In her first post, our own wonderful Cindy Staudt, lecturer at CPIT and programme manager for the Graduate Diploma of Information Design, explained her journey into the tech comms field. In this post, she outlines options for study.
There are two types of people who might consider tech comms study: those already in the profession and those new to it. The benefits to the latter group are immediate and obvious. But for the former, there can be a question about how further education can benefit someone who already has work experience. Below, I offer points of consideration for both groups.
Those new to the field:
- A tech comms qualification is the best way to get your foot in the door. Many employers advertise for someone with at least 2–3 years experience – which stymies a lot of people looking to break into the field. It’s the old catch-22 of how to gain experience when all the opportunities require experience. By having a qualification, you show employers that you have a set of skills already in place, and you’re serious about entering the profession.
- Studying tech comms can help you understand the profession, see what opportunities and paths are available, and get a feel for what suits you.
- A tertiary qualification in tech comms is a great way to consolidate and enhance skills you already have while developing new ones. A lot of students come from relevant areas – English, linguistics, IT, science – and want to take what they already know and direct it towards work that interests them.
- Study is a great way to start networking with those in the field – and some of your fellow students could be your future co-workers and professional colleagues. You will also get plenty of career advice from both your tutors and your classmates.
- Working towards a qualification will give you critical experience with common types of tech comms documents and projects. As you complete assessments, you’ll also have material to start compiling a professional portfolio.
- Most tech comms programmes require you to complete exercises and projects in teams, which is an evitable part of most workplaces. Since many programmes involve distance learning, you’ll also learn how to communicate successfully through a variety of media – an essential skill in today’s global market, where your colleague may be in the next room, or a few countries over.
Those already in the profession:
- Studying tech comms can help you develop your current skills, and be a timely reminder of current best practice. It also gives you some useful space to reflect on your own practice.
- As with those new to the field, many current technical communicators arrived at the profession from a variety of educational backgrounds: English, journalism, communication, biology, information technology, engineering, linguistics, health and nursing, philosophy, psychology, public relations, etc. It can therefore be useful to consider how a tech comms qualification can complement any other degrees you have, and broaden the applicability of your skills.
- Many tech comms programmes are online these days, which means you can study and continue to work at the same time. (Because you probably didn’t have enough to do…)
- While most programmes are geared towards the practical, they also tend to underpin work-based experience with accepted tech comms theories. So a course of study can help you understand not only how to do something, but the essence of why it’s important to do it. This understanding will also provide you with the knowledge and vocabulary to explain your role to others – and especially the added value you can offer.
- Let’s face it: A qualification is often a good way to advance your career. If you feel stuck in one spot, it may be the ticket to get you moving onwards and upwards. If you’re happy where you are, it could be a means for negotiating a higher salary.
- Finally, studying tech comms is a great way to close any knowledge gaps you may have. While some practitioners have taken on multiple roles in their careers, others may have stayed relatively static. A course of study can introduce you to the broader world of your profession, and potentially open up new work venues that you’ve always wanted to explore.
The truth is, technical communicators are the sharks of the professional world: we have to keep learning and expanding our knowledge base to stay relevant in an ever-changing workplace. So whether you embark on tertiary study, or just make a greater commitment to attending webinars and watching 100 videos on Lynda.com, education will play a vital role in your success.
And if you sign up for one of my courses, please don’t drop out. I wouldn’t want to have to tell my mum and dad about you.