons are not learned until you get into the workplace.
Leanne, a technical writer with an accounting firm, said, “You need to be stronger. In college, people are generally more supportive. In the workforce, you’re on your own. You have to learn to stand up for yourself. College really doesn’t teach you how to get your point across and fight for your ideas.”
Taylor, a graphic designer, did not get as much training in school using software tools for doing the job. While he was told that “You’ll learn that on the job,” he felt it would have been helpful to get a better background in the tools.
Morgan, a communications and outreach writer, noted that while her education allowed her to adjust well to the high-performing customer she supports, it could come across as off-putting or condescending outside of that environment. “I have to listen to others more.”
I also had a general discussion with the folks at my lunch table. Unfortunately, I didn’t get everyone’s name (my apologies). They included a couple of non-traditional students (one in her late 20s, one in his 40s), and an individual who was employed as a technical writer and also had background as a college professor.
The college professor indicated that universities didn’t teach the social component of technical writing much, meaning things like running a meeting, networking, interviewing subject matter experts, or personal finance.
The younger student also felt she was misinformed by being told, “You’ll learn that on the job.” She stated that English departments focused heavily on creative writing take a disdainful view of the business world, seeing it as less important than the act of writing. In fact, she observed that many teachers and students stigmatized any association with business.
The other non-traditional student (Mark) felt that students were not well served by not receiving any education in science or technology. “Engineers are not likely to answer basic questions,” so it was important that young professionals make an effort to get smart on their subject matter before applying or working with subject matter experts (SMEs).
I see some interesting additional topics to cover in this blog (and the book). I appreciate everyone’s input!