Change is Good!

This week’s reading was very nostalgic for me!  During the last semester of my senior year of college, I began an internship with a software company where my role was to work with RoboHELP to develop online help for their medical software.  In May of 2001, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English with a focus in Technical Communications and went to work within the next three months as a Technical Writer at a small water heater manufacturer in Tennessee.  I was quickly trained on using Freehand10 to create and edit their use and care guides and installation manuals.   During this same time-frame, I had a local bank contact me and offer a freelance project to re-write all of their training guides.

'Day old Bread, 50 off' & 'Day old software, 75 off.'

Image Source: cartoonstock.com

I remember recommending Macromedia Freehand10 and they actually purchased the software and I did the work transferring all of their documents in the new program.  I cringe a little now when I think of that.  I was new to the field, and I had no idea how much software would change over the next decade.  In my defense, Freehand10 was a great program for layout and design work when compared to their previous software choice, Microsoft Word. It made page layout so much easier by having each part in an easily movable “box” – text boxes, photo boxes, etc.  It eliminated that (still present) issue with MS Word where everything adjusts itself to the next page the second you close and re-open or print the document.  In “Digtal Literacy for Technical Communication,” Chapter 1 writer Saul Carliner says that, RoboHELP was… “later sold to Macromedia which was sold, in turn, to Adobe” (Spilka p. 37)  Today, Macromedia Freehand10 is a thing of the past – and had been replaced by Adobe inDesign – at least at the water heater company where I first learned the ropes of Freehand10.

Failure to Evolve with Changing Technology

In 2003, I put my career on hold to stay home with, and later home school, my two sons.  The oldest graduated in 2017 and the youngest will follow in 2022.  As I begin to consider re-entering the work force in my field, my biggest worry has been whether or not I will be able to learn the new technology.  Last year, when my oldest graduated from our home school, we participated in a co-op style graduation ceremony with a local home school group.  Because of my background as a tech writer, I was asked to create the graduation programs using inDesign and get them sent off to the printer.  I was able to get a copy of inDesign and I set to work – only to realize (very quickly) that my learning curve was going to take a bit longer than the time I actually had to reach the deadline on these programs.  I had to ask a friend who works in the field to do the layout for me and then I was able to plug in the photos and information.  It was disappointing to me and added fuel to my fears of whether I am going to be able to survive in this field given how much the technology has changed over the last 15 years.  Initially, I chose to work toward my masters degree in hopes that I would somehow get back up to speed with regard to technology as well as everything else.  Unfortunately, that has not been the experience thus far.  “Digital Literacy…” Chapter 2 author, R. Stanley Dicks says,

For academic programs in technical communication, a primary issue is the extent of training they need to provide.   Most academic programs have limited resources to purchase costly publishing software; especially prohibitive financially is complex enterprise software like content management systems.  More significantly, the purpose of an academic degree is to serve the student for decades after graduation by providing durable skills and knowledge.  Technology skills and knowledge are perishable, often outdated within five years.  On the other hand, employers expect students to develop skills with publishing technology as part of the education process, so avoiding technology altogether in the academic curriculum is not an option.  Each program has to find its own balance (Spilka p. 47).

Distance education has made it even more difficult for students (like me) to learn technology skills as part of the education process as it is impossible for me to utilize any of the software that may be available on the UW Stout campus because I am in Tennessee.  Likewise, it would be quite costly to purchase a personal copy of each software that I may want to learn, and, as I found out quickly when trying to work on the graduation invitations, difficult to teach myself these new programs.  I hope that employers will take this into account as I return to the work force and allow for the training I will need to get technologically up to speed.  The good news is that I have stayed current on using technology when it comes to e-mail and social media, and I do tend to learn new programs easily when I have the time to “poke around” with it.

A Whole New Way to Work

In his section on “Distributed Work,” R. Stanley Dicks says that, “Improved communication technologies mean that workers can collaborate without being co-located (i.e. without being in the same physical space, such as an office” (Spilka p. 73).

remote2

Image Source: teambonding.com

In the early 2000’s, when I was working in the technical communications field, the idea of “working from home” was not quite yet available.  Although my company had considered this and was beginning to consider the idea, technology had not yet advanced to the point where my they felt comfortable allowing it just yet.  Now, my husband works for this same company as an Engineer Manager and he often holds meetings with company executives across the globe.  He went into work at 6AM last week so he could have a teleconference with the folks in Japan!  Had this been an option to me, I may have never had to put my career on hold to raise my kids; perhaps professional parents in 2018 can now have the opportunity to simultaneously do both!

