Category Archives: Employment

May Meeting: Consulting Pro/Con Round Table

Join us on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Petaluma at 6pm, for a round table discussion on the pros/cons of consulting. We’ll discuss various options for running a techcomm consulting business, as well as whether it’s a good idea at all. We can draw from the first-hand experience of a number of our members, and hopefully address those questions that you’ve been concerned about.

Should be a fun and informative meeting! Please join us and bring your questions and experiences to share.

February Meeting: Making Yourself Marketable in 2015

Join us on Tuesday, February 10, 2015, in Petaluma, for a presentation by Andrew Davis.

Making Yourself Marketable in 2015

I envision this presentation as a mashup of the detailed job search advice I’ve offered over the years — preparation, resumes, portfolios, applying, interviewing, and negotiating — with lots of room for candidates’ Q&A and, if I’m asked, even some advice for hiring managers and other recruiters.

As anyone who has spoken with me realizes, I serve the more technical and software-centric end of the local tech comms job market. I am proud that I’ve helped motivated souls enter that sphere and get good at serving it, creating stable and lucrative careers. My comments will, however, also benefit those who’d prefer to avoid authoring API references and writing code samples in Python. I can’t promise stability and bidding wars, but I do promise attendees the keys to a much more confident and efficient job-seeking experience.

You may leave actually looking forward to your next job search.

I’ll keep the focus squarely on marketability, so will redirect questions about LinkedIn and ageism, my two most recent speaking topics, to those presentations’ slide decks and speaker’s notes viewable from my LinkedIn profile.

Slides from Andrew’s presentation:

Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis has recruited technical content developers in the SF Bay Area since 1995. He is a former software industry Technical Writer and has a reputation for both understanding and championing the role of content development.

Andrew enjoys helping those who communicate complex information get ahead by recognizing and refining their value to technology companies. He’s candid and connected and, just as importantly, he likes to help tech industry workers achieve their goals and achieve independence from intermediaries.

Andrew ran Synergistech Communications during the Internet Gold Rush years and has recently returned to solo recruiting mode. He remains focused on recruiting great technical content development talent for discerning local technology companies. Join him on LinkedIn ( to learn more.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @synergistech.

Our May 2012 Meeting: “Emerging Roles and Hot Markets for Tomorrow’s Tech Writers,” with Andrew Davis

With tight job markets, unique skills requirements, and risk-averse hiring managers, finding work in the world of technical communications is not what it used to be . . . no more mirror test.

However, the world of contract and contract-to-hire can still be rewarding for individuals who have precisely what a company (often a young one) needs with respect to skills (often intangible), but also with respect to attitudes that often go beyond those required by old-school corporations. In short, “skills” and “experience” are not enough — at least in the common use of those terms. As a major recruiter for Content Rules, Andrew Davis has accumulated a lot of understanding of the contemporary job market for technical communications skills.

Desirable Intangible Skills/Experience

What are those intangibles?

  • Do you understand the business goals and business model of the hiring company?
  • Do you have entrepreneurial experience (which comes in handy in a startup environment)?
  • For a given product or service, do you understand the audience’s context, needs, and priorities?
  • Can you visualize and design customized content deliverables?
  • Do you understand what it takes to translate/localize content successfully and at least cost?
  • Are you experienced in making a business case for content initiatives?
  • Do you understand the latest tools and can you demonstrate their use?
  • Do you have project management and consensus-building skills (which also come in handy in a startup environment)?

Desirable Empirical Skills/Experience

In the area of contemporary tools, Andrew lists the following:

  • Hot are HTML5, EPUB3, or iBooks Author: In a multiplatform environment, eBook conversion and delivery can be paramount, through XML, XSL, XSLT, XSL-FO, DITA, DocBook, structured authoring tools such as Arbortext Editor (formerly “Epic”) and XMetaL Author, and (to a much lesser extent) Structured FrameMaker, Author-it, and MadCap Flare.
  • Of particular importance is video production (iMovie, etc.) or screencasting experience (Captivate, Articulate, etc.)
  • Can you implement a Wiki, after convincing an employer of the value of one?
  • Have you demonstrated skills in interface/user-experience (UX) design, especially for mobile applications?

Andrew lists what is not, and what is not, with degrees of temperature in between.

