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Skills & Technologies Survey 2019

The WritersUA Skills & Technologies Survey is designed to provide a window into what we value as technical communication professionals who are involved in supporting software.

The survey consisted of ten questions. No identifying information was required. Respondents could answer as much or as little of the survey as they liked.

There were 234 respondents between Jan 3 and Jan 25, 2019. The survey was presented on Survey Monkey. It was advertised through 20+ LinkedIn groups related to technical communication and the WritersUA mailing list.

This article includes the questions, results, and commentary by Joe Welinske (JW).

Job Titles

Q: Identify the broad category that best represents the majority of your work.

58.9%   Technical Writing

10.4%   User Assistance

10.0%   Content Strategy

4.3%      Information Architecture

4.3%      User Experience

3.5%      API / Development

JW: There are dozens of job titles that we find being used under the broad umbrella of the technical communication profession. This question pushed respondents to pick a label that was a best fit. The “Technical Writing” label continues to be the most widely used.

Other responses and comments – 19 responses

Content writing and strategy, customer success, Digital Content Development, Documentation and localization management, eLearning Development, instructional design, Instructional Design, IT business analyst, Knowledge Management, Management/Project Management, Marketing, Project Manager, Strategic Content Development, Technical Editing, Training and Education, UX Writing
All of the above! But primarily management of a documentation department
As a consultant, I touch on all of these categories across a range of clients

Technologies

Delivery Technologies

Delivery technologies play a large role in software user assistance. They provide us with ways of presenting our content and contribute to our unique identity among technical communication professionals.

Q: The percentage of respondents identifying whether an item is IMPORTANT (vs. NOT IMPORTANT) to current efforts.

84%       PDF (digital print)

84%       Quick reference (Reference cards, Getting Started guides, release notes, job aids)

82%       Browser-based Help (WebHelp or any HTML/XML-based Help content displayed in a standard browser.)

72%       Knowledge bases (Sharepoint repositories, intranet/extranet content)

44%       Multimedia tutorials (Simulations, on-boarding, overlays)

42%       Forums (discussion groups, blogs, communities)

29%       Wikis (for use by customers/users as opposed to internal development)

29%       Interactive helpers (wizards, troubleshooters)

27%       Print (distributed on paper)

26%       Microsoft Help (HTML Help and other variants)

22%       Social sites (Facebook, Linkedln, Twitter, etc.)

8%         ePub, Kindle, iBook

JW: The ubiquitous nature of PDF continues to be an important of our deliverables. While formerly powerful formats like MS Help much less so. Social media has a relatively small position of importance despite its high popularity for sharing information in other aspects of our lives.

Other responses and comments – 30 responses

API reference documentation, bots, Classroom training, Confluence, GitHub Wiki, Jira, Context-sensitive help integrated into user interface, digital media, Dynamic Portal, e-learning, Error messages in CLI/terminal/API, Github, Hover/pop-up help for mobile devices., ILT, In the UX, In-product code, internal social intranet tools (Jive, Aurea), Javadoc, JavaHelp, Onboarding text, PolicyTech, Presentations in multimedia , reports/dashboards, research materials, Slack, bots, voice interactions,, social & event marketing, UI labeling and messaging, User interface texts, Videos, Walkme digital adoption platform, webinars, Webinars and instructor-led training, YouTube

Operating Systems and Platforms

The decisions about where our digital information lives is usually determined outside of the control of technical communicators. The OS/platform issues can have an effect on how we do our work and it can be useful to review the relative popularity of these choices.

Q: What operating systems and platforms do your products support?

86%       Windows (v. 10)

67%       World Wide Web/Internet

57%       Windows (v. 8, v. 7, Vista)

48%       Mobile (iOS, Android, others)

46%       intranet/extranet (within the firewalls of an organization and its partners)

37%       Mac OS X

29%       Linux

20%       Java

16%       Windows (XP and earlier)

14%       UNIX (Solaris, HP-UX, AIX)

5%         IBM mainframe (System Z)

2%         OpenVMS

JW: In the mainstream consumer view of technology, Windows has faded a brand. However, that platform still runs much of the world’s computing and continues to be the top platform we support. The items at the lower end of this list are still extremely important to the organizations that use them and it is a worthwhile job skill to have some knowledge of them.

