Transitioning From the Military to Tech Writing

Subject: Transitioning From the Military to Tech Writing
From: "Tracy Gies" <giesfamily -at- cox-internet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2001 23:20:03 -0500

I plan, God willing, to retire from the military in about six years. I read
the "Seeking Advice on MA" and "English Majors and Ex-Military" threads with
great interest. We are not all cast from the same mold. It doesn't
surprise me that those who are inflexible and unwilling to learn couldn't
cut it as technical communicators. They almost certainly had some
difficulty in finding job satisfaction in the military. People skills are
more important than ever. Those who don't have them, may find that they
can't get promoted.

I have been in the Army for about 14 years, and I am considering my options
for a new post-Army career. I think that tech writing would be the best
choice for me. Other careers I have considered are marketing and human
resources. I have ruled those out however, because I don't think that I
could sell myself as the human resources or marketing type. Furthermore, I
don't know if I would like it. Then, I discovered the field of tech writing.
I enjoy writing; not just fiction writing, or writing for fun, but even
professional writing, like I do on the job. I don't mind working against
deadlines, as looming deadlines are par for the course in the military, and
suspenses are enforced.

I am most interested in writing for the software industry. I don't have a
background in writing software documentation. Most of the time, I write
memoranda, training schedules, planning documents, standard operating
procedures, presentations, lesson plans, and that sort of thing. I use
active voice, as passive voice is shunned in the military these days. I
have a few of these documents at my disposal to use as writing samples, but
most of them are stored on various floppies at various places across the
country. I do have training in writing technical reports, but I haven't
actually done it on the job, except for the rare occasion a few years ago.
And, even at that, the kind of reports we were writing were really just
summaries that included technical information. I can get training in
computer-related subjects easily and cheaply enough while I'm in the
military. The Army has contracted with a company, called Smart Force, which
offers computer-based training classes for free to soldiers. They offer
classes in C++, Java, and about 19 pages, in total, full of computer
classes. Additionally, they offer training in project management--the CBT
program in which I am currently enrolled. The positions I have held range
from operating data-entry computers and radio receivers, to supervisory
postions and training.

I will complete a Bachelor's degree in General Studies from Charter Oak
State College this summer. I plan to pursue a Master of Arts Degree in
Technical Communications as soon as possible thereafter. Because of the
realities of military life, and raising a family of six, I will choose to
find a degree program that can be completed entirely by distance education.
This is the same method by which I am finishing my B.S. The issue of online
masters was discussed on this list before, but it centered more on cost. So
I bring it up again, hoping to get a different perspective. The best
distance program I have found is the Master of Arts Degree in Technical
Communications from Texas Tech University.* I am leaning towards TTU, rather
than Utah State, because the former will probably be more well-known in West
Texas than the latter. I found in looking for a graduate marketing program
that the marketing graduate school's reputation means a lot. Does such a
standard exist in the field of technical writing for the software industry?
If so, does Texas Tech fit the bill? I do plan on looking for work in Texas
after I retire from the Army. So, I suppose that, at least regionally, Texas
Tech should be acceptable. That is, unless there is some nuance in the
software industry which contra-indicates this.

As long as I am on regional issues, I have to wonder about my odds of
finding a software job in West Texas, in particular. I know that Austin is a
good place for those seeking jobs in the software industry, but I am not too
sure about areas far to the west of Austin. The job listings don't look too
promising for tech writers here. I believe I could make some connections
through Texas Tech's STC student chapter, but if ultimately the jobs aren't
here, they aren't here. I would be willing to look at other industries, if
need be. The department chair at TTU has said that she has placed over 300
MATC graduates, not all in West Texas, though, for sure.

Many of you have been in the field for a long time. Some of you have similar
backgrounds to mine. Where are the pitfalls for which I have not planned?
Are there additional opportunities for which I should sniff the air?

Tracy Gies <><
giesfamily -at- cox-internent -dot- com

"At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to
just stand and gape at this or that thing -- a sunset or an old shoe -- in
absolute and simple amazement."

--Raymond Carver in "On Writing."



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