What is it you do again? Four new jobs in ELT

As ELT goes digital and expands into multi-faceted, multi-platform products (but with books not set to disappear anytime soon) and with publishers restructuring all over the place, you might find yourself, as an author or editor, dealing with people with a whole array of unfamiliar job titles. Most of the people who do these jobs find themselves constantly answering the  question ‘What is it exactly that you do? — if their blogs are anything to go by.

To save you being that person at the coffee machine, here’s a rundown of some of the more common roles to start off with and then we’ll move to the really obscure. Points to anyone who meets a Scrum Master between this post and the next.

Product Manager

The most generic sounding of the job titles can be the hardest to pin down and often people assume anything that needs doing will automatically fall under the Product Manager’s remit without really understanding what it is he or she does. Underpinning everything the product manager does is the long term vision of how a product solves the customer’s problem. Paul Jackson, Product Manager of Newsmart, sees his role as where ‘all aspects of a business come together and, theoretically, the Product Manager should stand right at the centre of the conversation’.

Marty Cagan, author of Inspired, describes the task of the Product Manager as discovering a product that is ‘valuable, usable and feasible’. They’re totally focused on the business aspect of the product and how best to get it to both achieve its goal (solving the customer’s problem) and get the best return on the investment. That doesn’t mean they’re just a number cruncher behind a desk, as they also need to be able to understand the technology that’s being used. Even though they might not necessarily be from a technical background themselves, they spend a lot of time with developers and have to be able to communicate from a position of knowledge and make the right decisions about which direction to go. The third part of the job is thinking about the product from the point of view of its end user. So, they’re out there testing it, getting feedback and reporting back to the developers.

For a more detailed explanation of the role, go here.

Worst question to ask a Product Manager: So is that like a Project Manager then?

UX Designer

Shorthand for user experience, this isn’t a designer in the way the term was used before. They’re not just concerned with how a thing looks, but how it flows and what it feels like to use. When the job has been well-executed, those elements are almost invisible to the non-expert. Think about self-service checkouts and how infuriating they are. That’s terrible UX design. And Windows 8… Don’t get me started on Windows 8. Compare those with an app where you never wonder what you’re supposed to be pressing next and the whole thing is a seamlessly-flowing joy to use. The easyJet app is a great example, but the glow only lasts until you have to check your own bag and work out how to attach the luggage label to the handle of your suitcase… and then spend the rest of the flight worrying that it’s come off.

Worst question to ask a UX Designer: Did you design the logo?

Backend Developer

While the frontend is the part you can see and interact with on an app, website or digital product, the backend is the tech behind it. Generally this incorporates the server, the application and the database. This is the hardcore coding and [quoting here to mask the fact I only just heard of them while researching this article] means knowledge of things like ‘PHP, Ruby, Python, etc. To make them even easier to use they’re usually enhanced by frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Cake PHP, and Code Igniter.’

Worst question to ask a Backend Developer: Can we just change this one little thing?

Social Media Manager

Lauren Mikov, a social media consultant, has two definitions for this job, depending on how long she wants to spend chatting by that coffee machine. ‘The standard short answer is that I manage Facebook pages and other social media accounts for businesses.’ Her long answer has ten bullet points including working out a strategy based on the client’s goals and user demographics; looking after a client’s Twitter account, building up followers and tracking their mentions; creating content for their website; setting up and managing their YouTube account; online reputation management; LinkedIn; Pinterest; and using analytics tools to see if it’s all working.

Nowadays, any medium-to-large company you’re aware of online probably has a Social Media Manager. So that means publishers, language schools, educational institutions, bookshops… If you’re an author with a book or product the publisher wants to promote, expect to hear from the Social Media Manager. Get in touch with the schools, institutions and bookshops yourself as they’ll always welcome content for a blog.

Worst question to ask a Social Media Manager: So, how long does it take you to write a tweet?

There’s another way of looking at these newer roles, which is that the jobs we are familiar with are suddenly not the only options. This could be a time for a whole new career angle.

Image by mac_filko via Compfight cc Text added by ELTjam.

4 thoughts on “What is it you do again? Four new jobs in ELT”

  1. Do ELT publishers really have all these people working for them (rather than outsourced to somewhere else)? For example, they don’t really seem active enough on social media to have someone whose full time job it is.

    • A Product Manager is what a Publisher (at my company) does, though with perhaps a stronger marketing focus. The Social Media Manager may or may not be a post – likely it is an extended remit for someone involved in marketing. UX Designer and Backend Developer are typically outsourced, though someone in the digital team will oversee this and could possibly see him/herself as having specialist knowledge in this area.

  2. Yes, I recognize the problem of describing positions. The new world of digital publishing has not only created new jobs, but also changed the skills required. Our developer does both front and backend, but he also acts as cameraman when we go filming. The funny thing is he has a Masters degree in American Studies…. Our support guy has a masters in linguistics, but he is exceptionally good at graphic design and he also does our social media.


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