Technical communicators are jacks of all “technical” trades
Posted by Nathan Baughman
While technical communication and technical writing has been an existing profession for several decades, it seems like it is still a career choice that many people do not know about or are even aware of. I often find myself answering questions to family and friends about what a technical writer does or explaining what the technical and professional communication program at Stout teaches. My parent’s track record for even remembering what the program is called isn’t the greatest (though it is of the longer of titles), but if they can at least remember one or two of the words I give them credit.
In some respect, I think of a technical communicator as a jack of all trades in their respective industry. Much of the first two chapters of Spilka’s book Digital Literacy for Technical Communication echoes this definition. In the introduction, she writes, “we are identifying ourselves not as members of any one field, such as technical communication, but rather, as cross- or multi- disciplinary” (p.5, 2010). These disciplines could include, but are not limited to, English, communications, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, visual design, and so on. Really, it’s a little bit of everything.
My background as an undergrad is in physics; specifically, my degree was a Bachelor of Science in applied physics, with a minor in English. My work history during and after college, I feel, has been far from conventional (which I’m pretty okay with). Some of my jobs that leaned closer to physics were as a research assistant at UW Eau Claire for the physics department, and as an engineering technician for a manufacturing company. Now, I’m doing more of the “communications” side of technical communications while working in the non-profit sector of Eau Claire as a coordinator. I honestly was never sure what exactly I wanted to do as a career, but I knew I liked working with people through speaking or writing and was capable of understanding science and working with numbers. This is why I think I was drawn to tech comm with having a such a mish mash of skills, interests, and experience.
At the core of technical communication is of course technology; and technology is always evolving. As its evolved, technology has fortunately facilitated tech commers to become skilled at many things, either through traditional schooling or DIY-type instruction, so that tech commers may, “become their own designers, illustrators, and production assistants” (Spilka p.45, 2010). There is somewhat of a symbiotic relationship between technology and technical communicators. While technology grows, the skills of technical communicators also grow, and they can thus communicate/advocate the wonders of technology.
It’s still a little tricky to give one clear definition for technical communication (which is probably why some technical communication course’s first assignments are to write up a definition). One thing I think it certain, though, is that technical communicators are versatile in their skills. While technology grows, I think the importance of our role also continues to grow.
About Nathan BaughmanGraduate student at UW Stout, Technical and Professional Communications program.
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