Tag Archives: career

All or nothing

All or nothing. It seems to be the way of the world. But it’s no way to manage your career.

In baseball, a home run is the best thing you can do as a hitter. You take a big swing, you feel the satisfying jolt as you hit the ball, and the crowd stands up to cheer as you trot around the bases.

Babe_Ruth_by_Paul_Thompson,_1920

When Babe Ruth retired, he held the record for most home runs — and the record for most strikeouts.

The worst thing you can do is strike out. You don’t hit the ball. You don’t get to run. You just slink back to the bench, defeated and humiliated.

Home run. Strikeout. All or nothing.

25 years ago, major-league hitters had an all-or-nothing outcome — a home run or a strikeout — about one-sixth of the time.

Last year, it was almost a quarter of the time. That’s an increase of nearly 50 percent, trending toward all-or-nothingness. Toward the extremes.

It’s not just baseball, either. Here in the U.S., and in much of the rest of the world, the political middle is melting away. “Moderates” are becoming an endangered species. More and more, you’re either an avid liberal or a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. It’s hip to be extreme.

Or is it? There’s one area where I hope you’re not an all-or-nothing person.

When I started my career in technical writing, it wasn’t long before I became a specialist: a technical writer for software. In that role I was familiar with the principles of UX (user experience), but there were other professionals who specialized in that.

In my professional network were other technical writers who specialized in writing about pharmaceuticals, policies and procedures, and grant proposals.

I view specialization as a form of all-or-nothingness. You can do one specific thing. You can become really good at it. With some effort I might’ve become the best software technical writer in the world, hitting a home run every time. But would that have given me the skills and experience to step into a different role?

What about you? Are you trying to become the best in the world in one specialized thing? Or are you broadening your skill set so that you can move from one role to another? Are you learning new skills and making sure that you’re at least conversant, if not expert, in a variety of fields related to your core skills?

If that’s you, then good for you. You’ve found the key to staying current and remaining employable.

Good for you, because you’ll have a much easier time adapting to changing job markets and requirements than someone with a narrow area of specialization.

A baseballGood for you, because even though some hiring managers take the all-or-nothing approach — you have to have exactly this experience and these skills before I’ll consider you — the smart ones understand that your breadth of experience will enable you to fit easily into the job — and grow with the job as it evolves over time.

So, even if the rest of the world is trending toward all-or-nothingness, I hope you’ll overcome the temptation to let your career trend that way.

You can hit lots of home runs but strike out whenever you’re confronted with something unfamiliar or new. Or you can develop diverse skills that enable you to succeed in diverse ways — hitting singles, doubles, and triples, along with the occasional home run, and only rarely striking out.

How have you been able to learn and evolve, avoiding the trap of all-or-nothingness? Share your story in the comments section.

Image by Paul Thompson, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Improving on perfection

This week brings two anniversaries — one you know and one you probably don’t know. They remind me that every new day brings opportunities for improvement, even when things might already seem perfect.

Sgt. Pepper: Nearly perfect

50 years ago today, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the best and most influential albums in the history of pop music. Of all the Beatles’ albums I think Sgt. Pepper is the most nearly perfect. Every track is strong. All of the ingredients, from instruments to vocals to harmonies, blend together just right.

Sgt. Pepper album coverYet Giles Martin just completed a project in which he remixed the entire Sgt. Pepper album. In a brilliant interview by NPR’s Bob Boilen, the first question posed to Martin — the son of George Martin, who produced the Beatles’ original albums — was Why? Why would anyone change one of the greatest records ever?

Martin’s answer: in mixing the original album, his father devoted most of his attention to the mono version, not the stereo version — because stereo was relatively new at the time. In the interview, Martin describes how he took the original studio tapes, along with his father’s meticulous notes, and applied a 21st-century understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in stereo sound.

The result, as evidenced by several samples played during the interview, sounds undeniably better than the original. Giles Martin took perfection and improved on it.

My career: From good to better

This week also marks the anniversary of the day I began my first technical writing job. Though far from perfect, my work was pretty good — as evidenced by feedback from my managers and my peers, and by 3 promotions in my first 5 years.

