RE: More about the changes coming to tech writing

Subject: RE: More about the changes coming to tech writing
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: "sharon -at- anthrobytes -dot- com" <sharon -at- anthrobytes -dot- com>, 'Milan DavidoviÄ' <milan -dot- lists -at- gmail -dot- com>, 'Dan Goldstein' <DGoldstein -at- cytomedix -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 6 May 2014 16:58:25 -0400

It's always been that way.

For me, it's effectively a third career that started in the early-mid eighties, after three-years-was-too-many-thank-you in the military, followed by some re-edjumacation and then a few years being a technician in computer-ish stuff. So, I was just about 30 when I came over to the light side.

I got sent to conferences every couple of years by three different employers, until shortly after the bursting of the tech bubble.... and then, not once in the 13 years since. Since most of what I brought home from various presentations and panels - or at least what I kinda retained - was in the published "Proceedings" (for STC conferences, anyway), I never saw sufficient utility to pay my own way from eastern Canada to some State-sideand use a chunk of vacation to gamble on a conference.

I admit that, after about ten years of increasing frenzy as a one-man-band, I got some help a few years ago, and he's almost as old as I am... but now there are three of us, and she is in her twenties.

This list gets frequent (similar/repetitive?) requests from new - or soon to be graduating - techwriters, and they mostly "sound" young.

Other departments in other offices of this growing company have each had a techwriter or two or three for years, and I might not be the oldest, but I'm older than most (if not all). The rest have .... um.... er.... aged in place. But now several offices are getting additional writerly help, some of it young-ish.

So, my limited sample suggests that we are skewed kinda older, but new, young blood is steadily coming in.

-------------- thought break -------------------

Y'know, we do talk a lot about people seeing the shine come off their early chosen jobs/careers, and drifting into what we do, as a more pleasant and (possibly) rewarding way to trade time for money. But do we have a way to track people going the other way?
Aside from a few people, over the years, who have lingered to socialize after getting out of techpubs-per-se, mostly they've just stopped participating in this list and maybe somebody says "Say, I haven't seen anything from So-and-so for a while". But otherwise, disappearances that go unheralded are almost impossible to notice. So, it might be that there's just as much attrition in the other direction (and not just to biz analyst) as there is INTO this trade. It's just that the influx is much easier to see, at least on a list like this one. When the dispersion of the observable objects/persons is visually and mentally [semi-] random, a new object/person popping into view is much easier to detect than a cumulative non-appearance of one or another person. More so because most people tend to be lurkers, most of the time, with us yappy ones in the minority.

Above, I refer to people trading out to other employment, and not dying or retiring.

-------------- end of that, whatever it was ----

-----Original Message-----
From: Sharon Burton [mailto:sharon -at- anthrobytes -dot- com]

In my experience, most people looking to make the change into tech comm are in their late 30s or older. Most don't have small children. They have been sort of doing tech comm for a while and really like it and are burning out on what they've been doing for the last 15 years. They want to do tech comm full time and get more training in how to do it "right".

In my experience, the average age of certainly STC conferences is 50s or older. We go to these conferences to see friends and socialize. Oh, and maybe learn something, too.

However, the conferences I know about who are looking at getting younger-in-the-field people to attend are aware the average age of attendance is rising and soon people will age out of the profession.

If conference budget cuts are the issue, I would think we'd see that across all ages. The conferences I'm familiar with who know they have this issue are not seeing that.

I think the younger in field prefer webinars and more technically advanced conferences. I have attended a few in the last year that skewed younger and it was delightful to see and be a part of.

But my point about the problem with the assertion that tech comm is dying because the participants in our field are older stands. This is a second career for most people, thus we would always skew older than something you train for 4 years in college. Unlike CPAs or marketing, for example.


Sharon Burton
Twitter: sharonburton
Author of 8 Steps to Amazing Webinars,
available on Amazon and

-----Original Message-----
From: McLauchlan, Kevin [mailto:Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com]

Conferences are expensive, except for people who live, at least in the State, if not in the city, where the conference is held.

Your first two paragraphs inform your third.

If people are getting into techpubs in their late twenties or early thirties (second career), they are still early in earning power - especially if they stepped sideways and lost some seniority, or even took a wee dip in compensation to get into the new-to-them field - AND they are in the young-family stage, probably with recent mortgages, so they have no discretionary income. If, as somebody else pointed out, there are no more training and professional-development budgets from employers, then the entire cost (including the limited vacation days available when one doesn't yet have seniority) is born by the writer. Either you spend those two weeks taking the family to Disney World (well, a few days driving there, and a few days driving back, 'cuz you can't afford to fly all five of you), or you spend one of those precious weeks at a conference. And you pay for your accommodation and conference expenses with what would have been the money for your family's hotel, food, and Disney day-passes. Those who understand how limited is the window to spend "quality time" with the kids and spouse, decide against the conference.

If they are getting into techpubs after their thirties, then well... they are already starting to resemble "the average age at conferences is getting older".

The above two paragraphs explain the demographic that you see, in large part.

The other large part is that so many people, but especially the younger, just assume that conferences are... or should be... webinars and podcasts and such. Who needs to travel?
Hell, if they got some academic credentials to help them make the career jump, chances are that much (all?) of the class time was on-line distance learning, so they are already primed to expect on-line stuff, as opposed to inconvenient, travel-to, expensive, live conferences.

-----Original Message-----
From: Sharon Burton
Sent: May-06-14 12:26 PM
To: 'Milan DavidoviÄ'; 'Dan Goldstein'
Cc: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: RE: More about the changes coming to tech writing

Yes, the flaws are Tech Comm has always been a second career (in the 20+ years I've been in it). I've been teaching tech comm for 16 years and almost all my students have always been working professionals who are looking to change careers or get actual training in that they fell into.

Our field has always been skewed to over 35 (again for the 20+ years I've been in it). Expecting us to be a bell curve is unrealistic, as most people do not enter this field from college as accounting people do. It's not the demographic of our field.

That said, the average age at conferences is getting older, as the people who are younger in our field seem to not be attending as often. That's an interesting problem that organizations are looking at - how to engage the younger/new people to value conferences.


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More about the changes coming to tech writing: From: Cardimon, Craig
RE: More about the changes coming to tech writing: From: Dan Goldstein
Re: More about the changes coming to tech writing: From: Milan DavidoviÄ
RE: More about the changes coming to tech writing: From: Sharon Burton
RE: More about the changes coming to tech writing: From: McLauchlan, Kevin
RE: More about the changes coming to tech writing: From: Sharon Burton

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