skills did you have entering the tech writing field?
a graduate from UMass Dartmouth's Professional Writing Program, I had solid
documentation skills. I took a number of useful courses, including technical
writing, scientific journalism, and layout and design. I had a lot of writing
skills and experience in meeting deadlines, as well. I felt I was lacking in only
one area, serious collaborative writing. As a tech writer, you work on a team
with engineers, designers, quality assurance people . . . To be successful, you
need general people skills and interviewing skills.
you decide you wanted to be a tech writer in graduate school?
enjoyed my tech writing career, but I knew I wouldn't end up staying there. I
wanted to teach, get involved in the academic side.
you miss it?
ideally I would like to consult a few times a year, work on a
project-by-project basis. Tech writing is exciting and interesting. I certainly
learned a lot and worked with a lot of interesting people, but I knew tech
writing wouldn't be my main career.
kinds of documents did you create?
mostly created Reebok proprietary documents for their computer systems. These
documents included end-user manuals for audiences ranging from the sales force
you feel overwhelmed when you first started working there?
I started, I had enough computer experience to get by. But as the projects grew
in complexity, I learned more about computer architecture. If you're going to
be a tech writer, a basic interest and affinity for technology helps.
you find it stressful?
culture is very fast paced. I changed my position from being a tech writer to a
trainer, training employees how to use my documents and in-house computer
programs. I was involved in course development, assessments, and presentations.
In addition, I became a low-level computer administrator, which meant a heavy
workload and always putting in over 50 hours a week. Not to mention, I was on
call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
many tech writers were working there?
were only two tech writers when I first started working. At our highest point,
there were five of us, then the department dissolved. Because Reebok didn't see
a big need for the tech doc department, the company didn't invest large amounts
of money into it. If they can hire tech writers for a low salary, why pay them
more? I worked at well below the Society for Technical Communication's median,
although the benefits were excellent and we did receive yearly raises. Still,
my colleagues were making much more.
you have any advice for people entering the field?
your salary up front. Be clear on the skills that you can give the company and
the kinds of work they expect from you. You are not a glorified note taker!
Show the values of technical documentation; there are many. The longer I was
there, the more respect I got. In addition, I was lucky enough to work on a
very good team. Keep in mind that if your manager doesn't see the value of tech
doc, pretty much nothing will change his or her mind.
you have a difficult time talking to the engineers?
engineers went out of their way to be helpful, but it's really tied to having
good social skills and doing your part to learn and understand. I did my
research, bought computer dictionaries, and learned the systems.
should tech writers look for in a company? And what do companies look for in a tech writer?
Tech writers should look for a
company that values technical documentation and clearly states its
expectations. Companies look for tech writers who are flexible, able to work in
a team, self-sufficient, and capable of supporting a product.
suggestions for future tech writers?
the Society for Technical Communications and the American Society for Training
and Development; both have outstanding professional support.
made you decide to leave the field?
always wanted a career in teaching, and I had been a part-time teacher for four
years. If I had stayed in tech writing, I would have moved more and more into
computer analysis and computer administration. The experience I did have in the
field was exciting and worthwhile.