Re: How did you get started in tech writing?

Subject: Re: How did you get started in tech writing?
From: "Jessica Weissman" <Jessica -dot- Weissman -at- hillcrestlabs -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2008 09:19:22 -0400

Coming late to the party after a longish vacation, but I can't resist:

I got into technical writing as a natural extension of CBT. I got into
CBT and programming by great good luck.

I've always been one of those who saw no difference between the two
cultures, and never wanted to choose among literature, philosophy, and
science. So I went to St. John's College in Annapolis, the so-called
Great Books college, where I could study all three and mathematics too.
And learn Greek, which is more fun than one might suspect.

When I emerged with a degree in Liberal Arts (translatable as a double
major in math and philosophy) I drifted into museum studies and history,
ending up at the University of Delaware which has several good related
graduate programs.

Just when I got tired of museum studies and fell into despair at the
idea of working in a small town historical society where I would have to
be nice to the descendents of the people who donated the collections,
the PLATO system came to the University of Delaware.

In 1976 PLATO was as close as you could get to the Internet. Officially
the goal was to create interactive graphical teaching material.
Unofficially the goal was to form a community of authors. We had
equivalents to email, listserves, and chat rooms. AND it turned out I
was good at programming. Programming is a godsend for St. John's
graduates, as it is something that Aristotle, Descartes, Bach, and Jane
Austen haven't already done better.

Eventually CBT turned into multimedia and got dumbed down even as it got
prettied up. I spent several years developing training simulations,
then designing authoring tools, then doing online help, then writing
manuals, then writing other stuff. I did a stint as a business analyst
and as a traveling implementation consultant. I satisfied my
programming urges by making Hypercard stacks and writing little VB

When I found myself writing classified policies on how to write
policies, I called a halt. Of all the things I've done, technical
writing was the easiest and most satisfying - second only to
programming. I didn't want to retool for Java, so I found a comfortable
startup where I get to work with programmers and do API documentation.

It's the next best thing to being a 28-year-old programmer again and it
keeps my writing skills alive as I research my next novel.

- Jessica

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