Taking my career to the next level

Having worked in translation and interpreting for many years, Sebastian Sappl took his career one step further and completed his online training with a tekom certificate Professional Level.


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How my journey started

After 15 years of working as an interpreter and translator in the field of technical training, I thought it might be a good idea to learn something new and interesting, and add another string to my bow. Given that technical writing just seemed one or two steps away from my current work as a language specialist with a focus on technical topics, I reached out to get some information about training options and degrees I could earn. It quickly became clear that the tekom professional-level certificate was the ideal solution for me. And, after tracking down a few participants of the tcworld online course to get their feedback, I felt confident about taking the course and finally started my journey in the world of technical communication.

Advantages of learning online

Being self-employed, I really appreciated the fact that the tcworld course was entirely online and fully self-paced, which meant that I did not have to turn down interpreting jobs because of scheduled meetings. Moreover, I could organize my learning entirely according to my needs. I was able to do most of my coursework at the weekend before a busy week or, if I had a business trip, I could complete it in the hotel, which would leave my weekend free to spend with my family. This flexibility in organizing my learning time was a huge advantage. But there is a downside to this type of self-paced online course, which is the fact that every participant progresses at their own pace – not only you. In my class for instance, which was quite small from the start, there were only two of us left after the first few weeks. From time to time, participants from other classes that had started before us would join us, but nobody stayed very long in the pack. Had my only classmate dropped out, I would have had nobody to discuss homework assignments, share links and articles, and my learning experience would definitely not have been the same. Fortunately, the two of us managed to keep up with each other and enjoyed many conversations about all kinds of TC-related topics. Finally, we even did our exam preparation together and took the tekom professional level exam the same day. This intense collaboration was a crucial part of my learning experience as it was very enriching and kept my motivation high even in periods when I had a lot on my plate, and felt tempted to slow down a bit.

Spotlight on the curriculum

During the course, we covered a whole array of topics based on the tekom competence framework for technical writers. This approach ensured that the contents taught were not merely theoretical, but always solidly related to what technical writers actually do in their daily work. The content was presented in half-hour videos and learning slides. In addition, there were weekly homework assignments, which were discussed by the participants in the chat room. Although doing homework was never really fun – this hasn’t really changed since my school days – I must admit the process of expressing my ideas as clearly and concisely as possible in English, and sharing them with my classmates was very rewarding and quite beneficial for my learning progress.

After the introduction week, the course started with context analysis and the legal issues related to technical writing. It was rather high-level, as participants from all around the globe do not work within the same legal frameworks and under the same standards, but the guiding legal principles and the process of researching standards were explained using concrete examples. When I took a specialist course on the European framework and its specific requirements this year, I did not discover anything new, but just deepened my knowledge about the subtle details of European laws, regulations, and standards. The next modules raised awareness about readability and comprehensibility and showed how to ensure that your technical writing scores highly regarding these criteria. Then other topics followed such as culture-specific aspects of the target group, stages of information development, and project management.

A big part of the course covered standardization, where we discovered different methods that aim at ensuring consistency in technical writing, such as functional design and the class concept technique. We also took a deep dive into the world of online documentation and topic-oriented authoring, with two huge modules focused on how to explain the inner workings of software products. I particularly enjoyed the homework assignment in this module, which consisted of writing a short instruction using a help authoring software. Another topic in the realm of software was DITA that some see as the new gold standard of technical writing, while others are strongly opposed to it. Although I perceive the advantages of DITA, I am still curious to know what actual role it plays in the world of technical writing today.

During the course, we also gained insights into the process of introducing a content management system, the principles of single sourcing, and learned more about effective layout and visual design. Being a language professional, I more or less skipped the modules on terminology, computer-aided translation and localization. This was quite a relief because there were so many other subjects, I was unfamiliar with. The section on text creation was right up my alley since it included very interesting modules about English for non-native writers and simplified technical English.

The path leading to the certification

As you can see from the rough summary above, the course covered a whole range of different topics, all of which were relevant for the certification exam in front of the independent tekom board. Because of the sheer scope of topics, it took me several weeks to prepare for the exam. But given that it was a team effort, I quite enjoyed the process and, what’s more, felt less isolated in front of my computer.

The written exam was about analyzing and optimizing a given instruction. It was quite stressful because the allotted time for this part was rather short, although it was undoubtedly feasible. Concerning the oral exam, I can only say that it was quite a cheerful experience, probably due to the positive atmosphere that our examiners succeeded in creating from the very start. There were four of us in the exam, and we took turns answering the examiners’ questions. The questions were quite tricky at times and covered the whole tekom framework. But I can definitely say that the course curriculum had prepared me well for this.

A few weeks later, I received my tekom certificate Professional Level and added it with a feeling of accomplishment to my XING and LinkedIn profiles. Now, I am looking forward to integrating my knowledge and skills as a technical communicator into my professional life and gaining even more insights into the fascinating world of technical communication.