Technical Writing and Translation – Interview with Alessandro Stazi
Technical Writing and Translation – Interview with Alessandro Stazi
Alessandro Stazi is one of the most important Italian technical writers.
After having worked for years as an ICT engineer in the field of information security and cryptography his old company, Engiweb Security, asked him to create from scratch the documentation department, so he started working as a technical writer. Currently, he works in CrossIdeas (http://www.crossideas.com/
His blog – www.artigianodibabele.blogspot.co.uk – is the reference point for all the Italian technical writers who want to get information and updates about this profession which in Italy is not yet fully recognized.
In this long interview – which he kindly agreed to do in English for the readers of my blog – he explains what a technical writer is, what he does and why this role is so close to being a technical translator. He also gives his tips to those who want to become technical communicators.
You can find the English transcript below.
Hi everyone, I’m Chiara and this is TranslatorThoughts.com
I’m here today with Alessandro Stazi, one of the most important Italian Technical Writers. The Technical Writer is a profession very close to the Technical Translator. I invited him today to get an insight into the profession and maybe give some useful information to the translators who want to specialise in this field. So welcome Alessandro.
Alessandro: Good evening.
00’39: What is your current job and what do you do exactly?
A: Currently I’m employed as Technical Documentation and Training Manager in CrossIdeas, an Italian company that provides Identity & Access Governance and Risk Governance solutions to manage people, applications and entitlements into big organizations. The most important analysts recognize CrossIdeas as a European leader in the market of Identity and Access Governance software products. Our technologies are deeply innovative, and we have customers in different sectors like Banking, Manufacturing, Energy and Government. We are a company that produces technology, and technical communication is very important.
1’30: What kind of documents do you write?
A: I manage the entire life cycle of the product’s documentation related to the software products of my company. Mainly, I write – with the help of my direct colleagues – different types of manuals, like Installation manuals, Getting Started manuals, Administration manuals, Technical cards, Help online for our applications and so on.
02’00: How did you become a technical writer?
A: Until December 2004 I was an ICT Engineer specialized in cryptography and information security. In January 2005, for company needs, the technical director asked me to build from scratch the entire department for the documentation development. I accepted this task but I didn’t imagine the enormous amount of work that was waiting for me! It has been a real challenge but now I’m happy I have accepted it.
02’40: Do you think a technical writer is somehow similar to a technical translator? What are the differences?
A: In my opinion a technical translator can be very alike to a technical Writer. Both must have a good linguistic skill and an inclination for technology issues. A Technical Writer “writes to teach”, simplifying and making clear concepts often very complicated, but maintaining the exact sense of these concepts. In such way, the Technical Writer “translates” a complex technical concept into a more essential and clear language and this is very alike to the normal job of a Technical Translator. The Technical Translator must have more attention for specific linguistic issues, like the terminology localization of particular words. In my opinion, the mindset of a Technical Translator is not so far from the mindset of a Technical Writer.
3’51: What did you study? Did you attend other courses in order to start working as a technical writer?
A: My main skill is technological, I’m a ICT Engineer. In Italy there aren’t university courses for the profession of technical communicator. In some rare departments of some universities, there are professors that understand the importance of technical/scientific communication and propose some courses on these arguments, but they are like white flies. There are also some rare occasions of training on specific aspects or industrial tools made by private companies, but that’s all.
When I started, in 2005, I couldn’t stop my job to study, so for at least two years I have literally worked during the day and studied during the night, on books and on the web, trying to learn very quickly the solutions to adopt the next day to solve my job tasks. I have done many mistakes, but I have learned a lot of things in the field continuously under pressure. It has been real self-learning, but I didn’t have other choice.
5’13: Which is the most important skill, linguistic skill or technical knowledge?
A: That is the million-dollar question! Now many people will think that, as engineer, I will answer technical knowledge. But in my experience, it’s very rare to meet a technical expert, an engineer, that has ability and talent for writing and communication. In this sense, I’m a very strange engineer.
I think that, statistically, it’s easier to become a good technical communicator starting from linguistic skills and not vice versa. But typically, especially in little and medium companies, are the technical expert who receive by the management the task to make technical documentation.
This is, essentially, because the manager thinks that a technical expert will be more productive in the short short-term. But in the long period this is not always true.
6’23: What language do you write in? Did you have a sufficient level of English or you had to revise it?
A: Currently I write the manuals of my company directly in English. In 2008 we had all the manuals written in Italian. So we decided to translate it them in English. In 6 months we have changed two translation agencies. The results of the translation activity were discouraging. A lot of mistakes and all sort any type of problems. At that time I was not expert at localization problems, and it’s possible that my company had chosen translation agencies not so skilled for translating technical contents, especially our technical content that is very specific.
I lost time and money, then I have decided to write our manuals DIRECTLY in English, with a native speaker assistant that helped me for proofreading activity. This approach has proved very effective and efficient. I have improved my basic English with 3 courses Shenker and with another recent training with British Council and currently I have level B2. My English training is always running. Every day I read and write in English and try to watch TV programs in English, as CNN news or MTV programs or other web training resources. I still must work again very hard to improve my English!
08’08: What is the best part of your job?
A: If you like to communicate and to teach, this is a job for you. Every day there’s a different problem and always the basic question: “How can I explain this?” If you like to respond to this question, this is the job for you. It’s not a very common profession, so it can be interesting even in terms of earnings, especially in countries that produce technologies and have manufacturing companies.
08’39: Wow, that sounds interesting! But what is the worst part instead? Because I guess there is also a negative aspects..
