Re: how I got started and whether it's a fallback/sell-out

Subject: Re: how I got started and whether it's a fallback/sell-out
From: Karen Mulholland <kemulholland -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2008 08:01:34 -0700 (PDT)

I was an R&D technician for Data General, back in the early '80s. As the printer group changed its focus from designing printers to licensing existing products from other companies, my job involved less and less prototyping and debugging, and ever-increasing amounts of writing specifications and product evaluation reports. Our technical publications staff often took my product specifications, reformatted them, and published them as user's manuals.

This irked me but I didn't see the implications until one day when I needed to change the ribbon on a Hitachi printer. I went through the 430-page manual and finally found it. I followed the instructions as best I could. There were no illustrations and no warning about how sharp the ribbon guide was. I could see it would be tough to avoid cutting myself, so I was careful - but I still sliced the Dickens out of my finger. I picked up the manual (a big 3-ring binder) and heaved it across my lab, yelling "G- d- it, I can write better than that!" (Oh yeah, and I disqualified the printer from further consideration for reasons of safety.)

The next day I started working on one of the supervisors in the field service publications group. It took him a few months to get the hiring requisition, but I ended up working for him. It paid better and involved less heavy lifting. I also got my own phone instead of having to share the lab phone with all the other technicians.

Since then I've gone back to the engineering side once, for a couple years. But writing is what I want to do. Sometimes I miss my oscilloscope, but I have never seen technical writing as a second-choice career. This is work that I enjoy and do well. As a technician, I was never going to be able to help customers to do their jobs better with my employer's products. As a writer, that's what I do.

I feel that I provide more value to an employer as a technical communicator than as a technician - so I am happier in my writing career than I was when I was a technician.

There are as many paths to this career as there are people in it, but my path was one of seeking - and finding - a challenging and rewarding way to make a living. Strike that - if it was just "to make a living", I'd enjoy it less. I do it to participate in the world, to keep my mind busy learning new things, to be able to write day after day *and get paid for it*. Life's too short to stay in a job that sucks.


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