When my accountant completed my 2017 business tax return, her first question was, “What is all this ‘continuing education’ stuff?” I suspect many Intercom readers can relate when I say that I exemplify the technical communicator’s insatiable quest for knowledge—albeit to an extreme that my accountant isn’t happy about.
When I decided to leave IBM and start my new business, I realized that in entering a new phase of my career, I was starting over in many ways. While I had been a consultant for eight years before starting my IBM position, that was in the late 1990s. YouTube hadn’t yet been born, there was no Twitter, no Facebook advertising, few blogs, and even fewer podcasts (aka “audioblogs”).
Being in business in the twenty-teens is very different from being in business in 1999. What’s a technical communicator to do? Start learning, of course! After declaring myself tabula rasa, I spent almost two years getting what I now think of as my “multidisciplinary, self-directed, alternative business degree.” (In fact, I haven’t actually “graduated”—don’t tell my accountant!) Hence my accountant’s dismay at my “continuing education” expenses—which, by the way, are investments, not expenses.
After bachelor and master of science degrees, developing courses and teaching at the university level for more than 20 years, designing curricula for a post-graduate certificate program, and a 35-year career based on a constant diet of information, I felt pretty confident about driving my own educational quest. And drive it I did. Many online courses, podcasts, books (audio, Kindle, and physical), membership sites, live events, mentors, coaches, and mastermind groups later, here I am. Am I done? No way! Will I ever be? Doubt it.
This, to me, is the common trait of all successful technical communicators—our natural attraction to lifelong learning and remaining teachable. The academic year might have ended in June, but we haven’t stopped learning, or thinking about learning. Formal, degree-granting learning or self-directed, alternative experiences—either way, we voraciously absorb everything that comes our way. As a result, as an industry, we are always interested in the state of technical communication education.
In this issue, guest editor Dr. Kirk St.Amant provides us with a survey of experiences in education. If you’ve ever thought about getting a degree or going back for a second (or third), this issue’s authors generously give us the benefit of their insights into various educational programs. You’ll also find preliminary research describing trends that indicate the changes needed in academic programs to address skill gaps between technical communication program graduates and industry needs. In other words, there’s something for everyone!
Kirk brings a wealth of insight to a magazine for practitioners with an academic theme. He is a Professor and the Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair of Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University (USA) and an Adjunct Professor of International Health and Medical Communication with the University of Limerick (Ireland).
Kirk has also worked on projects in industry—for companies such as Medtronic, VERITAS Software, the Braun Corporation, and Unisys—and for nonprofit organizations.
Kirk is an STC Fellow, the past Vice Chair of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Design of Communication (SIGDOC), and serves as the Interim Editor of Communication Design Quarterly—the ACM SIGDOC’s peer-reviewed research publication.
Thank you to Kirk for editing this informative issue, and to Kelly Smith, Jessica Campbell, Lauren Jones, Lance Becker, Lindsay Saunders, Debbie Davy, Carlos Evia, and Rebekka Andersen for sharing their insights for our collective futures with Intercom readers.
Education in our field is such an important conversation for us to have, so I encourage you to have a conversation about it. Whether at a conference like the STC Summit, on the STC website in response to this article, or on social media—anywhere and everywhere—conversations like these are the way that we continue to lift the boats! #contentmovement
Also in this issue, you’ll find some great columns:
Michelle Corbin tackles grammar checkers—should you or shouldn’t you use them?
Alan Porter throws down a gauntlet, challenging us all to take our blinkers (or blinders, if you’re an American horse person) off and broaden our view of tech comm disciplines.
Ryan Weber presents a call for column contributions—calling all students! Here’s your opportunity to get published!
Paul Perrotta stands in for Scott Abel to provide us with the next Meet the Change Agent interview with … Scott Abel! Fascinating and appealingly meta.
And don’t forget to check out the Society Pages!
Until next time, enjoy the issue!
— Andrea L. Ames