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


tech light

Tethered to a cloud

It must have been twenty years ago when Larry Ellison fascinated me with the idea of diskless desktop computers. The benefit as I saw it was that some grandmaster App would keep the department’s word processing installations up to date.

Eventually, maintaining software as a service became its own product. Known as SaaS the service is enabled through cloud computing. Other service models include infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). These services make up about a third of cloud computing activities. File sharing accounts for another third.

By offloading IT involvement, users stay focused on work. It can be argued that universally accessible tools and services promote a strong collaborative culture.

Front end applications and services
Front end applications and services

Informal results from a session on documentation collaboration.

tech light terms & abbreviations

Industry taxonomy

Here’s a sampling of ways systems classify technical writers. It’s useful if you’re searching for industry information, exploring careers, comparing skills, or immigrating.

North American Industrial Classification System

Used in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to describe economic activity. NAICS classification for Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation breaks down this way:

  • 71 – Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
  • 711 – Performing Arts, Spectator Sports, and Related Industries
  • 7115 – Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers
  • 71151040 – Technical Writing
  • 71151027 – Technical Manual Preparation

National Occupational Classification system

Used in Canada to describe occupational structure by skill type. NOC classification for occupations in Art, Culture, Recreation and Sport breaks down this way:

  • 5 – Occupations in Art, Culture, Recreation and Sport
  • 51 – Professional Occupations in Art and Culture
  • 512 – Writing, Translating and Public Relations Professionals
  • 5121 – Authors and Writers
  • 5122 – Editors
  • 5123 – Journalists
  • 5124 – Public Relations and Communications
  • 5125 – Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters

International Standard Industrial Classification

The United Nations lists national classifications for activities and products. The ISIC classification for Arts, Entertainment and Recreation breaks down this way:

  • Section: R – Arts, entertainment and recreation
  • Division: 90 – Creative, arts and entertainment activities
  • Group: 900 – Creative, arts and entertainment activities
  • Class: 9000 – Creative, arts and entertainment activities

This class includes activities of:
· individual artists such as authors, lecturers or speakers
· individual writers, for all subjects including fictional writing, technical writing
· independent journalists

Global Industry Classification Standard

Used in finance and market research. GICS classification for Information Technology breaks down this way:

  • 45 – Information Technology
  • 4510 – Software & Services
  • 4520 – Technology Hardware & Equipment
  • 4530 – Semiconductors & Semiconductor Equipment

Standard Industrial Classification Codes

Established in 1937 and still used by some programs at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission until NAICS is fully implemented. SIC classification for Services breaks down this way:

  • 70 to 89 – Services
  • 8900 – Miscellaneous Services NEC
  • 899935 – Technical Writing
  • 899906 – Technical Manual Preparation
  • 899903 – Proposal Writers
  • 899903 – Writers
  • 899913 – Editorial Services
authors & audience production & publishing tech light

Decoder rings go mobile

Not since 1975 has the barcode held this much excitement. That year the UPC forerunner first appeared on packaged food. At the same moment, the microwave oven found a permanent spot in America’s kitchens. I concluded that cooking instructions were encoded on packages of frozen peas, and somehow, the waves read the UPC barcode. My conclusion fizzled when UPCs were printed onto magazine covers.

All things scannable are not necessarily microwaveable.

Thirty-five years later the barcode gets a makeover, and your mobile phone is the decoder ring. Block shaped barcodes appear on lots of physical and virtual items including, yes, magazine covers. What these print blocks contain are the ingredients to turn your cell phone into a Wikipedia of widgets.

Until a block is scanned you’re kept guessing about its contents, though often it reveals a website. Cracking the code is as easy as point, scan and click. That sure beats typing a URL into your cell phone’s browser.

All things scannable have greater potential.

My business card rendered as QR Code
lists & tables tech light

A sorted mess

Imagine you are searching through job postings. You’ve got a list and now you opt to sort by date, or location or other relevant category. Each column can be sorted. Typical options are some kind of logical progression. A job seeker might sort jobs to list the newest ones first.

I recently saw a job listing whose sort routine made sense only in theory. In practice, the result was neither sorted nor logical. However you sorted it, the list was a sorted mess.

Here’s what the date sort looked like:


Here’s a rule to break; don’t sort dates numerically or alphabetically. Who cares about a group of jobs that were posted on the 27th of every month. Not useful. In the context of a job posting, a date must be sorted chronologically.

lists & tables tech light

Breaking tables and other nondestructive tips

Broken tables. Frozen panes. Split screens. This is not debris from a crime spree. These are names of techniques used to manage documents.

To carry forward the heading of a table that’s flowed on to the next page, apply the word processing command to repeat the table heading.

Similarly, to cement the heading of a spreadsheet row and still be able to read row 100, apply the spreadsheet command to freeze rows.

Moving right along, to view and compare two areas of the same document, use the split screen tool.

And finally, to prevent someone else from messing with your workbook, use protection.

I’m not making up these names.

book types & parts design & typography tech light

Mission operations report

This month marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission. Whether you watched the PBS documentary or the Hollywood version, the story was gripping. Yet, the life-saving manual seemed easy enough to use. Nothing fancy. The neatly typed document included handmade graphs, penciled in symbols, and annotations by James Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise. The crew journeyed to the moon, almost, and back using less computing power than an iPhone. The 345 page Mission Operations Report compiles reports from a dozen mission officers.

grammar & speech tech light

Building credibility

I’m reminded of a conversation with a neighbour who decided to become a corporate trainer. This was in the early days of the web. He was telling me about “HMTL”. Yes, you read it as he said it, H-M-T-L.

Whoa! Do I tell him he meant HTML? Yes, I decided. To protect the reputation of training professionals everywhere, I will tell my neighbour that HTML means hypertext markup language.

His pet-sitting credibility remained intact.