Yet the work I did then pales in comparison to the work I do today. In the intervening years I’ve learned a tremendous amount about audience analysis, about user experience, about writing for my customers rather than my SMEs, and of course about using software and machines to publish content in different media.

My colleague Vincent Reh, describing his career journey from typewriters to modern tools, emphasizes the constant need to learn new skills: “Tools have become so complex and schedules so compressed that most employers can no longer tolerate any kind of a learning curve. Today’s writers are expected to hit the ground running with single-sourcing tools right out of the gate.”

Vincent is right. And it’s not just tools. In my progress from that good beginning to where I am today, I’ve constantly had to learn new skills and unlearn other things. Just to stay competitive.

I fully concur with the words of Alvin Toffler: The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

Progress made; progress still to come

It’s nice to observe anniversaries, not least because they remind us of the progress we’ve made. Inspired by the new Sgt. Pepper remix, I’m using this week’s anniversaries to set my sights on progress still to come.

Do you have a professional growth story? How does that story affect the way you view the future? What are you doing to go from good — or from nearly perfect — to something even better?

The technical writing beat

At a recent STC networking event, the woman across from me said she was a police officer and wanted to find a job in technical writing.

copwriter.pngShe’d come prepared to make her case. As a cop, she said, I write reports all the time. The reports have to be factual and clear. I reckon I’m already doing technical writing.

Good point. What else you got?

I’m always explaining things to people. How the law works, what they can and can’t do, and why. I deal with people from all walks of life. Many of them don’t speak English as a first language. I have to size up each person and tailor my message so they’ll understand.

Sounds to me like you’re pretty good at audience analysis.

She’d sold me on the parallels between police work and technical writing. It was something I hadn’t considered before – even though I’ve told my students for years that the best exemplar for technical writers is a dogged detective who keeps asking questions until the case is solved.

columboI’ve worked in this profession a long time and met colleagues with all kinds of backgrounds. My encounter with the police officer reminded me that, even though people have followed many paths into technical writing, there are more trails yet to be blazed.

Did you follow an unconventional path into technical writing? Are you even now trying to enter the profession with a background that, at first glance, might appear to have little in common? If so, I’d love to hear your story.  Drop me a line or respond in the comments section.

Ten Years from Now: Your Professional Interests Evolve

Last week I reported the results of the Ten Years from Now survey. Today I focus on one question from that survey, and one response in particular that I find intriguing.

You might recall that questions 1 and 2 of the survey asked you to describe the work you’ll be doing 10 years from now.

Question 3 asked, Why did you choose the answers you did for Questions 1 and 2? Here are your responses:

74% – My professional interests will have evolved.
42% – I aspire to work at something different from what I’m doing today.
37% – I like what I’m doing, and I expect to keep doing it.
26% – My life circumstances will have changed.
16% – I won’t be able to earn a living, if I keep doing the same thing I’m doing today.

Handheld device showing augmented reality

Augmented reality (source: http://www.t-immersion.com)

It’s striking that nearly three-quarters of you say that your professional interests will evolve over the next 10 years. If you selected that answer, I’m curious to know what you had in mind. When I wrote it, I was thinking about things like these:

  • New technologies, like augmented reality and the Internet of things, will open up opportunities for new kinds of work.
  • You expect to be in a different (hopefully better) place in terms of things like financial security and work/life balance.
  • You see your current Tech Comm work as a stepping stone to another career (yet, on the other questions, most of you said you wanted to stay in Tech Comm).

But those are only guesses. I’d love to know what you were thinking when you chose that answer: how you envision your professional interests evolving, and how that ties in with your view of the Tech Comm profession. Use the comments area to let me know.

Career Tips from the Old Ballpark

This weekend marks the anniversary of the best baseball game I ever saw in person, at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium. It taught me some lessons about handling tough situations on the job.

Baseball card of Lenn SakataAfter rallying to tie the score in the ninth inning, the Orioles had no one left to play catcher. So in the top of the tenth, they put utility infielder Lenn Sakata into the game at catcher — a position he’d never before played in the major leagues.

