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Nilson worked as a principal tech writer for Cognex Corporation, a company that
creates programs for vision systems.
long have you been a tech writer?
been a technical writer since 1988.
is your background?
have a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. In
addition, I have completed all course work for a PhD in Education.
background is in education, writing, and computer programming. I have taught
English and reading for 17 years and have been interested in software
development since the early eighties. From 1981 to 1983, I programmed three
educational computer games that were published by Encyclopedia Britannica
Software. I also helped design the Bank Street Writer, one of the first word processing programs.
me about Cognex.
Corporation designs, develops, manufactures, and markets machine vision
systems, or computers that can "see." Companies use machine vision to
inspect products, such as razor blades or soda cans. Semiconductor
manufacturers also use Cognex hardware and software to guide robots that
manufacture computer chips and other devices.
does your work consist of?
work consists of the following tasks:
what a machine vision tool does (eg, a tool may locate shapes in an
the steps involved in using the tool
small test applications using programming language
you work on a project individually or in a group?
work in a group of seven tech writers; two of whom were software developers
before they became writers. We are part of the engineering department with a
lead software engineer and a group manager. While we do work together, I work
by myself most of the time.
is the work environment like? Do you find it stressful?
has a "work hard, play hard" mentality. It can be stressful;
employees are expected to work over 40 hours a week, even working weekends when
there is a deadline. But, it is also rewarding: we are well paid and have good
benefits. In addition, Cognex pays for us to go on a vacation after we have
worked at the company for five years.
is the pay?
are paid according to your experience, the skills you have, and your writing
ability. Cognex wants tech writers with engineering and computer programming
backgrounds, which is why they have a difficult time hiring writers. As long as
you can write clearly, you have a good chance of being hired if you have the
right background. In some cases, writing skills are taken for granted, although
the company does check writing samples. Because of the skills needed, the pay
is roughly equivalent to engineers, earning up to $100,000.
your experience, what kinds of skills do you think tech writers need? What
recommendations do you have?
on the highly technical end, but I would recommend constantly upgrading your
skills, including learning a document design
program and becoming familiar with at least one online help program.
would also recommend taking classes in web design, web programming, and user interface design. Of
course, you should also take writing classes. The documents that we create
aren't meant to look fancy, but knowing how to use a graphics program helps you
do technical drawings and manipulate screen shots.
also recommend joining the Society for Technical Communication, which gives a
broad perspective on the industry. And when you do start looking for a job,
consider contacting a recruiter.