A: There is always the dark side of the moon! Always short time for everything and everything must be ready for… YESTERDAY! This means to be always under pressure. There are three basic variables: quality, cost, speed. You can optimize only two of them at same time. Very high speed and low cost? Low quality. Very high quality and low cost? Low speed. To get high quality and high speed with low cost is impossible, but the customer will ask exactly for this.
09’47: What skills does your job require?
A: A Technical Communicator needs many different skills: basically a good linguistic skill, but also technological, of course. And good knowledge of professional tools – Content Management Systems, Computer Aided Translation tools, graphical tools like Photoshop and many others – and specific standard for writing documents in specific areas. For example, medical writing is a particular type of technical writing into medical scientific sectors. But it’s the same in other sectors.
10’40: I really don’t know where you find the time (but apparently you do) because besides your job you also write on you blog. For the people who can read Italian I remember the name of you blog which is http://artigianodibabele.blogspot.co.uk Why did you decide to start a blog?
A: When I started this profession, in 2005, I had no references in Italian language, especially on the web, except for some rare resource of some pioneers. Of course a lot of material in English, but not in Italian. In 2009 I decided to open my blog to tell my experiences to the people who, as me in 2005, were starting to become technical writers. The blog has been a great training to improve my ability and knowledge (if you write stupid things on the web, after 5 minutes someone will outline your stupidity), to meet other professionals, to understand the evolution of this profession. My blog is not a professional blog because I write for the blog only for 4-5 hours at week – a professional blog needs at least 2-3 hours per day – but a blog for professionals, at different levels.
12’20: Is it useful in your opinion to have a blog? What personal and professional advantages do you get from having a blog?
A: Absolutely YES! When you work a lot every day, the risk is to maintain the focus only on matters strictly linked to your daily work needs. But in this way it’s easy to lost lose a lot of other aspects of your profession. A blog obliges you to study and to get new knowledge even on aspects not so close to your daily activity, to open your mind on different points of view, to answer to the questions of the readers and so on. The blog has given me more than one professional chance and a large visibility. Currently my blog is the most active and complete blog on Technical Writing in Italian language, even if I dedicate to it only few hours at week.
13’19: I would like to make you a question on a slightly different subject. How do you use social media – if you do? Do you find them useful for your job?
A: I use social media (essentially Linkedin and Twitter) to build my professional network and to be updated on a large set of issues of my profession (like the evolution of tools, of methodologies, of the market, news and so on). The problem with social networks is that they are useful if you are active on them and this requires time, but it’s still very useful for the profession.
14’30: What tools do you use in your job? I’m speaking about computer tools or other kind of technical tools?
A: In my opinion tools are very important to speed-up the process of management of the life cycle of the documentation, but tools don’t make you a better writer, as a CAT tool doesn’t make you a better translator. I underline this because someone thinks that “to be a technical communicator” is like “to know the most charming tools”, but it’s not true. Tools are very important but to become a technical communicator is something more. It means to study a lot for many years, while learning a tool is something of few weeks. Currently I use Mad Cap Suite, a powerful Component Contents Management System in addition to many other traditional tools as Microsoft Word, some xml editors, Photoshop and others.
15’51: Did you learn more from university, from your personal experience, from your personal experience or from the people you know? Where did you learn most of the things you know now?
A: Essentially, I have studied on books and on the web and I have built my profession on my experiences and mistakes, day by day. I have had the chance to work in a little technological company, leader in Italy and in all Europe on software products with very high performances, always engaged in a strong market competition. All this has obliged me to produce always a very high quality solutions and has speed-up my professional evolution. This is my story, essentially continuous self learning.
16’51: Do you know how many technical writers are there in Italy? And in Europe? Do you think the number of technical writers meets the actual need?
A: In Italy, this profession it’s not so common also because this is not yet an officially recognized role. COM&TEC, the Italian recognized association for the technical communication, focuses on the importance of the technical communication and product documentation for every company. Any technical type of communication coming out from a company represents the company itself. For this reason is very important and significant.
COM&TEC currently counts more or less one-hundred registered members, and I’m one of them. It organizes seminars, convention and educational training to promote the profession of the technical communicator, but the number of technical communicators in Italy is not so high. For example in USA, according to the most recent data published in 2010, there are more or less 45.000 Technical Communicators on 315 millions of USA people, for a ratio of 1 TC on 7000 USA people.
In Italy, maintaining the same ratio, with 60 millions of people, we should have at least 8500 TC, but I estimate that the total number of technical communicators in Italy doesn’t exceed the number of 1500 people. In Germany, the national association counts more or less 8000 associated.
In Italy technical communication is growing and spreading rapidly. I don’t have recent data on all Europe countries, but Germany and Great Britain are surely countries in which this profession is highly appreciated.
19’28: So it would be a good choice for students if there are students interested in this profession. Would you have any advice to give them?
A: Basically you need to have talent for writing, strong willingness to communicate and to teach, curiosity for technologies. Without these basic ingredients, it is difficult to become a Technical Communicator.
In Anglo-Saxon countries, students can choose different types of University courses, in a range from 3 to 7 years of education, at different level. But the “training on the job” is also very important, because a solid academic training is good of course. But only real problems teach you the best way to produce “real solutions”. It’s very difficult to start this profession outside a technological company. It’s important to be in a technological company to have the real possibility to start this profession in my opinion.
20’42: Ok, Alessandro, I thank you so much for your time and for the interesting answers that you gave us. I invite you to be my guest whenever there will be another opportunity. I really hope that this interview will help students or people who are interested in this profession to gain an insight and maybe discover a new possibility.
A: I thank you so much and I hope that my answers have made clear some aspects of my profession. I’m very happy for your attention and for this interview.