career exploration tech light writing & editing

Nontechnical sectors employ technical writers

Nontechnical sectors do hire technical writing grads but contrary to the occupation’s name, high-tech workplaces should be the last place you apply.

Reason is that every company produces some form of technical communication. Currently, companies are keen to undertake knowledgebase and transformation projects. The path toward gainful employment follows a series of stepping stones.

So if you contribute to the HR Policy & Procedures manual you can transition from administrative to technical. If you formalize department plans or specifications you can transition to more technical gigs. If you’ve become a SharePoint whiz you can leap from permanent to independent work in IT. And for all the project coordinators out there, if you’ve been picked to orchestrate assignments, schedules and deadlines, then go for project management certification.

Here’s a chart showing what grads from selected Vancouver area schools are doing 10 years later.

A look at what 2004 Vancouver area grads are doing 10 years later
Author’s compilation of stats from LinkedIn


career exploration

Break ice

The topic presented at this month’s professional development meeting was how to make networking easy, or at least a bit easier for technical communicators. From the perspective of an IT practice leader, HR manager, and independent contractor the presenters guided the talk around three phases; breaking the ice, making the connection and following up.

Breaking the ice can be a creative process. I think it can work by verbalizing thoughtful observations. “I like your umbrella; nothing says dreary like the colour orange.”

Making the connection is overcoming a personal inhibition. It’s about starting a conversation and relating what you do. If your elevator pitch elicits dead air then it’s an opportunity to turn the conversation back to the listener. Who doesn’t like to talk about their day?

Following up is what gets you remembered. Don’t hesitate to send a link to an article for your new connection. Also, reinforce why you want to network with that person. “I came for the free coffee. Who knew I’d meet the coffee roaster.”

If breaking the ice just got a bit easier come say Hi to me at the next Meetup.

Break ice, pedal boat style
Break ice, pedal boat style

career exploration writing & editing

STC salary database uses NAICS standard

Finally, my professional organization has published the 2012-2013 salary database. I’m as excited as Steve Martin’s character exclaiming, “The new phonebook’s here! The new phonebook’s here!”

While the STC salary database reports on data collected about US technical communicators, it’s still useful to those of us living and working in Canada. The NAICS standard makes it easier for North American countries to compare business statistics.

Breaking it down

A two-digit NAICS code categorizes an entire economic sector such as Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (71).
A three-digit code represents an industry subgroup such as Performing Arts, Spectator Sports, and Related Industries (711).
A four-digit NAICS code represents a specific industry such as Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers (7115).
Deeper breakdowns specify services (711510 Technical Writer, independent, 541930 Translation services, language) and specialties (511130 Technical manual publishers).

Interestingly, the salary database reports that translation services have maintained employment numbers. We technical writers have yet to recover jobs lost to the 2007-2009 recession. Not to panic though. We’ve gained jobs in these industries:

  • Architectural, Engineering Services
  • Business, Professional, Labor, Political Organizations
  • Employment Services
Engineering Services
  • Information Services
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
  • Semiconductor and Electronic Component Manufacturing
  • Testing Laboratories
  • Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers

Advantage Canada if you’re bilingual.

authors & audience career exploration

Be the flywheel

From time to time I’m asked to talk to groups about career exploration and career development. One thing I accept about longevity in any career is harnessing the energy that feeds it. I use the flywheel to represent that provider of continuous energy. Let me explain…

One’s journey might begin by envisioning an industry you want to work in or adopt as your role model.

To learn more, ask for an information interview. Treat it like a job interview. Gain a business connection from it. Get noticed by initiating ‘a first’, filling a deficiency and respecting connections. 
Along the way gain a body of knowledge and show authenticity while you plot a 3-year plan. As you gather momentum you will encounter conflict, friction, dead ends and deadwood. Anticipate these but keep focused on your 3-year plan. Build partnerships, credit others (blame yourself), pick great successors and remember to nurture talent.

Your accumulated effort pushed in a consistent direction will convert inertia to momentum.

Thanks to Jimmy Zimmerman for conceiving Good to Great animation, and thanks to Jim Collins for verbalizing the flywheel concept.

authors & audience career exploration

My centred life

My identity blurred the day I become chapter president and employed. Leaving only pockets of time to savor summer, I relished one late afternoon, on a rooftop patio, sipping coffee and being interviewed about work.

Let me back up…

STC Canada West Coast recently launched a service that connects senior technical writers with people exploring a tech writing career. The idea flowed from a planning chautauqua. Thirty days later, a big idea became a new service. The information interview was born and already had a waiting list.

Part bedside manner, part job shadow, the information interview aims to entice students and job seekers to join professional associations. The interviewer gets questions answered and receives free admission to a professional program in exchange for a donation to the local chapter. Ostensibly, the interviewer gets a glimpse of a day in the life of a tech writer. As it turns out, this form of coffee break may yield fruit.

Learn more about the Information Interview Service.