Tech comm education and the job market

One of the many informative experiences I had at this year’s WriteTheDocs 2018 conference was my chat with employers/recruiters at the Job Fair. My primary goal was to learn what they looked for in their technical communication interns and entry level recruits, so I could bring that back to school. What I learned was not surprising, having only recently left industry for academia, but it was a wake-up call.

Recruiters want people (even their interns) who have experience and they want current and relevant experience.

I agree, that’s a bit of a Dog bites man story. Of course they do. All other things being equal, having current and relevant experience is almost always better than not. I suspect it is because the assumption is that with it, the person will become a productive team member sooner than later. What I think is often overlooked is how other idiosyncratic aspects of the specific job might have a greater influence in the time to productivity, such as the onboarding support (discussed in Sarah Day’s talk at this year’s conference), but that’s not something that I, as an educator, have much control over (unless you’re hiring me to consult on the process, of course).

What an intern needs

One of the things I have to keep in mind when reviewing my notes is that I was at a software documentation conference and the companies I talked to were software companies with open-source software products to document. In that context, it was natural that they were looking for writers with experience in their product domains: open-source tool experience (Git, GitHub, Markdown, etc.) They also looked for a passion for documentation—as evidenced by experience in such tools (e.g. documenting an open-source project in GitHub). I don’t know how many of these observations transfer to looking for writers in other industries.

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Still catching up…

Photo of stacks of archived patient files
Archived paper patient files from one of the clinics I visited this summer.

It seems as though I’ve been “catching up” since I started as an assistant professor, and I’m not sure I’ve gotten any better, but I keep trying.

Summer break is just weeks from turning into the Fall semester where I’ll dive into my second year as an Assistant Professor. While I’m looking forward to it, I really need two more months of summer to catch up.

As I get used to academia, I’m finding the term Summer break to be a bit misleading. While it’s a break in the academic year, I’ve been too busy to consider it much of a break. Granted, I’ve been having fun, and it’s nice that work is fun.

Summer started off with a trip to Honduras, where I was able to conduct some site visits and contextual inquiries in how limited-resource health clinics manage their records. After two weeks of visiting five different clinics in Honduras, I came back with enough research to complete a conference paper, start a journal article, apply for a grant, and get an internship for one of our TC students…and that was all before the spring semester had officially ended.

After returning, of course, I had to actually produce the papers for which I’d collected the data and prepare for the conference presentation that I’ll be making next week with two professors from my department at the IEEE ProComm 2017 conference in Madison, WI.

One happy coincidence I had this summer was to meet some super technical writers from the Denver-Boulder (Colorado) area at a Write-the-Docs meetup. As luck would have it, their meeting and my travel managed to coincide last night in Broomfield, CO and I got to meet some of the tech writers that, until last night, only knew through email and the WTD forum.

But, busy is good. I’m looking forward to next week’s conference and, of course, the semester that starts just a few weeks after that.