A Tech Writer’s Guide to the Recession

Stock markets – down.
House prices – down.
Oil prices – down.
Employment – down.
Consumer confidence – down.
Consumer spending – down.
The “Big Three” car makers – going down.

Misery – up.

All this talk of a depression is so….depressing. Still, it is what can happen when the economies of nations are so intertwined, so “single-sourced”. America sneezes, and the world throws up.

Recession, The Great Clarifier

A recession (also know as “depression-lite”) clarifies things. It exposes the reality of buying objects we don’t need using money we don’t have.

This is effectively illustrated on the show Till Debt Do Us Part. Each week, host Gail Vaz-Oxlade, who is incredibly obnoxious and pushy, but in a practical and charming sort of way, examines the insane spending practices of a lucky couple. She gives them various financial and relationship-building exercises to perform. If they succeed, they get a modest cash reward, which I’m sure they then spend on a 52″ mega TV after the cameras have stopped rolling.

It’s an entertaining show, but I can save you the trouble of watching it. Here’s the formula for financial success:

earnings minus expenditures = X

  • If X is a positive number, then you are on the right track.
  • If X is a negative number, then you are in trouble.
  • If X is an extremely negative number, then you are extremely screwed.

The recession has revealed our spending insanity on a global level. Out of this financial nightmare, fewer people will spend more than they have. There is a word to describe this type of controlled spending. The word is: normal.

Tech Comm Survivor – Outwit, Outplay, Outwrite

No doubt we are in very painful times. And the question every technical communicator is asking, indeed the question every working person is asking, is simple: how can I survive?

I have a bold solution:

Cease to be a technical writer.

That’s right. Stop.

Stop now.

Have you stopped?

Do not be just a technical writer. Instead, be more.

Technical Writer +

Technical communication involves so much more than writing. In fact, it can involve any of the following jobs:

  • Information Analyst – review documents, specifications, white papers, design papers, needs requirements, and marketing material
  • Project Manager – plan, estimate, forecast, juggle, execute, and track multiple documentation projects simultaneously
  • Software Tester – use, abuse and expose the software and all its flaws
  • Content Manager – manage, update, and control thousands of pages of content; have an immediate answer when asked where a guide is at
  • Marketing Communicator – write release notes and other marketing material
  • Coding Analyst – analyze and describe samples of code, possibly even add comments directly to the code
  • XML Expert – structure and tag content using XML tags
  • Error Message Author – write clear, concise error messages that indicate what the problem is and what the user needs to do to solve it
  • User Interface Designer – correct all the mangled or missing text that appears in the interface, including screen and dialog box titles, buttons and on-screen instructions; give improvements to the layout and design to make it easier for the user to actually use the product, rather than allowing the engineers to create a nightmare
  • Personnel Manager – juggle developers, salespeople, marketers, QA testers, managers, customers and other technical writers with one hand as you develop and execute your documentation
  • Investigative Reporter – research, interview, probe, question, doubt, argue, threaten to expose, take nothing for granted, assume nothing, and get a second or third opinion

    and, most importantly:

  • Business Analyst – understand what the end users need to do their jobs and not only create documentation accordingly, but suggest changes to the product you are documenting

Oh, and in between all these jobs, you may do some writing too.

Recession Recap

This recession will:

  • stop people from spending more than they have
  • force companies that are weak to either change or cease to exist, and as a result:
  • force companies to ask for even more from their workers

The more jobs you have been working in your current job, the more valuable you will be. And if you haven’t been doing these other jobs, then good news: today is the first day of the rest of your working life.

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