How’s the job market?

November 4, 2008

Despite the problems in the economy, I’m not seeing big layoffs in our profession yet.

(I probably just jinxed myself with that statement.)

The Center for Disease Control is hiring a Technical Writing Editor. Check out the bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through for that position. 

Oracle also is advertising an open position

Most of the other job postings I saw were contract positions, including a couple at ProEdit. If you’re willing to relocate to Huntsville, Alabama, they do have “permanent” job there. 

Mike Hughes had some good advice on getting through the recession. 

I think flexibility is another good strategy in this market. Draw on all your experience and use it sell your versatility. An STC member I know, for example, just got hired at my company as a Business Analyst. 

This month’s Atlanta STC program explains how to write federal proposals. A good tech writer should be able to make that transition easily. It’s structured writing, with its own terminology, tight deadlines, a collaborative effort that has to be managed like a project. Sound familiar? 

Remember, this month’s meeting is at Southern Poly State U.


A typical day

October 29, 2008

The prolific Susan Wu described her “Typical Day as a Technical Writer” last March. At the risk of boring you to death, I will do the same here.

8:24 am
Pat dogs, kiss husband, and leave home for work. Listen to Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography on CD in the car. Tears come to my eyes when Schulz’s mother says to Charles as she is dying of cancer, “If we get another dog, let’s call him Snoopy.” What a way to start the day.

8:45 am
Arrive at work and boot up computer knowing it will take at least 15 minutes before I can read e-mail. Brings to mind the article in Sunday’s New York Times about this universal annoyance. Researchers are working on a cure.
Two of the four writers on my team will be in the office today. The other two work for other clients on Tuesdays.
Grab a cup of tea in the kitchen. For the second day in a row I find free cupcakes on the counter. Can I resist?

9:00 am
Head down to CIO’s office with my director and the other manager in my group. This is a weekly meeting where we report on what we’re doing. Currently I have about 10 separate projects creating user guides, online Help, training materials, and training content. The other manager is in charge of records management and has even more projects underway. As the meeting wraps up we lament our diminishing 401Ks and our increasing years until retirement.

On the way back to my office I run into a friend from our California office who is in town for meetings this week. We went through some hectic times last year on another project so it’s great to see her again.

10:00 am
Read, answer e-mail, and listen to voice mail, rewrite my to-do list.

Unsubscribe from three lists I never signed up for. My title is Manager, Technical Communications and lots of people think I’m in Telecommunications. Further evidence that everyone just skims instead of reading today.
Howard from Atlanta STC asks if I’ve reserved a room for the November Council meeting. I confirm.  

Another former co-worker has asked to link up with me on LinkedIn. I accept. Hurray, I’m have over 200 connections now. 

10:30 am
Call internal customer who needs our help writing a brief user guide and back-end manual. Discuss deadlines, who will be single point of contact, etc. Call writer to ask if she has bandwidth to take this on. She does not. Consider who else to assign to this job.

Another manager on my floor pops his head in the door to say that I have to move my contractor who is squatting in one of “his” cubes. Luckily, there is another vacant cube for him to move. Otherwise, he’s condemned to the cramped “bull pen.” I dutifully submit a move request and inform the employee. He’s cool with it.

11:00 am  
Receive a draft of a user guide from one of my off-site writers. Begin editing.

Phone rings. Someone from Legal needs another online course set up ASAP. I promise the world and then look at my list of projects and my calendar to see how I can deliver.

Manager of contracting firm e-mails to ask how his employee is doing. I send back a glowing report.

11:30 am
We are preparing to deliver an instructor-led course to employees on Word 2007. I’m reviewing the outline we created and thinking about useful exercises. 

12:00 pm 
Lunch bell rings (in my head).
I decide to do something I’ve been thinking about for several days. Next door they are building a mixed-use development. Today it’s just a big hole with a big pile of dirt next to it. I go to the top of the parking deck and take a picture. Resolve to take one picture each day until the structure is built. Then I’ll put it on YouTube (or something).  What the hell, I’ll get some exercise walking to the 8th floor and back each day.

