Jan. 24, 2008 STC Jack Molisani

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Jack Molisani of ProSpring Staffing and creator of LavaCon gave a great talk about alternative careers paths for technical communicators.

It was also announced that Viki Maki and Richard Mateosian were named Associate Fellows by STC. Congratulations to both of them!

So many people showed up we had to get more chairs. Everybody wanted to know the results of Molisani’s online survey. He is not a statistician but he wanted to know what technical communicator’s were calling themselves and how much they were making.

This is not one of those things where you try to change your title to consultant, information architect or information engineer. It has to be more than a paint job. The funniest I’ve heard so far was pro-people technologist. It implies there are anti-people technologists out there. Somebody call Sarah Connor. Maybe they meant the old singing group Up With People, although I can’t imagine what their technical needs are, except lots of medication. But I digress…

The usual career path is from tech writer to senior tech writer. From there you might become a company’s documentation manager, your own business owner or go into another related profession. This new profession will still require the core competency skills of technical communicators: Writing, interviewing, project planning, critical thinking, conflict resolution, user advocacy and quality control.

The list of professions was impressive. It included accessibility, business analysis, change management, programming, compliance, content management, graphic design, courseware, training, localization, marketing and usability. Molisani believed these other professions are more valued by management because they are perceived to add to the bottom line, even though their core competencies are identical to technical communicators. Illustrators and QA people are held in lower esteem which is ironic considering how important visual communication has become and how crucial quality control is to the success of any company.

So Molisani created a web-based survey and got 351 responses from a self selecting audience. Most went into instructional design or courseware development. Others had gone into documentation management, business or software analysis, project management, training, usability and website development.

Some 79% said they transitioned out of the profession and 59% became staff employees. Over a third had been out of the field for more than nine years. People who said they made more than $80,000 per year became business analysts, programmers, change managers, compliance specialists, document managers, courseware designers, product or project managers, usability. Business owners made the most at $140,000, contractors about $110,000 and staff employees under $80,000.

The survey disproved Molisani’s premise that professionals are more highly compensated than technical writers. People who owned their own business did best. Some make more, some make less. The grass is not always greener on the other side, unless you own the lot where the grass grows.