User assistance across digital channels is a fast-growing field that stretches from video tutorials to social media to email marketing. For our next Q&A, we’re moving up the career ladder into management to go behind the scenes of Matt Pierce’s job at TechSmith in Lansing, Michigan, USA. Matt started out as an instructional designer and now manages several teams of technical writers and instructional designers to help customers understand how to use TechSmith products. He’s also a regular conference speaker on creating instructional video content .
Find out the best/worst of what Matt’s job involves, pathways in, and Matt’s advice for skilling up. You can read more job Q&As in our ongoing Interview with a… series.
I manage a technical writing and instructional design team, which creates the reference documentation, video tutorials (which are free), and helps with in-product messaging and so on. I also manage a team of trainers who run webinars, classroom training and custom training for customers at a cost. The technical support manager also reports directly to me. So all in all, I am supporting customers in a variety of ways.
What does managing a technical writing/design team involve?
My goal is to help the teams I work with move forward to achieve their goals. Since I have several teams that report to me, and each is in own stage of development, I end up switching my focus several times each day. I might counsel an employee on how to move a project forward, quickly transition to making a business decision, and then end up coordinating efforts between one of my groups and another department at TechSmith.
I also end up doing a lot of other things, such as speaking at conferences, connecting with customers, and helping with various business initiatives.
What background do you need for this role?
I don’t know if there is one type of background that would allow someone to be effective in my role. I happen to have a Masters of Science in Instructional Systems Technology – a broad instructional design background has served me well to work with instructional designers and technical writers.
I think as important has been my ability to change and adapt as the industry and my workplace has changed. Learning about business in general is also helpful. As I go further in my experience, I find that understanding business has allowed me to make better and faster decisions.
What is the most challenging part of being a customer support manager?
Challenges tend to ebb and flow, and as I ‘level up’ in my role, some things that seemed super-challenging now seem less so. If I have to identify one, it’s fairly self-inflicted, and it’s managing all of the things going on. I tend to take on a lot and making sure it’s all getting done can be a challenge. However, I thrive on it, and keep doing it. Not sure what that really says about me…
And the best bit?
I get to make a difference for my employees and for the company. I love helping them through a challenge or to solve a problem. When they feel accomplished and have done something awesome, and I can look and know that I helped them on that path – that is the best feeling. I also really enjoy getting out and speaking about video and my passion for creating awesome video.
What advice would you give to someone trying to get into your area?
First, work really hard and be really awesome at what you do. If you want to be a manager, you have to care about other people and learn to be okay that your success might be vicarious through them.
It also takes a lot of empathy for both employees, and in my role, for customers. How are they going to feel using a new piece of software? Or if we made a major change, how are they going to approach using it, and will it be frustrating, and can we ease that discomfort?
What’s the rate of pay?
It depends on level of experience, job function, education, time at company, etc. I live in a region with a fairly low cost of living so that affects pay. Don’t forget to look at benefits – a generous benefits package is another factor in the overall compensation.
Is there job mobility?
I started as an instructional designer, moved to manage the instructional design team, and then eventually added technical support. For a few years I actually moved to marketing to run a video team, social media and international PR. Now I’m back doing those other things. So from my perspective, I’ve had a lot of mobility. I think this is the exception more than the rule, though.
There is some level of mobility, depending on the organisation’s structure, but a lot of it seems to go into management. A lot of instructional designers and technical writers would make great marketers, however; not just traditional marketing but applying their technical craft to analytics, AdWords, content marketing and more.
Any advice on training and development?
No one writes or creates courses for exactly what I do but lots of people write about it. My recommendation is to read almost everything you can that you think relates, and some books or texts that don’t. When I started managing people I read so many business management books. When you read, learn from them, and be critical of them.
I also say, learn what your supervisor/boss’s job is and how can you make them successful.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years feels likes forever away when you work in the software industry. I tend to look about 12-18 months ahead. I hope to be doing what I am doing but at a larger scale; to look back and say that I’ve made a significant impact on helping our customers be successful and therefore on helping the company be more successful.
Do you have a guiding principle when you work?
My whole focus at work is: we make customers successful.
Matthew Pierce is an experienced instructional designer, training manager, speaker, and multimedia creator. He currently manages training and development at TechSmith Corporation, and for several years ran their visual communication web show, The Forge. You can catch him speaking at these forthcoming events: Online Educa Berlin 2015 on technology-supported learning, ATD TechKnowledge 2016 on videography and Training 2016 on making better videos. You can also catch him on his podcast, The Backstory Project, where he interviews individuals about their backstory and what has lead them to their current career or station in life.