Grab a salad at the cafeteria in the next building. While I’m eating, check out Twitter.

12:30 pm
Write short set of instructions needed to update our timekeeping manual and online Help. Determine appropriate environment (dev, UA, QA, or TRAIN) to capture screenshots, which user to represent, dates to choose, etc. 

Finish editing the document I began this morning and send to writer. 

2:00 pm
Daily meeting for one of my key projects. It’s not an Agile project, but sometimes it feels that way. 

2:15 pm
Finalize travel plans for trip to NY plant in early December.  Answer more e-mail and go in search of answers to other queries.

3:00 pm
Weekly one-on-one with most senior (in years, not age) employee. She is wearing several hats and overworked, too. I offer help, consolation, cheap advice. We agree to a cram session on the Word classes in late December when most people are out of the office.

3:45 pm
Husband calls to say he’s taking the dogs to walk on the river. Would I leave early to join them? I sigh and decline. Confirm that we’ll have salmon for dinner and green peas. Check out the stock market while I’m talking to him. The Dow is up!!

4:00 pm
Go to the kitchen to wash out my tea mug and notice that two of the six Halloween cupcakes are still on the counter. Take deep breath and return to desk sans cupcake.

4:05 pm
Call contact in Accounting who promised to deliver training content to us today. She confirms she will send it today.
Stop by “hotel cube” where my friend from California is catching up on e-mail. We talk about pets, holidays, travel. She has dinner plans with other out-of-towners who are here for the big Operations meeting tomorrow.

4:20 pm
Return to office to see that Accounting training file is in my Inbox. Grab another cup of tea and begin reviewing. What kind of graphics can we use for this stuff?

5:00 pm
Another look at e-mail. Ann from the STC Management SIG promises to get the candidate bios to me soon. Someone sends me a job opening for a tech writer. I forward it to several people.

Open folder where I send all e-mails for top project. Click through to see if anything is relevant to me. Nada. Delete all.

Another e-mail from the same project pops in with question: “User wants to know what reports are available to her in the application.” I write back, “See the online Help for details on all available reports.” I suppose it never occurred to them to check the Help. Bleeaaah!

Review schedule for tomorrow. Review what I didn’t do on my to-do list. Add a few more things I forgot about.

Check out my sister’s blog. She’s in Japan visiting her daughter who’s teaching English north of Tokyo.

6:00 pm
Pack up and leave. Nearly collide with one of the company’s head honchos on my way out of parking ramp. Rats.

6:30 pm

Atlanta STC On-Site events

August 11, 2008

Like many STC chapters, we have members who work and live all over our metro area.Traffic is bad, gas is high, people are busy — all of these make it hard to attract members to the Atlanta chapter’s monthly programs.

At the STC Summit in Philadelphia, we heard about the Chicago chapter’s successful lunch events. These get-togethers were held simultaneously at several locations throughout Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Chapter members enjoyed meeting up with each other at locations convenient to where they worked.

We thought we’d try that approach this year. Then Rachel Peters offered to hold a program at her office in Marietta to demonstrate how they use a wiki at work. We set a date and worked out the arrangements for lunch and voilà! the STC On-Site event was born. Nearly 30 people have signed up for the August 14 program. You can read the details here.

If you live in the Atlanta area and would like to show your STC colleagues what you’re working on, we can hold an STC On-Site at your office, too.

Surviving the recession

July 21, 2008

Technical writers are a hardy bunch when it comes to finding work. At last week’s Atlanta STC Chapter meeting on “Surviving the Recession” the audience had as many suggestions as our speaker Frank Harper

Attendance was double this month over last, most likely because so many are worried about what’s ahead. But the picture wasn’t as bleak as you might think. Several people announced job openings, and Robert e-mailed me about two more the following day.

I haven’t been searching for work lately, so Frank’s ideas were a good refresher. Everyone nodded and laughed when he said, “There’s no such thing as a permanent job.” He stressed that we need to take stock of our skills and find ways to acquire new ones — now, not later.  For those actively seeking work, he pointed to community- and church-sponsored career centers such as Career Quest at Catholic Church of St. Ann in Marietta. Others recommended the program run by the United Methodist Church in Roswell.

