Why I am a Technical Writer

Having been in a bit of a lull, I recently asked those who follow me on Twitter what I should blog about. This post is in response to a suggestion from Peter Anghelides who replied: “Blog about why you became a technical author?

Which is a good a topic as any as, like many people in this industry, I certainly didn’t set out to be a Technical Writer, far from it.

For me Technical Writing combines two of my early interests, words and technology. Growing up I read a lot, and was lucky enough that my Dad used to bring a computer home at the weekend. BBC (Acorn) Micro, and later the first Mac Plus. I’ll happily admit to crafting documents (leaflets and the like) in every single available font on one page!

When it came time to leave school, Physics was my main interest area, and looking to add a technology slant I chose a course in Electronic and Electrical Engineering. In hindsight that was a mistake but it’s not something I regret. A few years later, with University behind me, I had converted my part-time job in McDonalds to a full-time job as I cast about for a ‘real’ job!

It was my Mum who spotted an advert in the local paper from a company looking to hire a “Technical Administrator”. The role was a mixed bag of tasks, largely supporting the small development team (all 12 of them) and after successfully negotiating a short writing test about how to use a flatbed scanner, I was soon put to work, writing documentation for their application. With little or no instruction or guidance I looked to those big clunky manuals that I had sitting on my desk, and it’s no small coincidence that the documentation I produced bore a striking similarity in style and layout to that of the Adobe FrameMaker 4.5 manual.

Towards the end of my time there, in 1995 if I recall correctly, I was sent on a two-day training course on how to create HTML pages with a view of setting up a company website. And so my journey on the internet began.

Having been made redundant I moved to England to Dr.Solomons where I gained a LOT of knowledge in a short space of time, working in a well organised, well run team. Some of the lessons learned there I now find myself echoing to my current team. A brief stint running the team also made me realise that I was capable of taking that step up.

The next role relied on my web expertise (a large part of my time at Dr.Solomons was focussed around web delivery of information) and also took me into another large company (was Tetra, now owned by Sage). A different working environment, and yet more to learn.

It was during those early years of my career that I realised that I’d fallen into a wonderful world where I could, if I so wished, dip my finger into a manner of different discussions and be involved with a large variety of people in different areas of a company. I’d speak with the QA engineers about issues with the product, talk to the Product Marketing team about how the product was being sold and who was buying it, the translation team were at the next set of desks and I’ve been lucky that most of the developers I’ve worked with have all been smart, friendly and helpful individuals. Even the grumpy ones.

My first step into team management was taken with some trepididation, but I’ve always trusted my own ability to learn quickly and with a little guidance (and one awful mistake) I think I’ve a good handle on how to get the best from a team of technical writers (for the most part, let them get on with it, they are more than capable without me!) and in the past couple of years I’ve learned a lot about selling our role to the company.

I’ve been lucky, both in the decisions made about my career (not all of which I’ve had a say in with two job changes brought about through redundancy) and especially in terms of the people I’ve worked with. I’ve learned so much from my colleagues, mentors and managers that I do sometimes wonder quite how I got where I am today.

And that’s why I’m happy to say that I’m a Technical Writer*, that I work in the field of Technical Communications and I don’t see either of those things changing any time soon.

* not that I do a lot of writing these days, my official title is Technical Information Manager, read into that what you will