Letter from the UK: Red Gate Software’s Technical Communication Skills Map

by Ellis Pratt on 15 October 2013

Red Gate Software skills map One of our clients, Red Gate Software, has published on its website a series of skills maps, including one for role of technical author (the British equivalent of a technical writer).

According to Red Gate, the skills maps are a way of communicating the breadth of skills and specialisms available, and highlighting those they find valuable.

Each role has a set of core skills, shown in the inner circle, which collectively represent the fundamentals of that role. After a few years acquiring those skills, the map highlights different roles that someone might then move on to play in a team.

Here is the skills map for the technical author role (click the image to embiggen):

Red Gate Software skills map for Technical Authors

Some of the technical communicators I know at Red Gate have moved into roles outside of “TechPubs,” so I thought it would be interesting to ask them about this skills map. I have paraphrased their responses below. Please note, these are their personal views and are not intended to represent the official views of the company.

1)   Why does Red Gate give technical authors roles outside of the traditional borders of the job?

Getting the good stuff done is more important that doing what it says on your business card. One of the ways that manifests most strongly is in saying yes rather than no to the tendencies of people’s roles and enthusiasms to creeping laterally outwards. It requires an organizational culture that’s happy to let experimentation happen, but keeps an eye on the consequences.

So, technical communications is a close relative of UX, for example, and, in working closely with UX, our technical authors inevitably see some overlap of expertise and interest. That’s productive because each role has something to contribute each way.

2)   What benefits has it seen by doing this?

There are two main things here. It keeps people happy and it gets useful stuff done. It’s also really good to have lateral development opportunities in a technical business. Letting people diversify appeals pretty strongly to that desire for self-determination that keeps people happy at work. It’s great for cracking open the silos, too.

3)   For a technical author, what it’s like to move away from the traditional role?

It can be a slow transition. Although technical communication will prepare you very well in a lot of ways, there will still be a lot to learn. A trivial example would be the language and buzzwords used by a different department.

4)   Do technical authors move towards one quadrant more than another?

So far we’ve had technical authors move into marketing, UX, and project management. So, numerically, it’s mostly project management. But UX is a pretty close fit, and our technical authors tend to be pretty UX aware. Others have moved toward developing specialist technical communications skills, rather than a general expanding of the centre. They’ve broadly tended to avoid the top right market/commercial quadrant.

What do you think of the diagram?

The skills matrix is currently a work-in-progress. At this moment, the matrix doesn’t include writing skills as a core skill, and this is some something, in my opinion, they should probably add.

What do you think of the diagram and Red Gate’s approach to career development? What else would you include in the diagram?

Please share your thoughts below.

Ellis Pratt is director at Cherryleaf, a UK technical writing services company. Ranked the most the influential blogger on technical communication in Europe, Ellis is a specialist in the field of creating clear and simple information users will love.

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