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23 March 2014

Classes for Technical Writers / Communicators

Any suggestions for what further education pairs well with technical communication?
-- Nicholas
Ask the Right Question

Nicholas has asked the right question -- sort of. I don't think anybody can answer the question for him.
A technical communicator translates the Subject Matter Experts' (SME's) geek-speak into plain human-speak. Learning the SME's language will play a pivotal role in success. Even introductory courses in the chosen domain will dramatically shorten the learning curve once he lands a job.
The question omits any decision about the domain in which Nicholas will practice. When he chooses a direction, he will be better able to determine the answer for himself.
If Nicholas has not chosen a domain, yet, I would suggest that he visit his school's career office and the state employment office and ask, "What industries show growth potential for Technical Writers?" Once he has a list of, say, the top ten fields, he can consider which field(s) would most personally reward him.

After that, he can ask, "What subjects would best help me learn the language of the SME's in that field?"
Supporting Skills
An employee does not just sit down and start doing the job. Each job has supporting knowledge areas such as planning work, reporting activities, conducting meetings, and defining and adhering to ethics. A successful employee also looks ahead in the direction that the career and the profession will take. That adds soft skills, management, and industry trends to the list.
I will name two of the most important skills Nicholas could add to his quiver.
First, the most important SME in anybody's career is the boss. Learning about project management (I suggest PMP Exam Prep by Rita Mulcahey) will help Nicholas:
  • Understand how he can support his manager's success
  • Learn more about organizing his own work
  • Start his climb up the career ladder
The knowledge areas defined by project management standards can also serve as springboards into further studies.
Second, the ability to visually model processes and information would help Nicholas in any industry. To that end, he should familiarize himself with the Unified Modeling Language (UML). An Internet search will turn up plenty of tutorials.)
UML is not a language (not in my vocabulary, anyway), but rather a set of graphical styles and standards for defining and illustrating relationships between entities and for defining the processes in which entities interact. If Nicholas works in the software field or supports business processes, he will probably need to understand UML, anyway.
Basic Life Skills for Success in Any Technical Career
People normally associate project management with management and producing products, and they associate UML with software engineering, systems engineering, and business analysis. However, the set of tools these two topics would give Nicholas, and the ways of thinking that they teach, would be invaluable in almost any domain. He can study those areas while thinking about the industry he wants to work in.
"Professionals" distinguish themselves by continuously and independently learning. Schools lead students through semi-standardized curricula, but professionals write their own curricula. Nicholas should plan his future studies but bear in mind that:
  • he will continuously update that plan, and
  • he does not have to do all his studying now.

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