RE: Spinoff of: Where did you get your feet wet

Subject: RE: Spinoff of: Where did you get your feet wet
From: "Nuckols, Kenneth M" <Kenneth -dot- Nuckols -at- mybrighthouse -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 8 Jun 2005 11:11:11 -0400



Kelly wrote:

[clip]
>
> I want to comment on one poster who queried whether Anthony had a
> preference for h/w or s/w, I do not fall under either category in my
> job. I write procedural documentation.
>
> Granted, it could be argued that some of my documentation would fall
> under one or both of those categories, but my documents describe how
> to get something done. I do not get into the meat (inner workings) of
> how a report is generated, but what steps the tech needs to take to
> generate it.
>
> As for other comments on classes to take, I did not take any
> programming classes or computer science courses in college and I have
> not had any problems in finding work.
>
[clip]

The university I attended was the first in the state of Florida to offer
a Technical Writing degree. It was and still is offered through the
English Department in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Even though I graduated from college in 1990, it took me nearly 15 years
to find a job that has the title "Technical Writer." Now that doesn't
mean I haven't used my degree in the interim or that I was always 100%
dedicated to getting into the field; all the same the road I took from
the degree to the job title of the same name is a long and winding one.

During college I worked in the Marketing Department of a large company
in Central Florida where I did a variety of tasks. As a college student
(even though I was working full time) I was called on to fill in the
gaps wherever the department needed additional help, and this always
gravitated toward assisting with the Novell LAN administration, helping
executives and managers build templates and complete projects in word
processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphics programs, and teach
employees how to use the latest version of whatever new software we
distributed through the department.

Upon finishing college I stayed in that job another year or two, then I
went back to school full time to pursue a Master's Degree in Literature
(I thought I wanted to be a Lit Prof at that time for several reasons).
I earned a teaching fellowship to pursue graduate school and dove into
that full-time for a couple of years.

Then the need for money (which anyone who has taught as a GTA can
probably attest is not abundant in such a position) prompted me to look
outside academia again for work. I wound up working with a large
technology retailer, and my writing background shortly landed me a job
at the corporate office in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) metro area. I
wrote monthly training newsletters for one department of the company's
retail stores (there's that TW degree being used) and had the
opportunity to train new store management and employees when we would
open stores in new markets. That job was a great deal of fun, but the
constant travel and frenetic pace of change in the retail landscape made
the job incredibly stressful.

I transferred within the company to a job that combined my love of
technology with my old thoughts of teaching and went into classroom
software training--a service offering that was in vogue with several
technology retailers throughout the mid and late 1990s. The company
bought manuals prepared by a 3rd party publisher, but I found them not
terribly well written and lacking a lot of explanation. I took advantage
of the company's offer to get Microsoft Certification in several of the
major software titles we taught, and soon the company asked me to teach
customized classes for corporate clients. Custom classes meant custom
training manuals, and once again that TW degree came in handy.

But the only constant, as they say, is change, and soon the rumblings
started that change she was a'comin. It seemed that the classroom
training service was one of the very few unprofitable offerings the
company had in its portfolio, and the Wall Street shareholders were not
happy about carrying around a division that had a negative cashflow.
Regardless of what the executives and management of the company thought
the shareholders dictated that classroom training was not long for the
world.

I found a similar training position with a company that created and sold
proprietary medical records software to hospitals and medical centers
across the country. But instead of training customers in a central
classroom at a single location, the company's model was to provide
on-site training at the customer's facility. So I was back on the road
25 - 40 weeks a year working with network engineers and installers from
my company to install and set up the customer system and training users
on the customer side ranging from doctors and administrators to clerical
staff. Each install was unique and therefore so was each training manual
(hmm.. TW degree used again).

That job lasted for three years, and during that time I began to realize
I enjoyed the documentation and software configuration part of the job a
lot more than I enjoyed the actual stand-up training portion. In other
words, I wanted to do more writing than training, but I was able to get
a couple more certifications out of the job (including Certified
Technical Trainer certification) so I stuck with it.

Then in late August of 2001 some inappropriate accounting practices
(think Arthur Andersen and Enron on a smaller scale of millions and not
billions) caught up to the company and most employees were laid off,
including me. The severance was good and I thought there would be not
much problem finding work in the technology sector. In fact a
prospective employer scheduled me to fly to Kansas City on September 12,
2001 for an interview...

Well suffice it to say that between the bursting of the tech bubble (the
dot-com collapse and its ripple effects) and the post-September 11
uncertainty that strained the economy, that "easy" job search I
envisioned became nothing of the sort and it wasn't until February of
2003 that I was back in a job that involved layout, editing, typesetting
and computer graphics (that being for a printing company back in Central
Florida). I worked there for two years before finding my present job as
a "Technical Writer" for another local company.

Like Kelly, I'm writing mainly procedures that cover both hardware and
software, and I'm working on projects that span many departments in the
company: network engineers, contract installers, sales reps, website
developers, warehouse managers and customer service techs in the call
centers. I also write resource documents for the Training and Marketing
departments for developing training courses and advertising campaigns,
and I write a few customer-facing documents.

So is it absolutely essential to have an engineering or programming
background? I would argue that it isn't. What is far more critical is a
good logical understanding of how things (be they mechanical products,
software applications, or departmental groups of people) interact and
work together. A big part of my job--and I suspect a big part of most TW
jobs--is asking questions: not so much about the function of products or
services, but how X requirement set forth by Department A impacts Y
procedure that Department B must perform, and what Department C needs to
do in order to enable Department B and A to effectively do their jobs.
There are lots of technical SMEs that I go to for understanding
products, software, and departmental functions. What I love about this
position is that it gives me the opportunity to learn not only all about
new technologies and the way we apply them in our product and service
offerings, but gaining a real understanding of how the project impacts
all departments of the company and seeing how all the pieces fit
together.

So now I'm still using my degree, and I actually have a job title that
matches it--and I'm discovering after it's all said and done that I
really DID know what I was doing going into that major because it is one
of the most gratifying and satisfying jobs I've ever held.

The path that I and many others have taken to this destination called
"Tech Writing" reminds me of a line from an old Grateful Dead song:

"...lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been..."

Ken

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