From our virtual chat, we decided that the most significant issue technical communicators face today is keeping pace with rapidly evolving technology. Here are a few quotes from the chat:
I've been thinking about this question for a long time — what's the biggest issue for technical communicators today. I think the chat brought it out perfectly. There's a lot of technical knowledge to master, and the technologies are only expanding. The number of tools available has exploded. And yet technical communicators are often overworked, with multiple projects, tight deadlines, and little budgetary privilege to take technical courses and keep up.
One participant commented, "In the end I think my best tool has been my analytical intellect and my ability to perform controlled tests."
Coincidentally, today I also listened to the DMN Communications podcast on "Becoming a Technical Tech Writer." Aaron and Scott explained that you have to know a lot of different programs, languages, and technologies to be a competent technical writer. And then they named quite a few technologies: Unix, Perl, XML, command-line, C++, DITA, PHP, and so on. I was pretty impressed. I didn't know they were so tech savvy, and it actually depressed me a bit because I wasn't as familiar with it all.
But they didn't mention .Net, and most of the programs at my work use the .NET. I may never need to know Unix to perform my job. In the end, it's not as if you just learn several languages or tools and you're all set. You have to be quick and intelligent enough to teach yourself the language or program that you're currently documenting. You have to be tech-savvy enough to learn quickly, to pick it up whatever it may be. What do you need to know? Learn that. Teach yourself tech. That is the real skill, because the technologies are constantly changing, and what you may need to know today will be outdated tomorrow. One project may require knowledge of X, and the next knowledge of Y. It's the ability to learn — and more importantly the love of learning — that will make you excel in the field of technical writing.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here. You can also contact me with questions.