Technical communication is changing rapidly like any other thing in our world.
A new report by The Writers Block, “Technical Communication Landscape Survey Report (Bangalore, Karnataka, India)”, lists the following future specializations for technical communicators:
- Technical writing
- Instructional design
- Usability expertise
- Online tutoring
- Multimedia and Web development
- Product management
- Proposal writing
- Editing and science and technological reviewing
- Content creation
My own personal take is a bit different in terms of the general categories even though I do agree that the above list reflects viable career paths for all technical communicators to specialize in.
I believe the following 6 broad categories represent the main paths of specialization available to tech communicators in the near future (a 5-10 year perspective):
(1) Tool and application expertise.
Tool SMEs. These are the technical communicators that learn the software applications and hardware platforms that other tech writers use inside out. They have a deep, encyclopedic knowledge about many text, graphic, page layout and web editors. Among others, they are the holders of Microsoft’s MOUSE certification. They are Adobe’s ACE certified experts in FrameMaker, Acrobat, Captivate, etc. They either hire themselves out as consultants, or write books, blogs, train, and teach. They love to share, communicate, hold hands, and solve problems.
(2) DITA and XML-authoring, single sourcing.
The most technically difficult of all the six paths since it has a very steep learning curve. These experts will always be relatively few in number, cater to mid-size and big corporations, and get compensated well for their efforts. This is a highly professional vanguard group that define the rules of the game (especially at enterprise level) as they serve as consultants within the same game. Competition for the big lucrative contracts in this category will be fierce in the future while the entrance threshold will remain high. This group will almost be immune to outsourcing in the near future.
(3) System and technology expertise.
These are mostly ex-engineers, coder and developers, ex-military men and women, true die-hard geeks who took to technical writing later in their careers but still maintain a keen interest in installing and configuring systems, setting up server-side applications, write specs and A&E documents, love all kinds of troubleshooting and work like business analysts as much as technical communicators. They straddle the challenging transition zone between development and documentation.
(4) Graphics, layout, design and technical illustration.
As long as technical communication exists there will be a need for graphic illustrations and layout design. However the tools, scale, and precision that the job requires will keep ratcheting up. The Photoshop, InDesign, Dream Weaver, and Illustrator masters of today will find themselves working more frequently with traditional CAD experts. They will be asked to deliver A-to-Z integrated graphic packages that include not only document illustrations but all kinds of marketing and mobile-platform graphics as well. The demand will remain high for this category of services despite outsourcing pressures.
(5) Copy writing and editing.
This is the most traditional career path in this group since its main focus will remain writing, editing, proof reading, good grammar and syntax skills, good conceptual organization and expression. This group will continue to generate the bread-and-butter user manuals and guides as well as all kinds of quick startup and reference materials. The demand for their services will never diminish but their compensation will be under competitive pressures due to relatively easy outsourcing alternatives. I expect lower morale and increasing turn-over rate for this group in the future.
As documentation projects get more complex and cater to an international audience, the proper management of these multi-actor documentation projects will become increasingly more important. Companies will gain a crucial competitive advantage if their documentation sets are managed properly and delivered on time, at world-class standards. And those companies with poorly led and managed technical communication teams will suffer as they deliver deficient documents late, leading to a poor user experience and low consumer satisfaction levels. There will be more technical communicators in the future with formal college degrees in documentation management. Although currently this group mainly consists of ex-technical writers, I foresee a future in which these two roles (writing and management) will separate completely. A sub-specialty that will rapidly differentiate itself within this category will be Localization Project Managers.