The president of our international organization took some time out of his hectic schedule to reflect on some questions we had for him.
RMC: How long have you been in technical communication?
BA: I suppose I started into the field in the early 90s.
RMC: How did you get your start?
BA: I worked for a software training company and had to create manuals for some courses that I was teaching. That got me started on planning and creating content, and within a few years I was active in my local STC community.
RMC: What are the top three skills a communicator should have?
BA: I often get asked, and my answers likely change. Right now I’d say a natural curiosity on how things work is one of the core ones that should be there from the start. Very important to be able to dig in and explore. Another is the ability to interview others well and extract the information that is truly relevant to the content being created (which could be video, audio, written, or a mix of all of these) and the audience who consume that content. Finally, I’d say the ability to organize information well. It is a nightmare to either wade through volumes of information to find an answer, or to scan a short document that is poorly organized. Both leave me wanting to find a better resource that is clear in its delivered message, organization, and content.
RMC: What is your favorite thing about being a technical communicator?
BA: I get to travel, meet people, and learn what companies and people are doing, and then share my knowledge with others.
RMC: What tools do you use?
BA: Chainsaws, shovels, tractors, and much more while working on things that are not computer based. On a computer… Microsoft Office, Adobe Technical Communication Suite with a focus on Captivate and FrameMaker, and DITA based tools such as FrameMaker, Oxygen, and XMetaL. That’s the core of my “at work, or not at work” toolset.
RMC: How do you stay current with issues related to technical communication?
BA: Involvement with STC of course. I also present at about 4 or 5 conferences every year, watch a LOT of related videos, write articles, and remain active with the tool vendors in beta programs testing and providing feedback. My business also means that I get to see how people at different companies do things and constantly learn from them. Lastly, as a part-time college professor I also get insights into what people under 30 are doing with regards to content and technology.
RMC: What advice would you give to people who want to begin a career as a technical communicator?
BA: Take the time to learn all you can along the way. Don’t overload yourself with too many responsibilities. Learn to project manage and set realistic expectations for yourself (and others).
RMC: If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be?
BA: Interesting question. Tough to say for sure. There are a broad set of interests that I have and it may be part of the reason that I actually AM in this profession. It allows me to see and do so many things. I suppose that if I wasn’t in this field I’d love to be in something that has a challenge to it, allows travel, and is rewarding.
RMC: Favorite industry book?
BA: I don’t have one. I actually don’t have a favourite non-industry book either. I find that there are genres I enjoy, but when I do sit down to read it’s to unwind and escape, not to be even deeper into what I work with as well.
RMC: Favorite travel location?
BA: Pretty broad. As my travel for work gets me bouncing around a lot it is tough to pick one. I do enjoy camping, so getting away from everything is great. It’s local, inexpensive, and if done right has some of the best food and scenery going. In Canada I enjoy travelling to the east coast. Friendly people, great prices, and scenery that is unbelievable. I enjoy most of the areas that I go for work, and have been fortunate to travel to most of the US, as well as a lot of Europe and even to India.
RMC: Something else?
BA: Nothing that can be put into print. Some ideas just don’t convey themselves the same way when you write them down. So often the best things that happen are spontaneous, creative, unscripted, and come about due to conversations and interactions with other people. I think that is something which keeps me believing that despite all the connectivity and the online environments that go with it, there is a great deal that just happens because of interactions between people. Meeting in person means seeing reactions, sharing a real laugh (not an “lol” but actually laughing. Out loud. With others.), and experiencing that broad mix of experiences that develop when multiple discussions happen. I suppose that conferences provide the industry equal to the backyard bbq. Many people, common interests, but unique perspectives and conversations drift and develop. So for “something else” I guess it’s a wrap up with the idea that human interaction is still such a crucial part of what we do, and my hope is that it continues in the years ahead. Look forward to meeting people on my trip to the Rocky Mountain chapter and sharing thoughts, ideas, and laughs.
Bernard solves business problems and helps companies generate more revenue through the effective use of content. He guides clients through the best processes to create, manage, and deliver content. Once delivered, he helps socialize the message, understand and act on feedback, and improve the process and workflow.
He is the founder of Publishing Smarter, an Associate Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and STC President. Bernard has helped hundreds of companies implement successful solutions. He is focused on publishing better, publishing faster, and publishing smarter.