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The "plug and play" technical communicator in 2002
2002, Q1 (July 05, 2007)

or “Just because I am not employed does not mean that I do not have a job!”

An open letter to technical communicators from Mark Hanigan

by Mark Hanigan

Mark Hanigan
Mark Hanigan
I invite all of you to come to this conference.

About a decade ago, I felt compelled to develop and present the predecessor to this presentation, which was titled simply "The Plug and Play Technical Communicator." Why? The buzzwords then were "upsize, downsize, right size." Jobs were disappearing left and right; even companies that had never had a tradition of layoff were letting people go.

At the time, it appeared that our umbrella of professions as we knew it was faced with the real possibility of extinction.

You know what? Extinction turned out to be true, but a new kind of opportunity took its place. What arose from the post-Cold War ashes was a new breed of technical communicator — the "Plug and Play" Technical Communicator!

For those of you who were "there" eight years ago, you know what I am talking about. However, so many of you have entered our umbrella of professions since then, and have been riding on an unprecedented eight-year crest of economic prosperity. This time of prosperity created a supply/demand skew so tilted in favor of supply that salaries and bill rates skyrocketed, and "seniors" were made out of so many of you who had not even passed "professional puberty."

So for you, this downturn (and make no mistake about it; it is a downturn) is also unprecedented! The good news is that it is also a cycle. Those times of economic prosperity will return.

The first question that might come to mind is "When will this happen?" That, of course, is an almost rhetorical question that none of us has the answer to, save the economists who make their living making up these questions and than making up the answers (what a job to have!)

But the real questions are "What am I going to do about it today?" and "What can I do to tip the supply/demand skew for my services in my favor?"

The answers to these questions are as individual as each one of you. The challenge for each of you, whether you find yourself without employment, or perhaps just hanging on to something that is less than desirable, is to embrace these times as opportunity!

Thus, today's corollary to the Plug and Play Technical Communicator is "Just because I am not employed does not mean that I do not have a job!"

In the abstract of my original Plug and Play presentation, I opened with the following statements:

"The adage 'reality is personal' probably has in it a corollary that our personal reality is the processed sum of our personal experiences. A subset of this corollary is that our individual educational and professional experiences in the technical communications arena are as different from each other's as our very thumbprints."

"Take what you do seriously, but
don't take yourself too seriously."
Yet, there are enough commonalties that allow for generalizations that can be construed as fairly accurate. If I took a photograph of every person's thumb, any one of us could identify any photo as a thumb (unless, of course, I got my thumb in the way of the lens!) The differences would range from the obvious — size, shape, and manicure of the thumb (still thumbs, mind you!) — to the subtle variations of print patterns."

I repeat this in case you are thinking, "What would he know; he has a good network and is doing well!" For me, this is true right now. But believe me when I tell you, I am affected by these changing times the same as you! Not too many months ago, the cushy "permanent" position that I held disappeared. The fact is I spent almost half of my STC presidency year without a regular paycheck!

It was "gut check time" time to find out whether I could "practice what I preached" all of these past years.

In this presentation, I want to review the history of our professions, with particular focus on where we are today and how we got here. While I believe this is valuable information, I think we can also have a little fun with it along the way. Then, I want to share with you some ideas, personal experiences and strategic approaches — all designed to help you not just cope with today's times, but to embrace them in preparation for a prosperous tomorrow.

For me, following these ideas and strategic approaches helped me to endure difficult times and "to land on my feet" in an area where I found new opportunity! There is nothing magical to my approach; in fact, the approach itself embraces the very tenets of what being a technical communicator is in the first place. The magic is in that it worked for me, and that your own personal variation of it can work for you too!

Through the roller-coaster ride of the past 18 months, one thing has been reaffirmed for me. What I believed in 1993, I still believe in 2002; we must be "Plug and Play" Technical Communicators!

I look forward to sharing this time with all of you!

Kind regards,

Mark Hanigan
STC Immediate Past President End of article.

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