Q&A with Craig Hansen

220px-Craig_J._Hansen,_AuthorCraig Hansen is the program director for Metropolitan State’s MS in Technical Communication program. He has a BA in political science, an MA in English and a PhD in English with a focus on technical communication. Craig has been a professor at Metropolitan State since 1993, is an accomplished musician and has published three novels.

What led you to enter the field of technical communication?

It was kind of a natural fit for me. I was a doctoral student in medieval studies and helping run one of the University of Minnesota’s first personal computer labs. I was attracted away from my studies to enter the computer industry, where I started as a technical writer and ended up as a senior product manager. I then went back to school in a different doctorate program to combine my technical and liberal arts backgrounds by studying technical communication.

What do you see as the most important thing to remember about technical communication?

Technical communication is a skill set, not a job title. We have a spectrum of successful students, from those who are more oriented toward writing and editing to those who are quite technical. It’s an interesting career area, and well paid, for those who can combine writing, design and technology skills.

Which industries have the biggest demand for technical communicators?

Any business, nonprofit organization, state agency or other organization that needs to convey specialized information to a wide range of audiences needs technical communicators. Locally, the many medical companies and other technology firms employ many professionals in technical communication but our alumni work in many different kinds of settings, from educational institutions, to small businesses, to technology start ups, to huge multinational corporations. Hardly anyone is called a technical communicator in the workplace; it’s a skill set that is applicable to quite a range of careers.

How is the field of technical communication evolving with new technologies?

It’s a field that is always evolving and has changed a great deal in the time I’ve been part of it. We’ve seen a shift from a hierarchical transfer of information to one that is widely dispersed and has an almost limitless number of contributors. Conveying reliable, and sometimes persuasive, information in that environment is challenging, so social media, user experience, web content development and even gamification are now important in our field. This unprecedented choice of media is baffling to many organizations. For us, it is opportunity.

What traits are most helpful for students to have in a technical communication program?

The students and professionals who thrive in our field combine a liberal arts perspective with a keen interest in communication technology. They like solving communication problems and tend to be well organized self starters. Most technical communication projects in the workplace are long term undertakings that require good time organization. It’s also a field for lifelong learners, as technology and other factors continue to change.

Can you recommend resources for more information?

Other than meeting with technical communication faculty, people with an interest in technical communication could certainly check out the various professional associations, particularly the Society for Technical Communication. This society has a large, active Twin Cities chapter, and the international organization has a number of informative publications.