I don’t hold the record for being on the TechWhirl email discussion list the longest (and I am going to have to see who’s been there since March 1993), but I have been a Whirler for about 15 years, and believe me when I say that some questions are truly eternal. As we celebrate 20 years of TechWhirl, I like to dig into the archives and reminisce about the arguments from the old days. Dan Goldstein brought up one of the biggies after listening to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” over the weekend… how do we describe what we do in a pithy yet comprehensive way? The caller to the NPR radio program called herself a “technical communicator” and was immediately greeted by utter confusion. Which often greeted us “technical writers” back at the turn of the century. So in honor of this apparently eternal “huh?” generator, we bring back that blast from the past in this week’s tech comm poll: what job title best explains what we do?
Along about April 2000, we had a nice juicy, highly entertaining thread on “clever job titles,” and again in August, 2004, this time under the weighty thread “job title nomenclature on biz cards.” My memory tends to be a bit faulty, but I seem to recall a pop culture craze appearing and reappearing about giving yourself really bizarre, truthful, or memorable job titles (My favorite back then, overheard in a training meeting was “Supreme Overlord.”) And of course Al and I gave into that temptation for a time after we took over TechWhirl, referring to ourselves as “Head of Janitorial Services” and “Chief Cat Herder” respectively.
Job titles always manage to raise some serious questions, because when you’re often confronted with a blank stare after handing over the “technical writer” or “technical communicator” business card, you are reminded of the reasons why Tina the Tech Writer carries so much bitterness.
There’s a new issue nibbling at the edges of this debate as well. The rise of content strategy and content management, and the increasing convergence of the writing/tech support/customer experience functions in many organizations. In fact Peter Sagal asked his contestant if “technical communicator” was like “a help desk person.” And it gives rise to one more question about this whole “what do we call ourselves, how do we prove our value?” debate. Is it really a problem? We write stuff, usually to help explain complex or confusing things to people who need to know whatever that stuff might be. But we also create charts and graphics, build presentations and demos, research and test, diagram processes, plan projects, create workflows and build structures to process stuff that other people write, and so on. So is what they call us as important an issue as whether they call us?
While you ponder on that, vote for the title (or titles) that best describe what you do … or are on your business card or LinkedIn Profile right now (don’t worry too much about senior, junior or numerical levels). Check out the classic humor post from Lisa Higgins on Tech Writer Job Titles. And feel free to post a comment on why you picked what you did or what you think the issue really is over job titles. Or hop over to the discussion list and add to Dan Goldstein’s thread.