Hot Industry Niches for SF Bay Area Content Developers

This is what employers are willing to pay for, at least for today:

  • Data analytics
  • IP security
  • Big data (Hadoop, MapReduce, NoSQL, etc.)
  • Mobile/GIS (iOS, Android)
  • SaaS-ified apps
  • Data center optimization/virtualization/cloud
  • Open source
  • Social
  • Advertising
  • Games/entertainment

Tepid Niches

The following areas are not suffering, but they are just not as hot:

  • SQL/data warehousing/business intelligence
  • Enterprise applications (non-SaaS)
  • Search
  • Development tools
  • Content translation/localization/internationalization technology
  • Medical devices
  • Biotech/pharma
  • Storage (SAN/NAS technology)
  • Networking (including videoconferencing) – noncloud

Not-so-Hot Niches

Here we can see how the world we used to know so well has changed:

  • Finance/insurance
  • CRM
  • Semiconductors/EDA
  • PCs, tablets, smartphones (hardware)
  • Peripherals
  • Manufacturing (most)
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Law
  • Utilities
  • Infrastructure (transportation, etc.)
  • Education
  • Publishing
  • Graphics (hardware, software)
  • Clean/green tech

Consistently Hot Tech Comm Roles

If you have demonstrated skills in the following areas, you should be fine until the next paradigm shift:

  • Developer-oriented content creation (API references, developer tutorials)
  • Video (scripting, creation) – not just scriptwriting, podcasting, blogging
  • UX design
  • Structured content design/migration (part of “content strategist” work)

Not-so-Hot TC Roles

And here are the old-school skills that you may have, but that employers are not so interested in:

  • Publications manager
  • Editor
  • Proofreader, indexer, formatter
  • End-user doc (for consumers and nontechnical audiences)
  • System/network administration doc
  • Proposal writer
  • Business analyst
  • Trainer (nontechnical, but in recent years also the technical variant)
  • Instructional designer (nontechnical)

How to Get Hot (a One-Page Primer)

Here are Andrew’s tips for success in the current talent marketplace:

  • Avoid academe (with few exceptions, schools are out of date, and more degrees and certificates are not a substitute for specialized experience).
  • Download (and immerse yourself in) trial versions of your niche’s tools (the entry cost is cheap).
  • Participate in open-source projects (this will take a bit of looking around, but the rewards are there).
  • Build a portfolio online and link it to your LinkedIn profile. The portfolio demonstrates initiative, mastery of tools, and subject-matter awareness/interest. Make it easy for your target audience to get the info it wants.
  • Study how others do it, then emulate the best.
  • Intern or subcontract – or just volunteer (for a written reference).
  • Conduct informational interviews (solicited through LinkedIn).
  • Sell your services to the young companies, who really need your experience.
  • Network! Do it in person through meetups (Andrew likes svnewtech a lot), and also use LinkedIn and corporate alumni networks (and even STC!).

Upsell Your Core TC Skills

In marketese, nothing beats repackaging what you have to offer so that it rings with currency in the ear of the beholder. Could you find yourself wearing the following hot terms?

  • Content Strategist (cf. Information Architect)
  • Content Marketer
  • Community Liaison
  • Corporate Storyteller
  • Toolsmith (for wikis, structured content authoring/migrations, mobile content, content management, etc.)
    User Experience (UX) Designer (not UX Engineer)
  • Terminology Manager
  • User Assistance (UA) Expert
  • Content Manager (SharePoint administrator, process/workflow optimizer)
  • SEO Expert
  • Niche Analyst/Blogger/Tech Gadfly/Content Curator
  • Conference Organizer
  • Ghost Tweeter
  • Demo Builder (involves scriptwriting, animation, and marketing)

And Try Successor Careers

Below are all “titles” that you may be able to wear after your years of service — which was not just about “docs,” was it?

  • Business Analyst
  • Project Manager
  • Program Manager
  • Engagement Manager
  • Marketing Communications Manager
  • Corporate Communications Manager
  • Localization Manager
  • Executive Communicator (speechwriting, spokesperson work)
  • Technical Sales (including recruiting)

(As for management, Andrew cautions, it can often be a trap, so wear two hats and keep the managerial skills — but be able to produce content as well.)