Other responses and comments – 16 responses

Gaming consoles, Hadoop clusters, i Series, Medical device systems (programmers, customer interface), Oracle Cloud, Our Web apps run on a proprietary OS, Public Cloud (AWS, Azure), PuTTy, VMware, We make embedded systems, Windows server, Windows Server 2012 through 2019

Mobile

More and more data is shared through mobile apps. Even if we aren’t directly involved in developing a mobile app, it is likely that our content is, or soon will be, shared in some way on the smartphones and tablets that are part of everyone’s daily lives.

Q: What mobile operating systems do your products support?

86%       iOS (Apple)

85%       Android (Google)

76%       Web apps (HTML/CSS optimized for mobile)

6%         Universal Windows Platform (UWP)

5%         Android Open Source Project (AOSP)

3%         Samsung Experience (Samsung-specific Android variant)

1%         Tizen

JW: In th. For those of us involved in supporting mobile content, Apple’s iOS and Android are the two equally important native app platforms. Usually both are supported. Web apps are generally supported by organizations who don’t find the power inherent in native apps to be worth the extra effort required to develop and support them. The items lower on this list may find more popularity as we support more Internet of Things products.

Other responses and comments – 4 responses

Amazon Fire (the Fire OS, separate from Android)
I don’t even know — it’s out of my control
I’m confused by this question
Our Web apps are not optimized for mobile viewing

Skills

We employ a variety of skills to create and deliver effective user assistance. Some of these skills are learned through formal educational programs while many others are developed on the job.

Content-related Skills

Manipulating words and images to communicate.

Q: The percentage of respondents identifying whether an item is IMPORTANT (vs. NOT IMPORTANT) to current efforts.

93%       Writing procedures

86%       Writing reference information

83%       Interviewing (subject matter experts/customers/users)

83%       Task analysis

82%       Copy editing

75%       Information architecture (structured authoring, content management, taxonomies)

70%       User interface design (embedded UA, field labels, UI Help text)

66%       Search (tagging, metadata, search engine optimization)

58%       Simplified English/Plain English

56%       Developmental editing

45%       Instructional design

35%       Multimedia (images, video, audio)

33%       Indexing (keywords, Index tab, back-of-the-book)

31%       Prototyping (wire-frames, simulations for design purposes)

JW: Our foundation skills continue to be the creation of content. Search skills are more highly valued than traditional indexing. The specific skills of working with media beyond text seems to be surprisingly low considering its importance in today’s consumption of content. Prototyping is a key skill in most areas of user interface design, but does not seem to be impactful here.

Other responses and comments – 16 responses

Content reuse, Customer journey mapping, storytelling, Diagrams for technical flows, evaluation/metrics, reporting, graphic design, Managing translation databases, narrative driven design decisions, policy development, end user communications, SEO, Swagger, API documentation, User experience design, Writing style guides
What is “development editing”? Developmental editing is when discussions and suggestions about from an editor or peers contribute to a better product. Typically, this goes beyond individual passages or topics and looks at how collections of content are brought together for a unified presentation.

Process-related Skills

Applying tools and techniques for increasing efficiency and quality in content development.

Q: The percentage of respondents identifying whether an item is IMPORTANT (vs. NOT IMPORTANT) to current efforts.

88%       Project planning (without management or supervisory responsibilities)

83%       Authoring tools (expertise with software designed for a narrow set of outputs)

80%       Content reuse (single-sourcing)

73%       Quality assurance and testing

72%       Content Management Systems (expertise with software with a wide scope of publishing outputs)

60%       Usability testing

46%       Translation / Localization

45%       Management and supervision

35%       Accessible design(for disabilities)

JW: Project planning is a skill that crosses most professional disciplines. Working with authoring tools is a skill that may require experience with many products and is an on-going learning task. Content reuse is the item on this list that is unique to the work of technical communicators. However, the way it is implemented can vary considerably from one work environment to another.

Other responses and comments – 9 responses

Automation methods, change management, content life cycle (authoring, review, publishing, distribution), content ROI aligned with business goals, Docs-as-code toolchain, Inclusive design (not just about disabilities: about all abilities and demographics), leadership & coaching, Markup languages, peer review, process design, Process design, stakeholder review processes, Troubleshooting, wiki/help/PM support

Coding-related Skills

A growing portion of our work includes working directly with markup and other coding or collaborating directly with developers.

Q: Select all of the following technologies you work with at the code level on a regular basis.

85%       HTML / CSS

51%       XML (DocBook, DITA, DTDs, Schema)

34%       Style Sheets / Transformations (XSLT, XSL-FO)

31%       Markdown (various implementations)

24%       DITA

22%       JavaScript (or other client-side scripts)

11%       Programming (C++, C#, Java, VB, etc.)

