Part I -- What exactly IS an Information Developer?
An information developer might create a DVD user's guide, write a press release about a technical marvel, build an interactive online training program for new customers, or rewrite engineering specifications so members of the board understand what they're voting on.
Often, an information developer is also a technical writer, but the I.D. umbrella is larger than that. Information development includes the work of technical writers and editors, instructional designers, website developers, desktop publishers, graphic designers, trainers and localizers. For the most part, information developers produce task-oriented documentation, where product information is presented in the most opportune fashion for teaching the interested and even the technologically challenged how to do something technical … all while keeping the audience engaged.
Part II -- Why aspire to be an Information Developer?
Employees who work in I.D. come from varied backgrounds. Ask fifty of these people what they were doing ten years ago and you may get ten different answers. But they do have a few things in common: They know how to write well and they know how to use computers to accomplish their work. Most companies looking for new I.D. personnel inquire first about an applicant's knowledge of certain computer platforms and applications. Many employers and recruiters are more concerned about the candidate's technical knowledge than his / her background in grammar or writing. This isn't always the case, but it happens often.
Information developers are paid to transform raw data into something easily digestible and understandable by the general population. By raw data I mean the information generated by programmers, engineers, developers, biologists, and project managers. When these people communicate with each other, they can speak in partial sentences and techno-jargon while fully understanding each other, but important as their information is, what they generate is usually not going to help consumers much. Information developers bridge the gap between the highly technical people and a more general audience.
For the career information developer, manipulating these technical words and phrases into something destined for a less technical audience is "fun" … if not actually fun, then hopefully it is fulfilling. Okay, it keeps them out of trouble.
Part III -- What writing, creative arts, and computing skills do Information Developers need?
Beyond that, information developers should know how to write "tight," that is, they should know how to write conservatively. They need to know how to create uncluttered art, concrete directions, straightforward sentences; they need to know how to create conservatively, as though each word and each stroke extracted a price from the company. In a way, that's true. Companies do not want to have to include a 500-page user's manual with each product they sell. The writer who can offer the customer the same information with fewer words is in demand, as is the instructional designer who can teach the same information in two hours when it used to take four.
Writing sharp, focused and concise prose takes practice, as does creating a lesson that teaches without wandering around the subject. Concise communication does not have to be stoic, but it should be frugal. Filler words are fine in fiction and multi-mega pixel artwork looks great on our desktops, but neither of them has much place in technical information, where cost is often the bottom line.
I.D. workers will be expected to judiciously edit their own writing. This includes being able to back away from their writing and objectively hack away at phrases they like. Like them or not, if the words are not necessary, they need to go.
Computing Skills: In order to meet stringent publishing and training deadlines, information developers must be able to work "fast." This means more than just writing or drawing quickly; it means the ability to work on the computer with the speed that comes from lots of practice. Working fast on a computer does not just mean typing fast, it also means knowing keyboard and application shortcuts, working quickly to open and close documents and applications, working without hesitation, and rarely stopping to consult software manuals.
As mentioned above, some recruiters and employers place heavy emphasis on how well an information developer knows specific applications. Some companies take the attitude that one writer or artist is as good as another, so why not hire one who is well acquainted with their applications. By hiring someone who knows their applications, employers do not have to wait for the new employee to get up to speed.
As a result, an information developer's resume is likely to spotlight more computer skills than writing experience. Right now, that seems to be the nature of the market.
Part IV -- What personality skills contribute to success in this field?
c. Eye for consistency
d. Sense of humor
f. Ability to multitask
g. Love for technology
Part V -- Conclusion
Why? Because every time a technology company produces a new widget, someone has to produce documentation and training materials to explain how it works and why consumers just cannot live with it.
by Ann Gordon, Assistant Manager