Margaret told us about Indeed, a search engine for jobs. Here’s my search for technical writer positions in the state of Georgia. 138 listings! Woo hoo!

I like LinkedIn and use it when I’m searching for writers to hire. Other people mentioned Plaxo, so I went out and joined that, too.

One person said that you shouldn’t put your address on your resume because employers will disqualify you if you live too far from their office. I didn’t know that. . . . I still don’t know it. But others swore it was true.

Frank is old school. He didn’t, for example, urge to start blogging to brand ourselves. He mentioned online networking, but didn’t give it much weight. Office 2007 seems to be one of his pet peeves. But overall it was good sound advice and a great opportunity to share tips with fellow tech writers.

What job-hunting secrets are you willing to share with us?

A technical writer’s 10 birthday wishes

July 3, 2008

Yes, it’s my birthday.

Here’s what my cube looked like when I came in today.  Nice.

At my advanced age, I get 10 wishes instead of only one when I blow out the forest fire of candles on my cake. Here they come:

1. My cubicle is filled with birthday cards and gifts from all my SMEs, project managers, programmers, and upper management — including a small box of Swiss chocolates from the CEO “in appreciation of your wisdom and assistance to all the employees you’ve assisted and trained.”

2. My director gives approval to hire three full-time writers and one technical editor who will be devoted to revising our out-of -date style guide.

3. My content management system is not only granted funding, but can be implemented with the click of a mouse.

4. Company-wide memo encourages us to telecommute 4 out of 5 days a week to save gas and the ozone.

5. Second memo suggests we bring our dogs to the office on the 1 day we do come in.

6. Adobe taps me to participate in a technical communication focus group in Paris for 10 days next spring. (All expenses paid, of course.)

7. An IT project manager calls and says, “Holly, I’m heading up a project to roll out XYZ software to the company in 2010. I want your team involved from the very beginning. Can you meet next week to discuss?”

8. My inbox is flooded with e-mails from end-users with messages like this, “I’ve been reading the ABC manual you wrote and I’m lovin’ it! Especially the troubleshooting section.” or “The new Help file rocks! I got stuck in the application and found the answer quickly in the online Help.”

9. My impossible-to-meet deadline is extended a month.

10. Atlanta STC membership doubles during my term as membership manager.

As Ringo Starr (another July birthday person) sang:
“I don’t ask for much; I only want some, and you know it don’t come easy.”

Upcoming events

June 28, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 5-8 pm
T-COMmons will hold a social event at the Delkwood Grill in Marietta.
No charge. Raffle prize! 

T-COMmons is an online community that supports the programs at Southern Polytechnic State University’s (SPSU) English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts Department. It is open to anyone involved in technical communication and feels connected to SPSU’s learning and teaching objectives.

Tuesday, July 15, 6:15-8:15 pm
Atlanta STC Chapter presentation: “Surviving the Next Recession”
(Would that be the recession we are in right now?)
Speaker: Frank Harper
Location: Mirant

Also, Frank will give a brief demo of FrameMaker just before the formal program.

Tuesday, August 19, 6:15-8:15pm
Atlanta STC Chapter presentation: “Six Laws of Fostering Team Member Accountability”
Speaker: Dana Brownlee
Location: Mirant

Fall 2008
Atlanta STC Chapter Competitions
Are you proud of a technical drawing, online help system, or user manual you worked on this year?
Find out what your STC peers think about your efforts!
Submit your work to the chapter competition.
Our chapter will exchange entries with another US chapter.
Winners are announced later this year and honored at a banquet in the spring.
Check the Atlanta chapter Web site for details coming soon.

Will Web 2.0 unseat the STC?

