Re: How did you get started in tech writing?

Subject: Re: How did you get started in tech writing?
From: stevefjong -at- comcast -dot- net
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com, SteveFJong -at- comcast -dot- net (Steven Jong)
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2008 14:38:31 +0000

I am a second-generation technical writer. My father worked, among many other things, as a freelance writer, and settled down as a technical writer at Raytheon.
In school I loved to write, and did well with writing assignments. In college (Boston University) I took a dual major (physics and astronomy) that left little time for "fun" courses; the only completely elective course I took in four years was an English class. But my physics lab reports were, shall we say, thoroughly written...
Also, I loved my limited exposure to computers there, and got my first exposure to interface-design issues. (The BU mainframe operating system had a text editor that didn't prompt you to save your file when you quit. So if, say, you were entering photometric data as tuples of ten-digit numbers, and you were distracted by your beautiful blonde friend, you could lose everything you'd worked on for the last, oh, two hours. On the other hand, you could also earn major brownie points for sympathetic listening when she said that she'd had a hard time with her homework and you suddenly burst into tears...!)
When I graduated, with a scientific degree and a lifetime teaching certification (which expired many years ago--harrumph!), I knew I had no chance of a career in physics or astronomy without a Ph.D, which by then I knew I had no chance of earning. I wanted a job as a high-school teacher, as a staff member for Sky and Telescope (as if--!), or, because I knew about the field, as a technical writer. I had a serious interview at a high school in northern Vermont and an offer from Honeywell Information Systems (back when they were #2 in computers behind IBM). I had a chance to write about, and work with, computers. Honeywell was close to home, and they offered $11,700 to start, which I wouldn't earn in that Vermont town for ten years!
So, I took the job because of the money and location, but I looke for the job because of familiarity and, I think, some affinity. It's proven a good choice.
-- Steve

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