June 2020

Career Transitions in Technical Communication (June)

with CJ Walker

Our focus this month is on career transitions in technical communication.

What can you do with your existing skills to move your career forward? What are your your options either within the field or transitioning into another one using the skills you have in your portfolio? How do you leverage the skills you have? What new skills do you need to acquire to fill the gaps?

And where is the field of technical communication going in the new age of AI? What will content development be like in 10-20 years? What will change? What do you need to learn and do to stay relevant?

With these questions, and more, it’s going to be a busy month!

Weekly Content

STC Roundtable Webinar with CJ Walker and Kaveer Beharee
Exploiting AI in a Pragmatic Way for the Post-Coronavirus World

COVID-19 is changing the how the world works. Everything you do must be grounded in the new reality that the world has fundamentally changed over the past few weeks. It’s shock events (like this) that lead to explosive rates of change, innovation and adoption of new ideas/ technologies/processes.

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated or digital your company is, applying this approach and thinking is bullet-proof in times like these.

Against this backdrop, Facebook just announced that they are canceling all events until June 2021 and they want FB staff to be among the last to go back to the office – giving more sensitive companies the opportunity to utilize public externalities post-pandemic.

CJ Walker and Kaveer Beharee talked about the changing work environment and exploiting AI in a pragmatic way to augment job functions.

Kaveer Beharee is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Ubiquity AI – a company specializing in AI chatbots and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

His previous company Ubiquity Consulting was the first data-at-rest social analytics company in the Middle East and Africa, in which Ubiquity acquired a significant track record and skills in Natural Language Processing (NLP). This would serve as the basis for Ubiquity entering the Artificial Intelligence tech sector.

Prior to founding Ubiquity Consulting and Ubiquity AI, Kaveer was Head of Strategy for the Public Relations arm of FCB South Africa. He began his career in media and communications at FinWeek in 2002 as South Africa’s youngest economic reporter at the time – covering  trade, competition, macroeconomics and economic development. His mission and purpose – defined by his two-decade long career – is making every voice matter.

Ubiquity AI specialises in artificial intelligence chatbots, that fulfill users‘  natural language requests through Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Looking at how to identify linked skills and what to do to fill the gap for your next career move?

I’m used to getting a lot of questions about how to get into the field of technical communication. I’m assuming you already are experienced, and this article is about what you can do to make your next career move capitalizing on the skills you’ve already worked so hard to develop.

Topics covered:

  • Where do tech comm professionals go?
  • What are the transferable skills?
  • Where are the skill gaps?

Panel Discussion: Career Transitions for Technical Communicators – Perspectives on the Future of the Field

PANELISTS: CJ Walker, Ellis Pratt, Paul Ballard, and Ray Gallon

In this open panel discussion, we discussed where we see the market trends and hiring going in the next ten years, and what career progression is possible for technical communication professionals both inside and outside of the field.

Questions addressed:

  • What will the labor market changes be in the age of machines?
  • Where will the jobs be?
  • What will the jobs be?
  • What skills will you need to have to stay relevant in this new economy?

Paul Ballard has spent 25 years building his expertise in the technical documentation, translation and localization professions. He values the opportunities to learn and grow that come from recognising and investing in your strengths and specialist skills. He is a Certified Fellow and Past President of the UK’s Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators and served on the ISTC Council for 15 years. He has presented at conferences and published articles on career challenges and opportunities for technical communicators.

Paul founded 3di in 2002 to combine his two professional passions: belief in the value of well-designed technical information and a commitment to making it easier to deliver multi-lingual versions of products and information to new markets. He resolved to establish and build 3di around a team of experts; designing and consistently delivering successful projects for customers who needed and valued effective technical communication and product localization. As CEO of 3di, Paul still enjoys contributing to solution design and strategic reviews for customers with complex problems to solve.

Ray Gallon is co-founder of The Transformation Society, a company that helps organizations face complex issues of technological change. He also serves as president of the Information 4.0 Consortium. He has over 40 years as a communicator, first as an award-winning radio producer and journalist, then in the technical content industries. He has used his broad experience with companies such as IBM, General Electric Health Care, Alcatel, 3M, and the OECD. He is a former director of STC, former president of STC France, and a member of the OASIS technical committee on Augmented Reality in Information Products (ARIP). Ray also serves as co-chair (with Neus Lorenzo) of the Primary and Pre-primary research and development community of the Association of Teacher Educators in Europe (ATEE). Ray is a speaker at conferences and events throughout the world, and is the editor of the recently published The Language of Technical Communication (XML Press).

For the past 20 years, Frances has focused on projects that transform legal and financial ‘small print’ into content that people and businesses can actually use.

