RE: Transferable skills of a Tech Writer

Subject: RE: Transferable skills of a Tech Writer
From: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com>
To: "mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com" <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>, 'TECHWR-L' <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2016 20:58:29 +0000

This is interesting, Mark. You're sort of pointing to testing as a way to assess competency in a quantifiable skill. Interesting the distinction between quantifiable and unquantifiable in the arena of both the skill and the outcome.

I want to try to get at what I'm talking about this way -- and Tony pretty much hits the mark on this as he ventures into the personal domain, with the CAR table and evaluating one's impact from not just work but also personal projects. "I am more than my job" -- this is critical.

Oh, by the way, though, you suggest that communication is key to what we do and sort of suggest that we should maintain focus on skills relating to communication. (Apologies if I'm interpreting that wrong.) What I'm saying is that, even as Tech Writers, the skills we have are not only related to communication.

What I'm trying to get at is how a person views their "working self."

Do you see yourself as a collection of paid-for skills, or do you see yourself as a unique individual with many skills that don't necessarily relate directly to your work as a Technical Communicator but can still be applied directly to the tasks at hand. Maybe these are skills that you weren't aware you could apply to what you're doing.

Of course I looked up "skill" on M-W online, and under the definition they have a nice synonym discussion -- and I find I like most what they say about the word "craft": "'craft' may imply expertness in workmanship [the craft of a master goldsmith]." And here's one of their definitions of "craft" under the word itself: "2a: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill [the carpenter's craft] [the craft of writing plays] [crafts such as pottery, carpentry, and sewing]."

I don't mean Technical Writing or Technical Communication as a craft (although it is), but I'm referring to each individual skill as a craft (both within the larger craft and outside of it -- skills that you possess).

I'm also saying that you start in the opposite direction of what most people are putting forth here (Tony is the exception). So most folks are saying, Look at what's out there, and then shape yourself to meet that. (I should say up front that I'm *not* looking to break out of my role, my department, or my company - I'm happy where I am, I love my job, love what I do, love the company, love the mission all the way up, and am only looking for self-definition that allows me to contribute in a greater way to what I'm already doing.)

So I'm suggesting the opposite:

Start with who you are. How do you define yourself? What knowledge do you have? What skills do you have right now?

What knowledge do you want to acquire? What skills do you want to acquire? What do you want to apply these things to? What are *your* interests?

Once you have this figured out, *then* look at how you can apply all these things to the matters at hand in your work. Or, if you are in a position where you're unattached (meaning out in the marketplace), start looking at *where* you want to apply these particular skills. And then yes, as part of that you have to look at what that target destination needs. If there's no match, it won't work. But you're asserting who *you* are first, and trying to find fulfillment of those various parts of yourself that you've defined, and that you want to cultivate.

The problem to me is in defining oneself only in terms of what you get paid to do. "I'm a Technical Writer." To some folks, nothing else matters. They identify themselves with their profession.

And then everything in life is interpreted in the context of what they do professionally.

For example, for these folks, anything else they do in life is classified as a "hobby," or maybe a diversion. Never mind that they might be just as experienced and skilled in this other thing that they don't get paid to do as in their profession - maybe even more so. But there's your profession, and there are your hobbies, and unless you are trying to monetize a hobby, it's just a hobby and it is relegated to quite a bit lower place compared to what you get paid to do.

The example that comes to mind for me is parenting. (I'm not a parent.) Let's say someone raises four kids and those kids grow up to have successful careers and successful families. The parent has a very deeply cultivated skill in what it means to be a parent. But they didn't get paid a dime by any company to do that. They might have spent more time being a parent than they did in their profession -- at least for some of the years, parenting is 24/7.

So what is the skill of parenting and how might that be applied to your profession? "Well, I can wrangle a bunch of sniveling babies in your group and get them all coordinated on a project." Kind of like a trip to Walmart.

I'm not saying that's what you have to promote or even put on your resume in any way.

I'm just saying that there are "hidden" skills that we all have that we've cultivated over our lifetimes, and careers, that maybe we overlook because we don't see how we can directly apply them to the tasks of being a Technical Communicator in order to improve our work and maybe make a difference.

So I'm suggesting *starting* with who you are and seeing where those things you've cultivated can be applied, versus starting with who the target is and changing yourself to meet those needs.

What do *you* want to do within your department or role that maybe you're not doing that would fulfill a need, result in something very effective, productive, and positive, and would align with, not conflict with, the goals or direction of the department, your manager, or the company?

Perhaps this is not a skill you've ever been paid a dime for, and it would never be listed on your resume, but still, it is an asset that you have that perhaps has never been used.

And I know that some of this has already been done -- e.g., the mom who raises five kids who finds a way to leverage that into the skillset she can bring to her career.

I guess what I'm saying is, it's not always about what "they" want or just about what "they" want. It's at least also about what *you* want. When it comes to a paycheck, it's about what they want. When it comes to growing within that paycheck, it's about what you want.


On Wednesday, September 07, 2016 7:11 AM, Mark Baker wrote:

I'm not sure what an abstract skill is, but there are quantifiable skills and non-quantifiable skills. For a job that requires quantifiable skills, like accounting, for example, you can demonstrate that you have the skill in concrete terms. The value of that skill can then be set by the market based on the quantification of the skill, not the results.

Then there are non-quantifiable skills like sales. You can't measure what makes someone a good salesperson. However, sales has quantifiable results.
You can measure how much a person actually sells, even if you can can't measure why they are good at it. The value of this skill is therefore set by results, not qualifications, which is why most sales people are paid on commission.

Then there is technical communication. Communication is a non-quantifiable skill. There may be training for it, but some who get the training are awful and some who don't are brilliant and we can't quantify the difference. But technical communication also has largely unquantifiable results. Other communication professions, such as novelist, have quantifiable results because we can count book sales. But the result of good tech writing is that customers are successful using your products and you can't instrument that consistently, nor can you easily tell whether their success is due to the interface design, the training, or the docs. Yes, there are indirect measures, but they are hard to tie back to the individual acts of individual writers.

So, we produce unquantifiable results using unquantifiable skills. Our compensation, therefore, is based on supply and demand. And if you are asking how to convince a VP that you could do other things, you are going to have a hard slog because there is not much quantifiable to point to in what you do.

Which brings me back to explaining the curse of knowledge. Because if you can't quantify your skills or your results, you can at least explain why communication is hard. And since communication is key to so many functions in the corporation, that might open some doors, especially if it give the VP an a-ha moment about why some other initiative might be struggling. In other words, if you can't quantify an effect, demonstrate it.


On Tuesday, 6 September 2016, Janoff, Steven <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com>
> If you wanted to educate a VP, or someone from the C-suite, as to what
> "abstract" skills a Tech Writer has that could be applied to their own
> challenges, what would you list?

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Transferable skills of a Tech Writer: From: Janoff, Steven
Re: Transferable skills of a Tech Writer: From: Tony Chung
RE: Transferable skills of a Tech Writer: From: mbaker

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