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Recording and slides for my trends presentation at the Symposium for Communicating Complex Information (SCCI)

by Tom Johnson on Feb 24, 2019
categories: technical-writing podcastswriting

This week I traveled to Louisiana to attend the Symposium for Communicating Complex Information and presented on tech comm trends. You can listen to the recording, view my slides, and read my latest thoughts on trends here.

About the Symposium for Communicating Complex Information

You can view the conference program and schedule for the Symposium for Communicating Complex Information here.

Symposium for Communicating Complex Information (SCCI)

My presentation was a keynote on tech comm trends called Tech Comm Trends: Providing Value as a Generalist in a Sea of Specialists. You can view my slides at trends-growing-disproportions.

The recording of my presentation is available here:

If you just want to listen to the audio, you can listen here:

Listen here:

Although I’ve written and spoken about trends several times this year, I shifted focuses a bit in this presentation. I abandon the argument that technical skills are in such high demand because the technology landscape is getting more complex. (It might be true, but it’s a hard argument to make, and I’m not so sure about it anymore given some responses in my ongoing Engineers writing docs survey.)

Instead, I argue that technical writers are supporting increasing numbers of engineers. I dig out more specific employment data from the BLS showing that the job growth between 2010 to 2016 for software developers was 37%, but for technical writers was just 6%. Additionally, in informal surveys, 76% of tech writers agree that the ratio between engineers and tech writers is getting more lopsided each year in favor of engineers.

Together, this data presents an alarming trend where tech writers are becoming dwarfed by the explosion of engineers. This trend also aligns with my own experiences in the workplace where I seem to be getting spread thinner and thinner.

What happens when tech writers must suddenly start supporting twice the number of engineers or more? First, I think tech writers will play more project management roles, orchestrating publishing workflows for other authors, including engineers. Engineers who contribute to docs are also much more likely to use docs-as-code tooling and workflows, which is a direction that my Engineers writing docs survey survey seems to confirm so far.

The other consequence of supporting more engineers is that it dilutes the tech writer’s ability to immerse deeply on a project. If you were supporting 3 engineering teams last year, and this year you’re supporting 4, and next year you support 5, you don’t have the same bandwidth to fully immerse in the project’s technology, team, tools, and other information needs. You end up being even more of an outsider and novice to the technology, which cripples your ability to create more in-depth, comprehensive content.

To counteract this trend toward the dilution of tech knowledge, I think tech writers need to more purposefully study and dive into tech learning, even at the expense of some writing productivity. In almost all tech writer job requirements, the demand for strong technical knowledge continues to be a key requirement — one that over overshadows one’s writing ability.

Feedback in surveys provides a lot of insight that helps me refine my thoughts about directions with trends. I know I’ve written about this topic extensively this year, and with each iteration, I’ve been collecting feedback and refining my ideas. This iteration shows another adjustment.

The Q&A after my presentation gave me good feedback about further refinements and modifications for my presentation on trends. For example, conference attendees wondered whether the disparity might be explained by increases in tech writers offshore (outside the BLS data), the diversity of tech comm job titles, the increase in user-generated content, and other factors.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the tech comm, be sure to subscribe to email updates below. You can also learn more about me or contact me. Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.