Farewell to Technical Communication

STC logotype with mention, "Associate Fellow"

Last May, I attended the STC Technical Communication Summit in Denver. It had been a couple of years since my last Summit, and it felt good to be there. I was among friends, on familiar ground, sharing expertise and tall tales, reveling in a kind of homecoming. But it was also a bittersweet occasion. At the end of my presentation on living in volatile contexts, I announced my farewell to technical communication.

This farewell sounds like a dramatic event, but in fact, it was just an acknowledgement of reality. It’s more than eight years since I have been a daily user of a technical communication editing tool, a CMS, or anything remotely related to these. If a colleague or client asked me, today, to recommend the best tool for their purpose, I would not know how to answer. But no one has asked me that, either. And for good reason – I’m just not doing that any more.

It wasn’t a deliberate decision, it just happened. And in fact, one of the glorious things about the discipline of technical communication, which – in case you were wondering – I still love, is that it leads us down so many interesting paths, so many of them unexpected.

So here I am, waking up one day, and realizing that my work is about transformation. That should be obvious, with a company called The Transformation Society. It’s about digital transformation, or rather, the human aspects of it. It’s about understanding how humans and machines need to work together, it’s about understanding the role of information, and above all, it’s about learning – creating learning organizations, facilitating lifelong learning, training teachers and professional trainers, and a lot of other things connected to business and organizational strategy.

So if I unsubscribe from your mailing list, or stop showing up at technical communication conferences where I have been a habitual presenter, please don’t feel badly – I’m just being an elderly person, sorting out priorities and focusing on new horizons. I shall always cherish technical communication, and I don’t rule out participating in events from time to time. But for now, I bid a fond farewell to one discipline as I embrace another, and thank the world of technical communication for so many years of challenge, excitement, and good fun!

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Author: Ray

Ray Gallon is president and co-founder of The Transformation Society (www.transformationsociety.net), a research, training and consulting company focusing on building learning organisations that can manage complexity and the digital transformation. He has over 40 years as a communicator, first as an award-winning radio producer and journalist, then in the technical content industries. His management experience includes a stint as program manager of WNYC-FM, New York City’s public radio station. Ray is a self-described "humanist nerd," and has always been interested in the meeting point between technology and culture, and has used his broad experience to advantage with companies such as IBM, General Electric Health Care, Alcatel, 3M, and the OECD, as well as in smaller companies and startup enterprises. Ray recently helped co-found the Information 4.0 Consortium (www.information4zero.org) and serves as its current president. Ray is a university lecturer and a keynote speaker at events throughout the world. He has contributed articles and chapters to many books and periodicals and is the editor of the recently published “Language of Technical Communication” (XML Press).

6 thoughts on “Farewell to Technical Communication”

  1. Hi Ray,

    Welcome to the life-post-tech-comm club! Breaking up with a profession, I have found, is like breaking up with a person: you say you will stay friends, but you never do. I thought, when I quit to focus on fiction (https://everypageispageone.com/2018/11/26/turning-a-page/) that I would remain interested in tech comm.

    I didn’t.

    I thought I would continue to follow the same Twitter accounts and the same LinkedIn groups and the same blogs, for nostalgia’s sake, if nothing else.

    I didn’t.

    Apart from a couple of personal friends, I have unfollowed just about every tech comm Twitter account and blog and I hardly ever open LinkedIn any more.

    I thought I might one day come back to tech comm if the fiction thing did not work out (as it usually doesn’t), but I don’t believe that any more. Nothing against tech comm. It stayed interesting for me longer than most things do in my life. But the feeling I had that I had nothing more I needed to say on the subject has proved correct. If I had had any more to say, I would have gone on saying it. I have given tech comm all I had to give it. I have taken from it all I needed to receive. If the fiction thing does not work out, I shall have to find something else to bend the world’s ear about.

    As you say, at a certain age you recognize that you need to set your priorities and follow those things nearest you your heart. Bon voyage.

  2. “It’s about understanding the role of information, and above all, it’s about learning.”

    In short, it has a lot to do with technical communication. I understand what you’re saying, Ray: you’re no longer a technical communicator per se, focused on producing technical content. But you’re doing stuff that’ll have a huge influence on the art and science of technical communication.

    So, happily, I think we’ll still be seeing quite a bit of each other. 🙂

    1. Larry, thank you for thinking I’ll have influence on the art. I like to imagine it so, but realistically my time of maximum impact is probably behind me. Thankfully I am still curious and love learning, so I’m not quitting the scene, but I am changing the scenery 😉

  3. Ray, congratulations for this thoughtful decision.

    I have enjoyed your talks and your writings on tech comm. Even I have not taken any tech comm project in last 4 years because I was more interested in the *content driven digital experience* ownership challenges. Even last year it happened that a client approached me for a Help Center project, but I could immediately convert into *UX consultancy* project.

    Now I realize that when I was delivering Support Center content via HATs or CMS, I was not ensuring how mature and ready the product was for the business goals, whether it will sell, or scale? That was a sort of disservice to all those clients, and so I had to pivot.

    1. Vinish, thanks. I’ve also appreciated the projects and initiatives you’ve piloted over the years. Having a realistic sense of self criticism is, I think, essential to lifelong learning. By realistic I mean recognizing what we’ve excelled at as much as understanding where we need to do better. Both are really important.

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