Interview with Ugur Akinci about Technical Communication
The following is an interview with Ugur Akinci, a technical writer for Honeywell Corporation. Ugur asked me these same questions for an interview on this site. After answering them, I was curious about how he would answer the same questions, so I asked Ugur to respond to the questions for my site as well.
(1) How long you've been a technical communicator? Where do you work right now? How would you characterize a typical day at work?
I've been a technical communicator for over 13 years, lucky enough to be working for Fortune 100 hi-tech corporations. Currently I work for Honeywell Access Control Systems.
A typical day would mostly consist of writing user, installation, and configuration manuals and drawing illustrations that go with such manuals. Communicating with my colleagues, managers, and SMEs through email, phone and in person and participating in meetings, teleconferences and webinars are also a part of my typical day in office.
(2) How did you become a technical communicator? Did you start out as one or did you switch to it from something else? What was the reason?
I was originally trained as a sociologist but things happened and I never worked in academia.
I started out my career in the late ‘80s as a Desk Top Publishing expert of sorts. When the first Apple Macintosh came out I've spent all my savings to buy a Mac SE and a dot-matrix printer and started to design and produce magazines, brochures, flyers, whatnot. I enjoyed that very much. That led to my still continuing interest in page layout and graphic design. In the ‘90s I found myself writing more and designing less, and eventually I became a full-time copy writer.
Between 1994-1998, I worked as a journalist in Washington D.C. for a daily paper, covering the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress. Very exciting and busy four years those were but at the end I was forced to look for something else because journalism was not paying much. So like quite a few other tech writers that I know of, I've made the switch from journalism to tech writing in 1998 and never looked back since then.
(3) What is the single most important change that you see in the technical communication sector since you first became a technical communicator?
Emergence of structured authoring and single-sourcing; the relentless push to automate and standardize the document production process while dropping the unit costs. I think in the future technical writing will be a lot less about writing and a lot more about coding, mapping, and transcribing.
Also, I think the role of technical illustration will steadily grow in this age of multinational products and services catering to a multicultural customer base, all speaking different languages. Words are not universal but images are. Writers who can also draw have a clear job-market advantage for that reason.
(4) In your judgment, what is the best and worst thing about working as a technical writer?
For me the most satisfying aspect of technical writing is the way it forces me to make sense out of chaos and bring order to not-so-orderly processes. That workflow forces me to face my own deficiencies and motivates me to understand my thought process better while trying to describe the object of the same thought process.
As a secondary note I can also say that this is the best-paying writing job I ever had. If you love writing but you'd like to take care of your family as well, then by all means you should think about becoming a technical writer. I tried journalism, poetry, copy writing, screenplay writing, political commentary, and freelance article writing – but nothing comes close in terms of the material security that technical writing provides.
The worst about technical writing is that it's by definition not an emotionally expressive genre. It's not creative in the sense a screenplay or a poem is creative. It's not designed to move others emotionally but to direct, instruct, and train others. I'm the son of a singer and a painter and was raised at a home full of music and art. I still have a deep interest in artistic expression of all kinds. Thus from time to time I balance the scales by taking a break from technical writing and doing something else, like watching a movie or writing a poem.
(5) What's your advice for those who are just starting out their careers as technical writers today?
Try to bring to the job as many side skills as you can. Don't go into the battle with a single handgun on your hip.
For example, if you like to draw and paint, that's great since technical writers who can also draw illustrations will be in great demand in the future. For employers it's a clear two-for-one deal.
Same goes for programming and all kinds of engineering skills. If you have a knack for network administration, so much the better since most of the systems that I've documented required a good understanding of the way client-server systems are networked together.
Lastly, you should seriously consider specializing in structured authoring in general and DITA as a specific single-sourcing platform. In the future I believe such “technical writers” (I wouldn't even know if it'd be appropriate to call them “writers” any more) will become highly-paid corporate “content design” consultants and form a new niche of documentation experts. If you're just starting out your technical writing career you might as well start specializing in that direction.
(6) What's your views on globalization, out-sourcing, and the way it affects technical writers in the USA and abroad?
Globalization and out-sourcing are the result of two relentless forces in capitalism: (1) The imperative to minimize production costs; and closely linked to this: (2) The imperative to replace labor-intensive methods of production with their capital-intensive counterparts.
Out-sourcing won't go away. If anything, the trend will become even more pervasive. Whenever India (for example) reaches a wage-level approaching that of the West, other labor-markets will appear overnight and the job-migration will continue unabated. Don't be surprised if one day India starts to lose documentation and call-service jobs to Mongolia, for example.
This forces the technical writers in the traditional tech-comm countries like the US, UK, and Europe to diversify their skills, on the one hand, and move up to more capital-intensive niches like structured authoring, on the other. Both moves will maximize the competitive advantage of a traditional technical writer. But those writers who continue to insist on “just writing” good-old user manuals will lose their jobs very quickly to outsourcing.
(7) What is your greatest passion with respect to technical communication?
After all is said and done, I think my greatest passion is learning new things, sharing what I know with others, and teaching technical communication skills to others. I really enjoy that learning-teaching dialectics.
So I guess it's not a coincidence that I do have a technical communication blog catering to all levels of communicators (http://www.technicalcommunicationcenter.com/) as well as two online technical writing courses (http://www.technicalcommunicationcenter.com/online-courses/). In 2012 I'm intending to add at least two more courses to that list.
I think education and training are very important not only for our profession specifically, but for our survival on this planet as well in this age of increasing population and threatened scarce resources. From politics to daily life to documentation, I forgot the number of times when I witnessed precious potential going to waste for lack of education. The quality of our future depends on the quality of education we provide for our children and youth. That's why as long as I live I know I'll try to play my humble part in that learning and teaching process.
Dr. Ugur Akinci is a Senior Technical Writer working for Honeywell corporation. He has ranked 31st in MindTouch's list of “400 Most Influential Technical Communicators”. He is the owner of Technical Communication Center, a blog dedicated to technical writing tips, tutorials, and trends.