Frances Gordon tackles this content from all angles – from the words we use and the visual design that expresses them, to how the information is organised, and its underlying structure and processes. Technology and contract automation tools are becoming increasingly relevant to her work.

In 2005, along with a plain-language attorney, she co-founded Simplified, which provides consultancy and training services in plain language for business and law. Over 8,000 delegates have benefited from the Simplified plain-language course, which has been trained to organisations in the UK, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria, France and Portugal.

In permanent roles, she built a Brand and Communications team at scale-up SaaS, Oradian and held a senior digital content strategy role at Barclaycard, UK. She has spoken at many legal, marketing and content conferences.

Ellis Pratt is Director and Help Strategist at Cherryleaf, a technical writing services and training company based near London, in the United Kingdom. He has over twenty years’ experience working in the field of documentation. He has a BA in Business Studies, and is a Member of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, and an Associate of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

This week CJ will present a written interview with Kaveer Beharee, who owns and runs Ubiquity, a chatbot development company in Cape Town, South Africa. Kaveer and CJ work together as linguists for chatbot conversational design.

They will discuss NLP and the need for conversational design in the era of AI.

They will do a deep-dive into AI and linguistics. In the field of AI, linguistics has been the most challenging area for progress and development, yet getting this right will have more practical applications for businesses when now, more than ever, companies should be streamlining and making every single engagement count. This speaks exactly to the challenges we are trying to address in conversational design in the age of machine-human interfaces.

Download the Interview Transcript

CJ Walker and Fiona Cullinan
This is the Firehead Community blog, where we discuss job skills, trends in the industry, the future of content.

Ellis Pratt and Ginny Critcher
Cherryleaf and Firehead work together as partners, so of course I appreciate their content a lot. Ellis and Ginny are experts in user assistance, in all its variations. They offer training and recruitment in techcomm in the UK. Ellis has also started the Cherryleaf Podcast, where he interviews some pretty interesting people in all facets of our field.

Paul Ballard and the 3di team
3di are experts in localization as well as techcomm. Localization runs a bit ahead of techcomm when it comes to technology and structured content. 3di have a network of global contacts and in an amazing variety of languages managed by multi-lingual project managers and localization engineers. They also specialize in technical communication and are tools experts. Firehead and 3di are partners.

Ubiquity AI
Kaveer Beharee
Kaveer Beharee is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Ubiquity AI – a company specializing in AI chatbots and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Kaveer is also an expert in NLP, and we work on several projects together using this in the world of new technology. Ubiquity and Firehead are partners.

World Economic Forum –  Fourth Industrial Revolution reporting
The most current analysis of strategic trends and research about how AI will change our world. Specific examples of what the robots and automation are actually doing.

Joe Gollner and Marie Girard
A seminal blog post from Joe Gollner  of Gnoxtycs Research Inc, including a model he developed with Marie Girard of IBM of Content 4.0. He explains the context so well from the history to its current and future uses.

Information 4.0 Consortium
This is the official blog site of the Info4.0 Consortium. It’s still a bit “young” but some very good minds go there to share.

CJ Walker
I discuss the future of the techcomm job market in the age of robots. Spoiler: it’s good news, if you keep up.

Marie Girard
This is from the Info4.0 blog. Marie is so clear and talented at explaining. I recommend this post as a great way to start your journey.

A Customer and a chatbot walk into a bar…
(31 May 2019)
Sara Feldman
“Every snippet is snippet one” A great overview blogpost of what’s coming for techcomm, including emphasizing that there is a difference between a bot, a chatbot and a robot (with a reference to more about those differences).

Crossing Boundaries: Implications for the Content Industries
Authors : Ray Gallon and Neus Lorenzo Galés
A white paper for Adobe on the future of content. Content professionals are facing the breakdown of traditional boundaries that affect their subject matter as well as their professional functions.

Blog post on the Firehead blog by Ray Gallon
Ray describes how he sees the future of techcomm in the next ten years. In these changing times and technology and market, it’s encouraging. He says: “The best time to be a technical communicator is still ahead.”


Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits
Rahel Bailie and Noz Urbina
Back in 2013, Rahel and Noz authored a new and necessary kind of content strategy book: one about making the business case for content strategy to the decision makers. After so much talk about what they said back then, still holds today. A good read.

Letting Go of the Words
Ginny Reddish
This was the first book I read about moving content to the web, back in the early 2000s. It made a huge impression on me about how digital is different. It started a whole cascade of research and practice that I’m still chasing! Ginny’s book has stood the test of time because it is clear and well written.

