Jack of All Trades, Master of All
Posted by emilyklaird
The study detailed in Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World, by Blythe, Lauer, and Curran (2014) features the perfect quote to summarize technical communicators at this moment. It comes from an online comments forum where an individual, presumed to work in technical content management, notes of technical writing, “you must branch out and be a master of many skills and tools.” That’s right, a master, not just someone who can dabble, but a sophisticated, knowledgeable user. What Blythe, Lauer, and Curran (2014) ultimately find from their study is those working in the technical and professional communication (TPC) field utilize a wide range of writing styles, audiences, and technology to accomplish their role. Coincidently, Rachel Spilka’s (2010) book Digital Literacy for Technical Communication reflects and discusses the impacts technology has had on the technical communicator. Saul Carliner‘s “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century” presents the radical changes the technical communication professional has gone through since the late 1970s. The changes have all directly been impacted by technological evolution. Carliner will conclude that in today’s workplace, the challenge technical communicators face is ultimately being outsources. Content development needs are dwindling, but this, from my experience which I will later discuss, is due to the vast amount of technology now required in the workplace. Technical communicators simply cannot know it all, but, we are almost required for job security purposes. As Blythe et. al. (2014) found, gone are the days of specialized skills, replaced instead by the Swiss army knife approach. One unit, or person, that does everything. R. Stanley Dicks will also expand on this in his chapter “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work”. Dicks (2014) states in his opening sentence, “With the rapid and intense increase in digital literacy, technical communication is, by many accounts, in the midst of a seismic shift” (p. 51). Economics, management, and methodologies, as they affect management theory, have aided in the shift. From web techniques like single-sourcing, so productivity management, such as scrum, Dicks discusses emerging norms altering the workplace landscape. Ultimately, Dicks will lean on education as a solution for assisting in the ever-evolving responsibilities of the technical communicator. Education is important and plays a critical role in preparing individuals for the field. What I would like to emphasize in the second part of my post, a professional reflection, is the extent of continuous education required once practicing as a technical communicator.
Professionally, I deal with a wide range of requirements working in a technologist role. It is not enough to understand the basics of any programs, we’re expected to know everything. From novice to expert, my knowledge must be able to run the gamut to effectively perform my job. I must know the learning management system (LMS) our campus uses inside and out. Additionally, I must understand all of the extensions that go into using the LMS. As Covid-19 has shifted our classrooms into more virtual spaces, I must also understand the virtual conferencing applications we use. Video is also in high demand right now and so I often find myself training on video editing, embedding, and linking. Just this week, I offered two trainings on a new accessibility tool. Additionally, I developed documents aiding instructors in understanding FERPA requirements that relate to their classroom. So in a given week, I may assist instructors with troubleshooting their online courses, write manuals supporting tools, edit videos, train on accessibility, and FERPA, all while answering calls and emails about other niche technology issues. I can’t count out all the other ad hoc issues thrown my way on a given day. Now, don’t let my reflection fool you into thinking I’m complaining. I absolutely love what I do. Learning new technology is one of my favorite activities, so I’m overjoyed to learn more. What I’m trying to showcase is how broad and varied my day-to-day, even hour-to-hour can be working in technology. I certainly have my specialties on the team. I am the designer of the group. So if instructors have design issues related to their course, both with instructional design or graphic design, they also come to me. Yes, I am literally a human one-stop-shop with technology software, applications, and tools. Which is both amazing and also a tad bit daunting. On top of this, my team and I are always looking to the future, from Technology Trends for 2021 to upcoming Learning Trends. Let’s add a cherry on top of this giant sundae as we’re also busy keeping up with the ever-changing offerings of the programs we currently use. Microsoft Teams is a great example of this. Here is what was new in Teams for September and here is what was new in October. Next week, I’ll have another new release coming of features and upgrades to familiarize myself with before my clients encounter them. Our readings this week, certainly shed light on how much the TPC field has grown with technology. The benefit of how comfortable most people are with technology is also the challenge. Our clients are engaging deeper into tech which leads to more programs and software use. It also leads to more training and more ways to ensure the options their choosing ultimately meets the needs of the end-users. Accessibility is always a major concern in my world and so not only must my client be trained on using the tool, they must understand how to navigate that tool for end-users with disabilities. The TPC field is so multifaceted requiring continuous training and educational growth. As the title of this article states, we are expected to function as a Jack of all trades, master of all.
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