Following the 2001 tech wreck, Andrew tracked the fields into which a number of experienced technical communicators moved at “Career Paths for Tired Tech Writers” (, and he would be happy to connect anyone interested in reaching out to these individuals.

Just be ready for the next paradigm shift, and if you find work that works, take it. (For a copy of Andrew’s slides, see

Andrew thrives on inquiries and feedback, so give him a call:

Andrew Davis, recruiter
408-395-8178 ext. 105

Our March 2011 Meeting: Optimizing Your Portfolio, with Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis, formerly principal of Synergistech Communications and now a recruiter for Content Rules (formerly Oak Hill Corporation), provided valuable insights (both live and remotely) at our March 2011 meeting. A true champion of the candidate, he reads a lot of job descriptions and resumes, and made clear that a great portfolio (and approach) is your best chance of landing a job in technical communications in the current environment (which, perhaps surprisingly, is becoming more and more favorable to the job seeker).

You can’t just have a resume anymore; you need hard evidence to back up what is on it:

  • Provide proof that you understand your audience, really know your tools, and can organize, write and deliver.
  • Have you mastered the three types of software documentation content (procedural, conceptual, reference)?
  • Have you mastered the three basic delivery types (linear prose, task-based help, instruction)?
  • Have you developed concrete doc plans?
  • Have you demonstrated a master of doc organization (TOC, concepts, procedures, reference, glossary, and even the index?)

Well, have you?

So what sells in the current market?

  • Clean, friendly prose with the end user clearly in mind
  • Illustrations, useful screen shots
  • Code examples
  • Complete instructions
  • Use cases and implementation scenarios
  • Troubleshooting

The audiences for each of the above are different, but the aspiring applicant who can demonstrate mastery of most of the above stands the best chance of success.

And when you are on the spot in front of your prospective employer, what wins?

  • An effective presentation, with information that is accessible, relevant, and in a meaningful context: what were the conditions, constraints, and strengths and weaknesses (yes, those) in how you succeeded — or not?
  • How did you approach similar challenges?
  • What did you deliver and why?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you succeed in the end?
  • What was your role in development?
  • What were all the circumstances you encountered and how did you deal with them?
  • What would you do differently next time?

In short, be the best narrator you can, and leave nothing to chance.

So how does one deliver success stories these days? Many use the ubiquitous and affordable LinkedIn (which also hosts a “Creative Portfolio Display” section). Or develop a private website in which to hang your best work with a narrative. For the transfer of large files to your prospective employer, use Or use private directories (password protected, of course) and even (duh) email (for files that are not too large).

But, you say, all my examples are proprietary? Well, if you don’t deliver something, employers will assume you are bluffing if you just say, “Sorry, I have great stuff — just can’t show it.”

Too bad for you.

So how do you deal with the sticky issue of proprietary information? Here are Andrew’s suggestions, in increasing order of difficulty:

  • Ask the prospective employer to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). Companies ask others to do that all the time, so don’t be shy. It shows you are a mature negotiator as well as a respector of (eventually their) intellectual property rights.
  • Neuter the content. Do search and replace on a variety of key words.
  • Redact key sections, as Acrobat Pro allows (Acrobat Standard may do this too). However, even though you can black out words and lines, be sure to lock the file against further edits!
  • Ask your ex (or currrent) boss for permission. Your judgment call here.
  • Contact your current (or previous) legal department for permission. Your judgment call here.
  • Ask for the names, addresses, and SSANs or the reviewing parties. Your judgment call here. (Success stories would be interesting to hear.)

In the absence of success in any of the above, or even if you have no current examples of the types of documents you would like to write, you can always take a public-domain document or public-domain information and rewrite and reorganize it, demonstrating your clear command of information management. Demonstrate your command of a technical subject area, as well as of your understanding of your audience.

Finally, avoid the classic “I am such a quick study, just teach me anything I need to know and I will learn it.” Well, that does not work in the current environment. No employer wants to hire a liability, and your inexperience should not end up their problem. Hiring managers are terrified to make a wrong hiring decision, and will instinctively minimize their risk any way they can.

So demonstrate the following with concrete examples: initiative, motivation, a master of subject matter sufficient for the task, an ability to overcome gaps in information and other challenges.  Most of all, make it crystal clear that you will be a good investment.

It is as simple as that.

For additional information, don’t hesitate to contact Andrew at Your success and his are intertwined.