My goal is to be unemployed

I work for a company that provides outsourced employees for a variety of industries.  I report to one company, but I represent another.  I am comfortable with this.  My loyalty can be bought for the price of my paycheck.  I can assume the culture, goals and procedures of the company that I represent, although ultimately I am not their “employee.”

My long-term goal in becoming a technical communicator is to be an outsourced employee, but without a larger “umbrella” company sending me my W-2’s each year.  I want to dictate the companies I work for and have some control over the projects I accept.  I am comfortable putting on that “company’s uniform” for a temporary time and then moving on.

I felt such joy when I read R. Stanley Dicks discuss the prediction that “many more technical communicators will be officially unemployed but constantly working.  They will be following the consulting/temp agency model that already characterizes the work of many communicators (Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, p. 59)”.  I am hoping to open a fortune cookie with just that prediction for my future:  “You will soon find yourself unemployed, but always working.”

The expansion of telecommuting opportunities is, in part, one of the catalysts that finally pushed me back into school.  I currently follow several job sites that focus on home-based and freelance work. Flexjobs.com and ratracerebellion.com consistently have an extensive list of job opportunities for telecommuters in all aspects of the technical writing field, primarily ones with technological competencies.

In 2001, I was on the verge of enrolling in a “technical writing” program, when a job offer–in an unrelated field–removed me from that path.  I went to work for a company I loved and put that plan on the “back burner.”

While I am disappointed that I allowed so much time to lapse before entering a graduate program, I am grateful for that derailment.  The technical writing program I was set to enter was very solid and respected.  But in 2001, it wasn’t very focused on digital media.  Within a few short years, their “technical writing” program became their “Technical Communications” program. It was completely revamped several times over the next few years, as they slowly began to focus the program more on the emerging use of technology.

Had I enrolled back in 2001, I would have been “getting to the party a little too early.”  Now, I don’t know that a 14 year lapse between degrees was quite necessary but…. At any rate, I cringe to think of how many competencies I would have been scrambling to learn within a year or two (maybe less) of earning that degree.

As I do work-from-home and spend a lot of time following web sites and blogs devoted to such work, I have come across many people who are constantly working as technical communicators, but as independent contractors.  I see a flood of freelance job openings in the field.  I have yet to find one person that lacks or job that doesn’t require technical skill.

I feel certain that the degree I was going to begin in 2001, is not the same degree that I will be getting now.  This is what gave me the final push to go back.  As I researched schools this time around, it was interesting to see how every strong program focused on digital media.

As R. Stanley Dicks pointed out in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p.52):  “It is important to remember, when discussing current and coming trends in the discipline, that they largely have to do with the tools and technologies associated with the discipline, and not the core competency skills that the discipline continues to require; that is using words and images to inform, instruct, or persuade an audience Schriver’s (1997).”  That program I was set to start 14 years ago would have given me “core competency skills,” but not what I needed to achieve my current goals.  Of course, I realize with the constantly evolving landscape of technology, there will always be new things that I need to learn to “stay on top” of the field.  I am reassured, though, that the evolution in technical communication as a whole, and the changes that have occurred in academia as a result, will enable me to start with the foundation I need.

Posted on September 27, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I also resonated with prediction that “many more technical communicators will be officially unemployed but constantly working. They will be following the consulting/temp agency model that already characterizes the work of many communicators (Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, p. 59)”. I have been working as a contractor for the past three years and love it. It not only affords me a certain amount of flexibility, but also exposes me to a greater variety of opportunities. Throughout my “contracting career”, I’ve contracted with three different companies and the resulting range of experiences I’ve encountered has proven valuable in itself. As a result, my “tool box” of skills continues to grow, aiding me in landing my next opportunity. Because project needs can and will continue to evolve, I think a shift towards temp work is part of a natural progression in this field.

  2. Excellent application of the reading to your individual experience! While I did an MA in English in Boston in the late-90s, I often wish it had been later so I could have taken advantage of the open lectures and potential work opportunities at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

    I was most intrigued by this paragraph and am so grateful that we have telecommuters and contract employees in the program to offer these perspectives! I plan to share this with my undergraduates too so they are aware of the the variety of work options out there:

    The expansion of telecommuting opportunities is, in part, one of the catalysts that finally pushed me back into school. I currently follow several job sites that focus on home-based and freelance work. Flexjobs.com and ratracerebellion.com consistently have an extensive list of job opportunities for telecommuters in all aspects of the technical writing field, primarily ones with technological competencies.

  3. Hi Rebecca, I am glad that you have such a positive attitude about consulting. I am consultant and I am not to fond of it, so when I read that many jobs are outsourced, I began wondering if paying the $3,000 for this certificate is going to be worth it.

    Consulting is great if you have spouse or partner who has medical insurance, 401k, stock options, PTO, sick pay, and etc. through their work. If you have these things, then consulting while working from home is great. Unless, you have a new puppy (or kids), because then you might want a place to escape for a quiet moment or for the complete day. 😉

    Anyway, I am sure that you have heard of Dice (http://www.dice.com) and that you should join the Society of Technical Communication (http://www.stc.org). With your handy dandy blue card (Stout id card), I believe you can obtain your membership at a discounted student rate. I wish you much success! 🙂

  4. I like your “getting to the party too early” analogy. When I started a Technical Communicatiom program in 2008 there was no emphasis on technology; it was history, rhetoric, and instructional writing. When I went back in 2014 I discovered the program hadn’t changed with the needs of technical communicators; only one visual rhetoric course was offered. The program wasn’t reaching technology and wasn’t trying to teach how to learn it yourself. That was the main reason I came here now.

    As I read Dicks statement about trends in tools and technologies associated with the discipline, I saw that this is a bigger challenge for technical communicators than in many other disciplines. While English and math teachers will use technology to deliver their courses, technology won’t redefine their occupation as it will for someone in your profession. Your positive attitude, ability to self-teach, and your willingness to be “unemployed, but working” are some of the best qualities for someone in this ever-changing field. Great post.

  5. Mary Van Beusekom

    I, too, would love to be unemployed yet constantly working. I’ve been working full-time and running my a side business for 15 years now, but it’s hectic balancing the two and making the hour-long commute to my full-time twice a day when I also have two kids. Technology has allowed us to work virtually, so I think it’s high-time more companies embrace that, as they will as time goes on. I think it’s important, though, to have a lot of self-discipline in order to keep distractions to a minimum and remember that you still have a full-time job, albeit at home.

  6. I too love the “getting to the party too early” analogy! I’m a little concerned that it’ll always be too early for some crucial technology. Like I mentioned before, though my bachelor’s degree is only 5-years old I’m already seeing how it is dated. Mobile and even web were not emphasized to the extent that I’m sure that it is today.

    As for freelance/temp work, I have friends who are freelance designers, but I’m fairly sure it’s not a good fit for me. I love my in-house position. Maybe if I have trouble finding a job or if I want a flexible schedule to accommodate distant-future-children I’ll give it a try. Until then I’ll probably stick with my cozy cubicle job.

  7. Hi Rebecca –

    I often hear about the personal successes of consultants and after seeing your wishful fortune cookie, I must say that I would like one of those too! As I think about the telecommuting jobs that are often available, I think about my own role within my organization. Working in Information Technology can be quite a perk – most of our department is used to working remote or at least having the ability to. Through technical communication I am finding that more and more, technical communicators are having to use different sources of technology in order to communicate most effectively. I think in many cases this is what is driving a potential shift in technical communication. Less and less I am finding the need to have face-to-face interactions with organizational individuals and instead ensure I have a more visual online presence.

    Chelsea

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