looking to become a tech writer

Subject: looking to become a tech writer
From: MJBodeau <MJBodeau -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 1998 19:56:53 EDT

I've been "lurking" for a couple of weeks now on the list, and have found it
very informative. I would like to ask listmembers for some career-related
advice. (Please excuse if this has been covered ad nauseam and I missed it -
don't flame me, just gently tell me I missed the boat.) I ask for off-line
replies so as not to clutter the list, but if you think this is a general
interest kind of post, feel free to post to the list. (email MJBodeau -at- aol -dot- com
OR MJBodeau -at- unforgettable -dot- com)

I currently live and work in the Chicago metro area. I have a BS in Computer
Science with a minor in Literature. I co-oped and worked for a highly
technical federal agency in another state. I spent almost 3 years full-time
(post-graduation) with them, and another year of co-op work spread over 2
calendar years. The work I did was highly specialized to the agency, but
involved learning extremely complex technical material for failure recognition
and analysis, real-time decision making, short and long-term planning, project
management, and even some work that could be construed as technical writing.
I've written/edited/maintained technical drawings, software requirements,
software test and certification plans, software user's guides, procedures,
technical briefs on hardware/software systems, and have authored
presentations/speeches both with and without overheads. (Word, PowerPoint) I
assisted in designing the format and content of a Web site for the advanced
development group in which I worked as assistant project manager. The work I
did was difficult, with a high degree of autonomy and responsibility. I have
had multiple people (usually software developers) reporting to me.

I moved back to the Chicago area last fall for family reasons. Currently, I
am working as a consultant for a software consulting firm as a testing
coordinator/manager on a client project. I create and review test plans,
design documentation, user requirements, etc. I currently have 5 people
reporting to me, with 2 more potential hires.

I have always loved writing (and reading), and have been told through all my
education and my professional life that my communication skills were
outstanding. I am interested in working as some sort of writer, and think my
background would make technical writing a good choice for a profession that
might give me both enjoyment and financial rewards. In exploring the idea of
being a writer, I have read a lot of books and magazines about different kinds
of writing, written a couple of small "business focus" (advertising written
as an article, in my opinion) pieces for a local newspaper here, and am
helping a friend edit and submit an article on a graduate student trip.

Given 1) my lack of official "tech writer" job experience and 2) my lack of
experience with FrameMaker and RoboHelp (the two most popular packages from my
brief research), can anyone provide suggestions on how to go about making this
kind of career change? I am not interested in returning to college for
another degree, and have not been able to find any Frame or RH classes I could
take. At this point, I'm almost desperate enough to try to buy the software
packages ($$) and teach myself. I feel certain that given my backgroud, and
all the other applications and technical information I have learned, Frame and
RH are well within my ability to learn. I also know that most employers
(myself included) prefer someone who's already an expert. From your
experience out there, do I have a background that would interest an employer?
I'd also be very interested in hearing perspectives on employee vs.
contractor/consultant positions as well as any commentary on freelance

Thanks for your time and indulgence.
Melissa J. Bodeau

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