Peter Morville
Peter Morville is a very smart man. He makes an articulate case for how so many things are connected, and digital is overlapping opportunities even more. It’s interesting to see things in a larger context – I find it inspires my work.

The Elements of User Experience
Jesse James Garret
I liked this book because Jesse James Garret (in addition to his cool name), puts forth the tenants of user experience in a concise, manageable book. This is where I started my journey.

Content Strategy for the Web
Kristina Halverson
This is THE reference book for web content strategy. I read it back in 2009 and still use it as a reference when talking to clients and making proposals.

Why you need a content team. And how to build one
Rachel McConnell
This book is one of the newer ones on my list, but it has proven invaluable for me promoting content to businesses. It helps me recruit because she articulates content roles – and their overlaps – so thoroughly that I can get into my customers’ minds when they explain their needs and come up with original, bespoke suggestions to solve their problems.

Strengths Finder 2.0
Tom Rath
When you’re looking to re-invent your professional work, a careful self-inventory is vital. There are lots of good books and consulting info out there, but this is one I find down-to-earth useful.

The Accidental Taxonomist
Heather Hedden
I liked this book because she makes a good argument for where taxonomy fits in to corporate needs – and why so little is known about it. Also, it makes a good case for what taxonomy really is and can be used for, in world where it’s become a bit of a buzzword misused by people talking about organization or structure in general. Taxonomy has a real and valuable approach and practice in data categorization for the upcoming AI age, enabling many new technologies to function on more levels.

Get Content, Get Customers
Joe Pulizzi
This was my first book about content marketing. Good thing is was someone as intelligent and ethical as Joe Pulizzi! He explains well what it is and how it can be used for genuine engagement. I see a lot of misuse out there, and Joe shows how and why it can be done right, for the good of everyone.

Clout (and The Content Advantage Clout 2.0)
Colleen Jones
Colleen Jones is also a very smart woman who loves content. Her books and blogs have helped me identify and articulate content problems to hundreds of customers. She identifies issues on the cutting edge, is engaging and articulate, and supplies solid real-world suggestions.

Every Page is Page One
Mark Baker
This book was an eye-opener to me when it came out. (I like the title too.) The idea of deconstructing content for a different strategy – to create better content is not new, but I learned how it’s different, and empowering – in context of the web. Mark made a great cautionary tale about automation being good for eliminating repeatable manual tasks, but at the end, the user has to be the center of the experience. The discussion is still going…

So Good They Can’t Ignore You
Cal Newport
The subtitle is “Why skills trump passion in the quest for the work you love”. This is one of those helpful books for career changers who want to explore new directions a little more deeply than just “follow you passion”. There are many reasons why skills bring job satisfaction and he covers this nicely.

Content Design
Sarah Richards
This is to the field of content design, what Kristina Halvorson’s “Content Strategy for the Web” was to content strategy – a reference to keep on your shelf and refer to over and over again. Content design as a field seems to have a different meaning in the UK as the way it is being used in the US. I’m still researching this…

How to Make Sense of Any Mess
Abby Covert
“Identify the mess, state your intent, face reality, choose a direction, measure the distance, play with structure, prepare to adjust.” I love that.

The Industries of the Future
Alec Ross
This is a real future-of-work geek book! Alec Ross looks at global trends and changes as well as developments in technology to analyze how they will affect the labor market of the future. While it is not techcomm-specific, we will be writing both about and as an intregal part of the systems in this new technology.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Klaus Schwab
Mr. Schwab is the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. He describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution from the standpoint of a global economist.  He describes its effects on society, government, business and individuals. It’s good reading for context about the AI age.

Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Klaus Schwab
In this book, Mr. Schwab drills a little deeper into what we can do now to help shape a better future for humans in the AI age. It’s not science fiction – he’s looking at social and leadership issues. Will AI and robotics put millions of people out of work, or will they help us augment our human potential?

Curator Bio:

CJ Walker

CJ Walker is the founder and managing director of Firehead, a recruitment and training consultancy working across Europe in digital communications.

Through Firehead, she recruits and trains talent in technical communications, digital content management and strategy, and works to help content professionals develop the skills necessary to move into the age of AI.

A Cajun-Swede now settled in France, CJ’s academic background is in linguistics. Her professional career spans technical communications, instructional design, data intelligence, and digital communications.

She is a member of the board of the Information 4.0 Consortium and the International Manager for the ISTC. She is past-president of TCEurope and of the TransAlpine chapter of the STC.

She has a passion for metadata and semantic technologies that make her happy to finally be able to apply linguistic theory to the real world and real clients. She works in English, French, Swedish and Sign Language.

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