I never imagined myself as a technical writer if you'd have asked me. I did not study to become one, and certainly did not inherit it from my family lineage. Of course, I had little knowledge about the technical communication profession a few years ago. About the time I graduated from college in 2001, the technical communication field began gaining credibility in India, thanks to some laudable efforts from professional bodies such as the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and INTECOM. Opportunities for aspiring technical writers at that time were not abundant. If you ask me now, the problem was getting started since the information technology (IT) industry was experiencing its own economic downturn.
The Road Less Traveled
I clearly remember - my first call for an interview came after two months of meeting with consultants, placing resumes on various job boards, and calling the human resources departments of various multinational companies. The adverse circumstances did not leave me with many choices. My entry into becoming a technical communication professional happened by chance. Who exactly was to be blamed for the unfavorable conditions? It could have been the outsourcing bust that caught us unaware or the lack of education, who knows. For most people, it was definitely a road less traveled.
Five years later, things are looking much brighter and more promising. Technical writers in India have benefited from the sudden outsourcing surge. Many companies (especially those with products and services) are on a hiring spree, which is improving the outlook of the profession. India is now home to many technical writing activities, such as learning sessions and informal meetings in almost every major city; mailing lists and special interest groups; ezines and newsletters that showcase written talent; and annual conferences. This trend is here to last provided products continue to be developed or maintained in India, and we continue to learn, improve, and demonstrate our skills.
What Do We Need To Do Differently?
A technical communication job today is much more than just writing. Of course, writing is only one of the common denominators. Many employers take it for granted that a person can write. They are often more interested in your technical skills, which will definitely help you secure the job, yet it is writing that will help you excel at it.
We must constantly remind ourselves that technical writing jobs were not created in India. To sustain these good times, we must try to predict the future and the trends that shape it. It is a time for transformation!
Transformation of Writing as a Core Business Function
In many organizations where technical writers are employed today, writing is seen as a strategic business function. Making our presence felt requires that we must work harder towards transforming the profession itself into a core business function. It is our responsibility to educate product stakeholders about the importance of hiring technical communicators. However, we are not at that point yet where we can sit down with them and squeeze documentation into their final project plans.
Call for Leadership
In the context of reduced IT savings, organizations everywhere are constantly looking at budgets, which are tightly coupled with resources. The newfound mantra is to increase the profits with lesser manpower. This has a direct implication to our profession as well. We must continually remind management about the value that we provide the company. How can we possibly achieve this? For one, we need people with leadership abilities – managers who don’t have to wink at the very mention of costs, who can create an effective business case and opportunities for technical communicators (I am not talking here of return on investments alone, but a person, similar to a user advocate who can demonstrate value.)
Does that mean writing is going to align itself with management in the business? Well, I am convinced it will. You have already witnessed this trend in the US, where most manufacturing and service-related jobs migrated to cheaper locations with the entire documentation departments being offshored, thus causing layoffs on the pretext of costs. US writers are confident that technical communication jobs will return. Many of them are taking on other professional roles as project managers, editors, and so on during this time.
Indulge in Technology, Innovation, and Business
The next best is to understand where are we going as a profession. For this, indulge in Technology, Innovation, and Business. The first step is in being recognized as a part of the development team. This requires you to be adept at technology. The second is to make your presence felt on an organizational level, which requires innovation. You have to make a parallel between a firm’s revenue and your contribution to it, which requires business skills. Try attending meetings with development teams and help influence their decisions. You have to step out of your cubicles and understand how the business works. Also, we waste much of our time on perishable skills, such as understanding the tools. Our focus should remain on intellectual skills and how we can capitalize on that.
Time for a Change
For those entering this profession, the groundwork is started for you. I am wary of those who don’t belong to the technical communication profession; people who can be at a large disadvantage in the long run. We need to carefully watch where we go from here. Complacency can reverse the trends at any moment.
Technical writing is not just about learning and writing about new technologies, domains, product suites and processes. It’s how you can set business direction, align and motivate others and deliver results.
Giammona, Barbara. The Future of Technical Communication. Technical Communication, Volume 51, Number 3, August 2004.