The scope of the roles that content creators and managers fill is expanding exponentially as the value of real time information moves beyond user manuals, policies, and other traditional documentation.
These changes are driven by developments like:
- The adoption of mobile as a principal means of consuming information, by advances in artificial intelligence, and new AI delivery platforms like Alexa, OK Google, and Siri.
- The increasing need for globalization means localization and translation solutions become vital to even small companies no longer limited by geographic location.
- The ability to align documentation with development releases creating an expectation on the part of end-users that your information will always be up to date and specific to their use case.
“Tesla, though, has a tremendous virtue: They’re really a fast-learning company. Last night, at the dinner I was at, one of the people complained, in a good-humored way, ‘My Tesla changes almost every week when there’s a new software release. They just released a new Autopilot, and it’s much much better than before.”
Note: Those weekly releases require weekly release notes for users and they are delivered directly to the car and conditionalized to the model receiving the information. This is not a future scenario, it is a reality. Can your documentation processes support something similar?
Leverage These Developments on a Personal Basis To Advance Your Career
We’ve written about how these developments and others will change the information landscape. On a more personal basis, they also offer unusual career advancement opportunities for tech writers and content managers. Like any changes, initially embracing them means short term risks, but avoiding them has even greater long term risk. In our view, the opportunities outweigh the risks and those who embrace new technologies are going to see their career options expand.
Let’s look at some things you can do now to get up to speed:
- Learn new technology. Obviously we are big proponents of structured content development and management tools like CCMSs. We recognize that there is a learning curve for these technologies, but we also know that you can tackle them bit by bit, learning as you go. There are great free sites like LearningDITA.com that offer online training. Did you know that adding DITA skills can increase your value ($) to a company by up to 40% (Indeed.com)? Other technologies to look at are the wide variety of distribution media like WordPress, wikis, video, audio, contextual help, etc.
- Become the in house expert on an emerging media or development toolset. Every day we have more companies coming to us with problems that their existing systems and workflows can’t handle. These queries come in two flavors: From people doing initial research without specific knowledge about solutions, and from tech savvy users with some structured content management experience. In every case we can better help companies who have some knowledge of current platforms for information development. Become a power user or an internal resource for knowledge about how these solutions solve looming content challenges. Emerging media delivery options are covered in great detail online, as are emerging technologies like AI-driven translation. Pick an area you think your company could benefit from and become an expert. What is an expert? One definition says you are an expert if you already know about new developments in a subject before it hits the big media outlets.
- Do your own research when you encounter problems and present better options to your team. Have you ever written a scenario? Scenario planning involves identifying an emerging big problem and theorizing about how to fix it. Large global companies often have dedicated teams that build scenarios around potentially disruptive events and technologies. Think about building a scenario around something that can impact your work and present what you learn to your team. This could be a simple Lunch and Learn designed to stimulate discussion. One piece of advice: Create a simple presentation deck that can stand alone without a talk track (I’ll tell you why in the next bullet). The time-honored format is Problem, Proposed Solution(s), Predicted Results.
- Escalate what you’ve learned up the decision tree. Culturally this may entail some risk when bypassing traditional channels, but it will get attention. How do you do this? Is there a company blog? Ask its editor if you can contribute content. Post it on your intranet as a thought piece. Share your deck on SlideShare. Tell people about it during casual encounters. Shoot for the moon and send it to your CEO/CIO. Don’t attach an ambition to it, just say ‘I thought you’d find this interesting’.
- You’re a writer- write about your experience and what you’re working on. There are many places you can publish to on your own time like Medium, a personal blog, LinkedIn, or by offering to guest post on an industry blog.
- Tackle big problems. Somewhere out there is a big problem looming for your organization that involves information development. Look for these issues and apply the processes here to start working on them and getting others thinking about the issue. This proactive approach requires personal effort outside of work that is self-driven.
- Veer into other business areas in your organization. The prime example here is looking at your content and thinking through how it could be repurposed. Can a product manual be used by HR for new hire onboarding? Can marketing point prospects to things like installation guides so buyers doing research can understand how a product fits their needs? Can your content management skills be used to help audit teams with compliance and governance?
Being Really Good At One Thing Has Its Risks
Sometimes being an excellent tech writer can back you into a corner, career wise. You’re so good and so reliable that you’ve become indispensable. That’s great for those who need you, but it may limit your ability to advance your career into more interesting directions. The suggestions here are all ways to start building your value beyond being a professional writer to being seen as a professional communicator and innovator.