That’s Lesson 1: Be flexible. You never know what need might arise. When it does arise, strap on the catcher’s gear and perform with as much grace as you can muster. Who knows? It might turn out OK. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll know that gave it your best shot.

Toronto Blue Jays’ batter Barry Bonnell reached first base and, no doubt thinking it would be easy to steal second with the inexperienced Sakata behind the plate, took a big lead. Pitcher Tippy Martinez picked him off.

The next batter, Dave Collins, walked. He took a big lead off first base, and Martinez picked him off too.

Then Willie Upshaw singled. As he took his lead off first base the fans began chanting “pick him off.”

Which brings us to Lesson 2: Don’t be overconfident. Having seen two of his teammates get picked off and hearing the crowd chanting, why did Upshaw wander so far off first base? He must’ve been thinking It can’t happen to me.

Baseball card of Tippy MartinezIt did happen to him.

A successful pickoff in baseball is fairly rare. Picking off three in one inning, as Martinez did, is extraordinary. And of course it’s a record that’ll never be broken.

In the bottom of the tenth, Sakata came to bat with two outs and two men on base. You can guess what happened. Sakata, who weighed 160 pounds soaking wet and who’d hit just one home run all season, hit a three-run homer to win the game.

I was already a baseball fan for life. That night, watching from the upper deck in Memorial Stadium, I became an Orioles fan for life.

And so Lesson 3: You never know who might be watching. The Orioles gained a fan that night. Your handling of a tough situation might gain you the respect and even the admiration of a client or colleague — which will pay off later on.

Use the comments area to tell me you might’ve learned from this story. Or just tell me about a good ballgame you’ve seen.

Originally published, with slightly different content, on the SDI blog, 24 August 2010

Ten Years from Now

Ten years from now, fellow technical communicator, if your expectations come to pass, you’ll still be working in the profession — perhaps as an information architect, content strategist, or consultant.

It’s about fifty-fifty as to whether you’ll be following the career path you’re now embarked on, or doing something new. Either way, you’ll still be creating content.

Quill penRecently I asked you to take a survey about what work you’ll be doing in ten years. 14 out of 19 respondents (74%) expect to be in Tech Comm or a related profession.

The top roles you see yourselves filling, besides content developer: information designer/architect (53%), content strategist (42%), manager (37%), consultant (37%), editor (37%). Continue reading

Be the Captain: A Trusty Compass

Book cover imageAs you read Jack Molisani’s Be the Captain of Your Career, you might find yourself thinking that you already know most of this. But then you’ll hit upon something new, something that gives you an “aha” realization and makes the book worth every penny you paid for it.

As you stand at the helm and navigate your way through your career, this book can be the compass you need to get your bearings and stay on course.

It’s easy to read: short, with chapters that often go just two or three pages. Have a highlighting pen handy: you’ll need it. I’ll keep my marked-up copy close by, to refresh my memory and to take stock of what I’m doing well and what I need to do better.

I love the tone of encouragement and exhortation. Jack speaks with authority born of his work as owner of a staffing company as well as his own personal experiences. An accomplished speaker and the organizer of the Lavacon conference, Jack is the real deal. His entrepreneurial know-how and his positive energy resound throughout the book.

Be the Captain contains great tips, from someone who’s sat at both sides of the interview table, on things like overcoming inertia, networking, selling yourself, and acing the interview. But this book isn’t just for job seekers. For example you’ll find solid, realistic advice on estimating work and then selling your estimate, and on negotiating to reach a win-win result.

The last section, Have It, covers some well-worn ground: decide what you love, and then do it. But the section is still worth reading, for in it Jack gives away his hard-earned wisdom on things like establishing a set of core values, personal branding, and negotiating.

Finally, Jack invites his readers to engage with him, providing an email address and two Twitter handles. I appreciate knowing that he’ll be there with me as I navigate the shoals.

Have you read Be the Captain of Your Career? If so, what was your take? If you had any “aha” moments I hope you’ll share them in the comments.