Written by Jay Manaloto
Let’s be honest. Technical writer isn’t the sexiest job title. We don’t get the fanciest gadgets or the largest piece of the budget. It’s not a job that a grade-school or high-school student looks up to the first thing in the morning, assuming he or she knows what it is. In fact, even grown-ups don’t necessarily aspire to be technical writers or consider the job to be their first career choice. More often than not, it’s the other way around. Folks don’t seek to be tech writers; it’s the tech writing job that seeks them. As an information developer — which sounds only slightly sexier than technical writer — with a Civil Engineering degree, I can definitely identify with that point of view.
But maybe most technical writers like it that way? Let me explain. After all, the job isn’t often in the spotlight, and might even encourage the tendency to lurk in the shadows. To illustrate, even among our STC Southern Nevada email list, only a fraction attend our local meetings, and even fewer attend regularly. Naturally, certain creatures prefer this type of quieter, gentler habitat. Especially introspective or solitary personalities. As one who tends to fit this profile from time to time, I admit, it’s difficult to leave the shelter of one’s comfort zone. Which might also explain why among the other richer, sexier roles, and interacting with them, the typical tech writing role isn’t the most socially outspoken or outgoing role either. Which brings us to the topic of social media.
Why is it that among the dozens of technical writers and information developers I know, most of them don’t engage in work-related social media? Sure, some of them might have a Facebook page for friends and family, and many of them have a LinkedIn page for professional use, but why don’t most tech writers write blogs about their opinions? Why don’t most of them tweet? Is it their fear of the spotlight? Perhaps. Is it their lack of confidence in their area of technical expertise? Possibly. Is it their lack of awareness of the blogging and micro-blogging platforms that exist out there? Maybe. Or do they write simply as a technical job, and not as a hobby too? Luckily, I seem to be the rare exception who enjoys managing several WordPress and Twitter accounts across both work and play. But it wasn’t easy to find my voice. Personally, social-media experience and techno-professional confidence were, and continue to be, big factors. And above all, a fun-filled passion!
So, speaking as the rare information developer who does, in fact, blog and tweet, how do technical writing and social media intersect? The answer — in more ways than you might expect. Ironically, my primary blog — jaymanalotoibm.wordpress.com — was born because our local STC Southern Nevada blog wasn’t posting my articles fast enough for me. But as a result of that ordeal, I’ve ultimately shaped my blog into a creative outlet for my techno-professional brainstorms, predictions, and criticisms. Which not only builds my technological awareness and skills as an information developer, but also builds my social visibility and technical credibility in professional networks. It’s especially gratifying when sales or service folks from IBM or other companies find my blog in some obscure search and take the time to ask a question about what I wrote. Nice.
Do I have any advice for my technical writing peers? I think so. After all, social media isn’t simply about blogs, tweets, and social networks, it also encompasses forums, wikis, chats, and similar social-collaboration tools — like the Slack.com website or Slack mobile app — in the workplace. The Agile software development methodology also ties closely into this notion of cross-functional collaboration. In this new mobile information age of smartphones, phablets, wearables, and the Internet of Things, the role of social-media and social-collaboration apps and tools will only grow. And technical writers must grow with it, adapt to it, and evolve. Even better if you can find the joy or courage to share that evolution!
So we as technical writers should be open to technology and technological changes, and learn about them, especially if these rapid changes can encourage, embolden, or amplify your lone voice. We shouldn’t be afraid to attend webinars, keynotes, or STC meetings to accumulate and exchange ideas and news about these technological changes. For some of us, we might even be bold enough to anticipate, predict, or prepare for those changes, and then share that boldness. Not all is lost! Otherwise, the alternative is to be left behind in the solitude of shadows. Not for me. Of course, there might be employers who don’t depend on technology nor the Internet. Again, not for me. And maybe, not for you either.