June 24, 2008

Craig Haas of HelpScribe made some compelling comments on my blog the other day.
I’m reprinting them here in case you missed them: 

Networking, helping others, conferences, etc. are now possible without an STC membership, so they offer little incentive to pay dues. As more technical writers find out how to communicate efficiently using online tools, fewer will see the benefit of the STC. In fact, the STC could possibly be perceived as a “middle man” that should be circumvented. (For example, why publish a helpful article in an STC newsletter instead of on a blog, especially if the blog has a potentially wider distribution and can therefore be of use to more people? Paper publishing is essentially dead, especially for a tech-savvy audience.)

That said, here are a few ideas for revised STC offerings.
* Local networking and employment opportunities (as Kathy K mentions above).
* Social mixers, for venting and having fun with like-minded people.
* Introducing members to Web 2.0 communities and tools (like Tom J.’s new Writer River site).
* Filling in gaps in the existing Web 2.0 communities, until competing resources emerge and make the STC offerings unnecessary. (I can think of lots of gaps.)

The structure and marketing efforts of the STC should then be examined to see if they reflect this new list of benefits.

Perhaps some of the lost revenue from dues can be offset by the reduced need for paper communications, or by replacing physical meeting space with virtual. (Web 2.0 can be an advantage to the STC, not just a threat.) Also, if the STC becomes the source of useful Web 2.0 tools, they can replace income from dues with advertising income, donation links, and pay-per-item sales and services. (Why use an old-school business model to compete in a high-tech environment?) For example, if Tom J.s Writer River site was an STC offering, I imagine it could scrape in a nice chunk of change, especially if the STC could do some hand-holding and get a significant number of its members using such tools.

When all is said and done, getting people to pay dues will be a hard sell. In the past, professional organizations were necessary to reduce isolation. We’re just not as isolated anymore.

I agree that organizations like STC will suffer if they do not keep up with technological developments, but it’s unlikely in this case. STC has already survived the sea change in our profession that began 20 years ago with the rise of the software industry. A huge new influx of members joined STC at that time. Tech writers’ work products expanded into online help, embedded assistance, content management, usability, computer-based training, and other areas. STC publications, meetings, conferences, special intereste groups, and other activites all changed quickly to accommodate the new reality. By comparison, Web 2.0 is chump change.

Craig mentions the “gaps” that still exist between STC’s offerings today and the promise of social networking. I’m curious how many people in our profession actively engage in the blogosphere, participate in social networks, and are ready to jettison the “old-school” STC operation for Web 2.0. The evidence I’ve seen indicates that number is pretty low.

For example, at the STC Summit this year, only a handful of us were live blogging or twittering. I thought it would be more popular, at least among the younger participants there. Live blogging and twittering is de rigueur at conferences like SXSW.

In the Atlanta STC Chapter this year we initiated the New Media Awards. The miniscule number of nominations and votes clearly demonstrated that STCers weren’t following new media trends as closely as I had thought.

A third example happened during an icebreaker exercise at recent IT departmental picnic I attended. Participants had to find an attendee who either owned an iPhone or appeared in a YouTube video. Out of 40 IT professionals of all ages, no one there qualified in either category!

Adopting new media techniques
Having said that, many STC chapters and virtual communities around the world incorporate new media into their activities. STC’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are completely virtual communities and social networks that existed long before “Web 2.0” was even in the lexicon. Lots of SIG members say that their SIG membership alone is worth the dues price.  

Many chapters are now using blogging platforms for their newsletters or chapter Web sites. Virtual meetings are a necessity for some STC communities such as those in Europe where they don’t have a critical mass in any one city or country. In Atlanta we hope to soon offer live streaming broadcasts of our chapter meetings. Atlanta’s loathsome traffic jams and $4/gal gas are the primary drivers of that initiative.

Tom Johnson has popularized podcasting in our field and others are taking it up. Tom’s podcasting workshop drew over one hundred people at the Philly conference. (He had some heavy competition at the timeslot, too.) We had two presentations on podcasting at our Atlanta Currents conference this year. Our chapter began creating podcasts in 2006.

So it’s not as bleak a picture as one might think.

This post is getting too long, so I’ll continue with related thoughts in a future installment.

Keep commenting!
It makes things more interesting.