Tools change, but one thing remains constant…
When I started as a technical writer, I knew what I signed on for. When I started technical writing, I had no idea that’s what it was called. I was just creating guides to help a user play games. It was 1982 and I worked for a company that made The Widgit (yes, that’s how we spelled it): a port expander for the Texas Instruments TI 99 home computer. We also made games and zapped them onto EPROMs. As one of my many tasks in this company, I wrote instructions in troff on how to play the games.
Years later, I worked for a tech writer starting a placement agency. He saw that I had potential in this field and sent me through a certification course at a local college. I worked for him as a “ghost” tech writer, writing for clients and editing behind the curtain. I learned FrameMaker on a Mac SE with a whopping 56k of memory. I remember counting ahead keystrokes to access a dialog box. I’d input 6 keystrokes, and two minutes later the dialog I needed appeared.
And so began my career, working on a Mac in FrameMaker and Illustrator, and learning all the ins and outs of Tech Comms. I became an ACE (Adobe Certified Expert, though I label it Frame Guru), and taught engineers (my SMEs) how to use FM and not muck up templates with new tags, further expanding my skill set.
Growing up in Silicon Valley (once the beautiful Santa Clara Valley, which with its spring blossoms is now gone), I have worked in high tech my whole career. I’ve written for hardware and software. I’ve put together courses for ID trainers and built help systems. I’ve worked in every flavor of authoring tool, and have favorites, but know not to hold too tightly to any one tool as they are an ever-changing aspect of this job. What doesn’t change? The user.
I am the user advocate!
I believe this my most important initiative and constant in TC. In many of my “previous lives,” my end users were mostly engineers. You make a few assumptions about this audience, but I still try to write for the lowest common denominator. KISS (keep it simple stupid) was hammered into my writing early on and I still may be too imperative. A manager once told me that my writing was too concise. I was shocked. I never thought that could be a problem. Give them what they need to get the task done. Don’t give them flowers. Start steps with an active verb. Rip out all passive voice. Don’t use”‘you,” use “the user.” This last rule, thankfully, is less employed today, but writing tight is always appropriate, especially in the mobile space where real estate is limited.
TC is the best career. I constantly learn new technologies, new authoring languages (flavor of the month? markdown), and new authoring tools. My position with Docforce is my dream job as I don’t have to leave my position to learn new technologies. We have a myriad of clients and we finish projects. I’m no longer embedded in a company with long-term projects and a focus on one product. After one project wraps, I move on to something new. It’s the most exciting place to spread my love for tech writing and guide my co-writers down the path of user advocate.