The Yearning: Career Trajectory (Overlooked)
Although my chief interest in life is writing, more literary writing than technical writing, not surprisingly I wanted something more from my career. I wanted my career to be fulfilling and worthwhile. At this time, I had been blogging for a couple of years and had recorded dozens of podcasts. I had talked to professionals in the field who had said things like, if all you do is write, you'll soon be fired.
In the trends panels at the STC Summit, I remember listening to Andrea Ames, former STC president, talk about how her role at her company was not just a tech writer. She was like an indefinable, a strategic innovator who solved problems, not just someone who wrote documents. She was enthusiastic and engaged. I wanted to move in a direction like this rather than sit quietly writing manuals that no one was going to read, or drawing little Visio diagrams.
I later spoke with Bogo Vatovec for a podcast and asked him to expand on the issue of roles. He explained,
Doing what you're told to do and what you're expected to do is nowadays simply not enough anymore. You always have to do something more than what you're basically supposed to be doing.
I also talked with Jack Molisani, who said all writers needed to become hybrids in order to make their professions take off. In a podcast interview I recorded, Jack explained the essential career path technical writers needed to follow:
To be successful over the next 10-15 years, tech comm people are going to have to become hyphenated. You can't just be a technical writer. You have to be a technical writer-usability expert. Or a technical writer-accessibility expert. Or a technical writer-project manager.
It was clear to me that in order to be successful, to avoid sinking into oblivion and dissatisfaction, I would need to do something more than what I was doing. But it wasn't just a strategic career move. Inside I wanted to do something more. I felt I could do a lot more.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.