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Jul 19, 2001: Majors and Minors

A fellow information architect asked me a tough question:

What might be the top skills, qualities etc. that an IA should have to remain attractive for hire in this unpredictable economy? Or what should I be doing with my time now that I don't have a full time job?
For some odd reason I seem to be getting asked this or something similar quite a bit of late. Here's my best answer: definitely sit tight for a few months if you can. The market is still lousy and will be for a few months. Take the time to network with other IAs and improve your skills where you feel weak.

I see information architecture as the intersection of three areas (imagine yet another three-circled Venn diagram):

  1. users: (who they are, what their information-seeking behaviors and needs are)
  2. content: (volume, formats, metadata, structure, organization)
  3. context: (business model, business value, politics, culture, resources and resource constraints)

We all come from a background that fits into one of these areas. For example, you might have a background in technical communications and therefore may feel very comfortable working with content. Or you might have an MBA and feel especially strong about your skills in the business context area. I suggest taking one of these "majors" and complimenting it with a "minor" in one or two of the other areas. So if you're that MBA, consider boning up on ethnography or UE to address gaps you may feel in your understanding of users.

This approach may not necessarily be understood by potential employers, but it sure sounds good in a cover letter! And you'll be a better and therefore more comfortable IA for it.

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