Technical Writing Then and Now



I never imagined myself as a technical writer if you ask me. I did not study
to become one, and certainly did not inherit it from my family. Of course, I had
little knowledge about the technical communication profession a few years ago.
About the time I graduated from college in 2001, the technical communication
field began gaining credibility in India, thanks to some laudable efforts from
professional bodies such as the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and
INTECOM. Opportunities for aspiring technical writers at that time were not
abundant.

The Road Less Traveled
I clearly remember-my first call for an interview came after two months of
meeting with consultants, placing resumes on various job boards, and calling the
HR departments of various multinational companies. The adverse circumstances did
not leave me with many choices. My entry into becoming a technical communication
professional happened by chance. Who exactly was to be blamed for the
unfavorable conditions? It could have been the outsourcing bust that caught us
unaware or the lack of education, who knows. For most people, it was definitely
a road less traveled.

Six years later, things are looking much brighter and more promising.
Technical writers in India have benefited from the sudden outsourcing surge.
Many companies (especially those with products and services) are on a hiring
spree, which is improving the outlook of the profession. India is now home to
many technical writing activities-learning sessions and informal meetings in
almost every major city; mailing lists and special interest groups; ezines and
newsletters that display written talent; and annual conferences. This trend is
here to last provided products continue to be developed or maintained in India,
and we continue to learn, improve, and demonstrate our skills.

Changing Perspective
A technical communication job today is much more than just writing. Of
course, writing is only one of the common denominators. Many employers take it
for granted that a person can write. They are often more interested in your
technical skills, which will definitely help you secure the job, yet it is
writing that will help you excel at it.

We must constantly remind ourselves that technical writing jobs were not
created in India. To sustain these good times, we must try to predict the future
and the trends that shape it. It is a time for transformation!

Technical writing is not just about learning and writing
about new technologies, domains, product suites, and processes. It is how
you can set business direction, align and motivate others and deliver
results

Transformation of Writing as a Core Business Function: In many organizations
where technical writers are employed today, writing is seen as a strategic
business function. Making our presence felt requires that we must work harder
towards transforming the profession itself into a core business function. It is
our responsibility to educate product stakeholders about the importance of
hiring technical communicators. However, we are not at that point yet where we
can sit down with them and squeeze documentation into their final project plans.

Call for Leadership: In the context of reduced IT savings, organizations
everywhere are constantly looking at budgets, which are tightly coupled with
resources. The newfound mantra is to increase the profits with lesser work
force. This has a direct implication to our profession as well. We must
continually remind management about the value that we provide the company. How
can we possibly achieve this? For one, we need people with leadership
abilities-managers who do not have to wink at the very mention of costs, who can
create an effective business case and opportunities for technical communicators.
(I am not talking here of return on investments alone, but a person, similar to
a user advocate, who can demonstrate value.)

Does that mean writing is going to align itself with management in the
business? Well, I am convinced it will. You have already witnessed this trend in
the US, where most manufacturing and service-related jobs migrated to cheaper
locations, thus causing layoffs on the pretext of costs. US writers are
confident that technical communication jobs will return. Many of them are taking
on other professional roles as project managers, editors, and so on during this
time.

Indulge in Technology, Innovation, and Business: The next best is to
understand where we are going as a profession. For this, indulge in technology,
innovation, and business. The first step is in being recognized as a part of the
development team. This requires you to be adept at technology. The second is to
make your presence felt on an organizational level, which requires innovation.
You have to make a parallel between a firm’s revenue and your contribution to
it, which requires business skills. Try attending meetings with development
teams and help influence their decisions. You have to step out of your cubicles
and understand how the business works. In addition, we waste much of our time on
perishable skills, such as understanding the tools. Our focus should remain on
intellectual skills and how we can capitalize on that.

Time for Change
For those entering this profession, the groundwork has started for you. I am
wary of those who do not belong to the technical communication profession;
people who can be at a large disadvantage in the end. We need to carefully watch
where we go from here. Complacency can reverse the trends at any moment.

Technical writing is not just about learning and writing about new
technologies, domains, product suites, and processes. It is how you can set
business direction, align and motivate others and deliver results.


Rahul Prabhakar

maildqindia@cybermedia.co.in
The author is a technical communication professional with Samsung Electronics,
based in Seoul, South Korea

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