Are You the Brick or the Mortar?

Recent STC webinar presenter Mark Baker (author of Every Page is Page One, on which the webinar was based) posted an extremely interesting blog post the other day attempting to explain “why content jobs are never well defined.” In it, he writes of his experiences this week at LavaCon, where attendees are “debating the definition of their roles, the names of those roles, the boundaries and intersects between them, and the responsibilities and qualifications pertinent to them.”

Mark posits that there are “brick” roles and there are “mortar” roles, and that content jobs are “mortar” roles. What's the difference?

A brick job is a job with well defined parameters. It is the kind of job that will be more or less the same no matter which company you work for. Its inputs and outputs are well defined, its practice is standardized, and most people in those jobs don’t usually get asked to do anything outside of the box that defines their job. People with brick jobs have an easy time answering when someone at a party asks them what they do for a living. …

Mortar jobs are the jobs that tie the bring jobs together and tie them into an effective whole. Mortar jobs do not have a fixed shape. They are shaped by the brick jobs they surround and join, by the spaces between them, and by the overall design of the organization. The roles and responsibilities of people in mortar jobs differ from one company to another, and they are much more likely to be asked to do odd jobs, jobs that fill in the gaps between the brick jobs. People with mortar jobs often dread being asked what they do for a living.

Content work (and much of technical communication), then, is “the glue that holds organizations together,” Mark wrote.

When I read that, it sounded similar to our upcoming free webinar presented by Kit Brown-Hoekstra next week, Catalysts: Changing the World by Doing Our Jobs. As part of the description, Kit wrote:

As technical communicators, we touch every product, process, and service on this planet (and off of it). Without us, governments would fall, inventors would have a hard time getting their products to users, and patients would die. In short, no product, process, or service would function very well. Yet, because our work is part of the infrastructure, we often don't hear about how we're doing until something goes wrong.

No one complains about the mortar unless it crumbles.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Mark's analogy is apt? Would you consider your job a brick job or a mortar job? Weigh in below, and sign up for the free webinar next week to hear more from Kit on how your mortar can help change the world.

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