RE: How did I get started in tech writing?

Subject: RE: How did I get started in tech writing?
From: "Cardimon, Craig" <ccardimon -at- M-S-G -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2008 15:30:28 -0400

I majored in science in college, then started thinking I could write my
own reports if I knew some technical writing. Penn State University
offered a Certificate therein, so I went for it. I graduated in 1983
(gulp!) with a BS degree in biology and a Technical Writing Certificate.

I got nowhere fast. I applied for tech writing jobs, but no dice in my
geographic area. I guess I didn't know how to land jobs back then. I
wound up in a proofreading sweatshop.

I was going nowhere. My parents sent me to graduate school. I was still
hot for science, but my grades were not up to snuff. The only place that
would talk to me was Wright State University in Dayton, OH. They told me
to come out and see what happened. I did. I made it through graduate
level biochemistry and had no fun at all. Life is way too short. No one
laughed in the science offices there. Ugh. The lecture halls were as
dull as dirt. I pretty much hated it. If you find yourself in the lab on
Sunday at 6 AM to check your Petri dishes, it's time to get the heck
out. So I did.

I wandered on over to the English department. I could hear the laughter
from down the hall. I went in, talked to some very nice people, and
promptly switched majors into English, with a minor in Professional

I also landed a job at the school newspaper as a copy editor,
proofreader, and staff reporter. I met my future wife there. She was
working as a typesetter. We've been married for almost 17 years. Time

After graduation, I got a job at a downtown Cincinnati newspaper as a
copyeditor and proofreader. I learned how to be accurate under pressure.
I also learned I couldn't afford to get married on $275 a week!

After we got married, we moved back east, where I worked a proofreading
job. These jobs were slowly being changed into computer positions. I
would usually land the job during the interview. I would call back in a
week only to be told that the job had been changed by HR from editorial
into a computer position.

I promptly changed my resume from editorial to "computer specialist."
Back then, I barely knew how to turn a computer on. And I'm talking
about a MAC here. But that did the trick.

A tiny database company hired me for data entry. I taught myself
programming, and worked my way up to be their main database programmer.
The other programmers there wanted more glamorous positions in
marketing. Not me.

I left when the company hit a severe financial setback and people began
jumping ship. I went to work for another company as a web programmer. I
left that company when they outsourced my entire department. That was
when the Web bubble burst. I was out of work for a year. That hurt.

I came back to work AT the same tiny database company, but FOR another
company, still as a programmer.

I had been trying all this time to break into technical writing, but for
whatever reason, my timing wasn't right.

Finally, the parent company, which knew of my aspirations to become a
technical writer, offered me a chance at another company they owned. I
talked to this company. They liked me and I liked them. The deal was
done and I switched careers from programmer to technical writer in three

I write, revise, and update user guides for my company's proprietary
software applications. I also volunteer to write instructions and
procedures for our IT group as well as for HR. I troubleshoot documents
here and there.

I don't regret the time I spent learning computers and teaching myself
how to program. That has made me a far better technical writer than I
would have been otherwise. Getting into tech writing sideways, so to
speak, was entirely worthwhile.

My first big user guide was released last year. It was a rewrite -
revision - update. The guy who interviewed and hired me, who is actually
my manager, took the time out of his busy schedule to stop me in the
hall. He told me the documentation looked great.

Relief! It was very nice vindication for me. He thanked me for my
efforts, and I thanked him for the compliment.

Did I arrive via a circuitous route? Yes. That's the way I wind up doing
things. That's just me.

Do I regret it? No. It made me want tech writing all the more.

Is tech writing worth it? For me, yes. I love it. I realize not everyone
is going to read every page of my user guides. It doesn't matter to me.

I know some of my user guides are published and promptly get shoved in a
drawer, never to see the light of day. Does that bother me? No.

I know that somewhere out there, one tired, frustrated client is going
to open up a user guide I wrote and find the answer they need. That's
why the guide exists. That's why I write these things. To help that one
client who needs it.

-- Craig

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