7%         Server-side scripts (ASP, JSP, PHP, Perl, etc.)

JW: For most of us, the amount of expertise “under the hood” diminishes significantly after considering the base formats for web content like HTML/CSS. While opportunities in API documentation are robust, it is still an area that requires stretch skills for most of us.

Other responses and comments – 13 responses

Big Data Analytics, Collaboration (Slack, Asana, G Drive), continuous integration build tools, Creating example programs, cURL, Git and repository management, IDEs, IoT, JSON, Prototyping Tools, Python, SharePoint design (content types & form development), Wiki markup, Writing scripts to alter HTML topics., xquery, YAML
I do not work at the code level; the software tools handle it.

 

 

Q: What percentage of your work week are you interacting directly with developers or coding yourself. 

66%       One quarter

22%       One half

10%       Three quarters

2%         Full time

 

 

Q: What development methodologies, frameworks, and environments do you use?

83%       Agile software development

27%       Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)

21%       Microsoft .NET

20%       Information Mapping

18%       Section 508 (U.S. govt. accessibility)

15%       Simplified English (ASD-STE)

14%       ISO 9000

9%         Eclipse

6%         DocBook

JW: The integration of Agile processes in software development has enveloped our work in technical communication. The style and form of Agile varies, but the idea of producing content as part of short development sprints has changed the way we do our work quite a bit. DITA continues to be something that is vital to organizations that fully buy into it and irrelevant to those that don’t. The other items on this list have impact, but in specialized circumstances.

Other responses and comments – 16 responses

Agilefall, Bitbucket, Drupal, Git for CMS, Github, IBM Style, IntelliJ + Eclipse, IntelliJ/Java, MadCap Flare, Microsoft Visual Studio, No idea, OpenSource, Style-based structure, Swagger, Waterfall, We’re severely lacking in processes
This is an odd question.

Comments about the Survey

The following are comments submitted by the respondents.

Although HTML is minimally required for my job, I don’t spend even 25% of my week with developers or code — much less than that.

Being a consultant and having exposure to many technical writers, content developers, or whatever it is “we” do, I find a huge lack of technology educated individuals.

Hi Joe, wishing you well. Your survey is quite comprehensive, and a little humbling – I’d like to be doing more!  It certainly has given me ideas of some tools and approaches I might introduce to my organization.

Horrible survey. This was obviously created by persons within the computer technology box. There is a great deal of technical writing done outside of software!!!!!!!

I am now a Project Manager and do now produce content any more.

I marked what actually applies, not what would be ideal for my work

I work at a university and currently develop content that is published in the university knowledge base. So I don’t work on a product, I support many products that are delivered to the university community as services.     BTW, I took “Plain English” in one of the initial questions to mean regular, good old English, but I know that that may have been wrong?

I’m still using the framework/templates/tools I designed 20 years ago when we switched from printed books to e-manuals. The focus has changed a bit but not dramatically. For example, now I can put Help on a web server and use analytics. Greetings from Belgium, Ray Lloyd, Agfa

I’ve attended several WritersUA conferences in the past. Always good content. Company no longer allows budget for conferences though.

It left out mention of the broad category of my authoring/publishing environment: SSGs (static site generators).    I guess that’s why I never see mention of WritersUA in my primary writers group, Write the Docs. We’re a software-focused docs group, with a broad membership of tech writers, developers, product/project managers, etc.

It would be nice to capture more developer/API documentation tools and methodologies, as this is a growing area of the tech comms field.

Thank you for asking. The survey was very organized and well thought-out. 

Thanks for creating, sending, analyzing, and reporting the results of this survey. I also have used SQL, XML, JIRA, SharePoint, and Rational in concert with developers over the years. When will be see the results, Joe?

Thanks for doing this survey. The results allow me to compare what I am doing with my peers.

The “coding” question didn’t offer a choice of <25%. I don’t write any code or need to interview any coders.

We are doing a lot more content curation and automation of developer’s writing, and more editing. We are using more tools and technologies in order to streamline this process.

We find our role continually evolving to meet organizational needs to get more done faster with fewer people. And to find new ways to to relay information to users who are more and more reluctant to read. Videos are becoming a frequent request for the “show me” generation. Translation looms on the horizon, and the pace continues to accelerate. Thanks for surveying the field and all that you do. It helps to know that we are not alone.