 

About Rebecca Snyder

I am a grad student at UW Stout, a mom to 2 sons (one grown, one almost grown), a homeschool mom, and a pearl girl @ Vantel Pearls. #gradschoolpearlgirl

Posted on October 27, 2018, in Blogs, Digital, Literacy, Social Media, Technology, Workplace and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great post! Yes, it was nostalgic for me, too! I began as a technical writer in late ’99/early 2000, and I had to pitch the purchase of RoboHelp to my bosses (small start-up in Fargo, ND, so money was tight). I had been using Word to create a 100-page user manual, and talk about tedious. I still have the manual, and when I look at it now I cringe at how amateur it was. I think I even used Paint to create some of the graphics? Yikes.

    Even though this text is a few years old, I’m glad to see that there’s still mention of RoboHelp, and I was leaving the field, we were beginning to explore DreamWeaver. As I’ve transitioned into education, I do feel somewhat sad about leaving those technical skills behind, though I also believe that software and learning new software had become easier/more intuitive.

    Great t-shirt image! I remember feeling the same.

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    As our textbook Digital Literacy for Technical Communication points out, user-centered design as well as advances in technology are both changing the roles of technical communicators. If products and services continue to improve because of design and artificial intelligence for example, fewer manuals and support documents are needed. In Chapter 2 in the section Web 2.0 and Transparency, Dicks (2010) explains that many people would rather check a search engine or blog than read company documents, and companies are eliminating paper documentation in favor of knowledge bases.

    The Society of Women Engineers created a knowledge base recently in response to feedback about customer service. It created a “support hub” by buying the application Freshdesk and creating a microsite. The url is support.swe.org if you want to check it out. It has documentation located in one place that is easy to find, plus answers to frequently asked questions, and a link to SWE’s blog. I created a video to explain what’s in SWE’s support hub when it rolled out. The video posted on YouTube: https://youtu.be/0YVOP-4AC2o

    Thanks for your post.

    Angie

    • Angie,

      I was unaware of that shift from user manuals to knowledge bases. My husband currently works for the water heater company that employed me in the early 2000’s, and he is currently in charge of several other engineers, as well as the CAD folks and the technical writers. Thus far, that has not been the case with his company. I am truly a little saddened to hear of the shift because I love writing user manuals. Oddly enough, I truly enjoyed putting them together and seeing the finished product in print. I am still an “I want to read the printed version” kind of girl, for now. I much prefer printed materials over digital. I actually wrote my final paper in Dr. Watts class a few semesters ago on whether students preferred digital textbooks to print textbooks. Believe it or not, in that case, an overwhelming majority still preferred print over digital regardless of age or academic level. I say all of this because I would love to go back to work writing user manuals again; I just hope that type of job still exists by the time I return to the field.

      Rebecca

  3. It’s nice to read nostalgic reflections like these! I’m glad the Spilka text is serving its purpose in providing a snapshot of a time in tech comm and digital literacy. I know the MSTPC has offered a grad course in Manuals a few years ago but, like you, I’m not sure about the number of jobs writing them there are out there. Well, I’m sure the manual writing is also combined with other instruction sets, both written and digital [audio/video], but I don’t know how one carves into that niche.

  4. Hi Rebecca!

    As an employee who works remotely, I would actually like to have that stock image shirt. Sometimes, I wonder how people in the office get work done because they always seem to be chatting with each other and get distracted with meetings. Sometimes, I get forgotten (in a good way) and I just get to focus on my work.

    I am interested by your discussion of academic programs in technical communication. I can understand why programs don’t teach students all the technical tools they need for the workforce, but it can be frustrating when you do start working and you realize there is so much you still don’t know. At times, I wish there was more opportunities to practice these tools in the classroom, but on the other hand, I feel I have an incredibly strong understanding of the technical communication field because of this program.

    If you’re looking to build design skills, I would heavily recommend DesignLab (https://trydesignlab.com/mentors/). They provide a mentor who can help you learn the basics of modern design and tools. My friend is a mentor on this website, and from what I’ve seen, it’s really good. Getting a strong mentor who can help you learn will help evaporate your fears and worries about using design tools in a company setting. I didn’t use this program, but my design skills wouldn’t be as strong as they are if I didn’t find a mentor who could teach me.

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