Technical communicators face many of the same challenges that confront information professionals when it comes to staying Future Ready in a profession that changes constantly. We reached out to a group of prominent movers and shakers in the profession and asked how they manage their careers, and these are their stories.
by Rachel Houghton
Rachel Houghton is a senior information designer for Sage Business Solutions, a leading software supplier for the construction and real estate industry. She has parlayed her active volunteer activities with her professional organization to keep her career future ready.
My writing career has been a long, constant struggle to make myself future ready. I earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a writing career in mind, and I even dabbled in journalism by writing on the school paper. But I sensed early on that the jobs I was qualified for weren’t going to lead to a satisfying career, and I felt myself drawn to technology. Now, looking back on the last 15 years, I can see how one constant theme has dominated my quest to keep my career relevant — participation in a professional organization.
My first job entailed what we call a “lone writer.” Essentially, I was the entire writing department for a company that created computer chips. I wore a lot of hats there – editor, template designer, trainer, writer, and graphic artist – and I enjoyed those roles immensely. But other tasks – receptionist, scribe, and note-taker – weren’t really up to my professional standards. I tried to move laterally, but my resume wasn’t getting me any interviews. So I began to boost my participation with the local chapter of a professional organization devoted to technical writing. I moved rapidly up the ranks, and soon I won election as the president of the local chapter.
The role of president brought me new skills, including public speaking, managing budgets, directing others, and working with like-minded volunteers. I caught the attention of a few movers and shakers at the annual conference, and they recruited me to help with conference programs, websites, and more. I completed the assigned tasks on time, and suddenly one of my new friends convinced me to run for a position on the board. Along the way, I gained the confidence to start submitting proposals for sessions, and I have now participated as a presenter. I’ve gone from a wall-flower to behind the velvet rope, because I pushed myself to keep up and get ahead of the crowd on topics such as social networking. That professional participation has helped me at work lately, as I was named to a pair of committees the company formed to enhance its own online presence.
Getting involved as an energized volunteer has paid dividends for my career over and over. I like to think I’ve survived layoffs, landed that key interview, been named to coveted committees, and got selected for enviable assignments because I’ve worked so hard to make myself future ready. The specific required skills have come and gone over the years, but one thing never changes — your energy and passion for keeping up with your profession are valuable things. Anything you can do to prove you aren’t afraid of change on a personal or professional level is good, because it shows you think about being Future Ready all the time. Employers like that.
Rachel Houghton is a Senior Information Designer at Sage, a company that specializes in leading-edge construction productivity and real estate solutions. She has more than 14 years of technical communication experience. Rachel is the Secretary for the Society for Technical Communication (STC), past program chair of the STC Technical Communication Summit, and is actively involved in the STC Willamette Valley community and reviews books for the STC journal, Technical Communication. She enjoys photography and Photoshop. Find her on Twitter @rjhoughton.