Why technical writing?
Like many folks in the field, I didn’t set out to become a technical writer. Indeed, I didn’t set out to become a writer at all.
Writing was just something I’d always done. As a kid, I tapped out many a nonsensical vignette on an antique Smith-Corona typewriter that had impossibly sticky keys. In school, I relished the writing assignments because they were the only ones where I was guaranteed to earn a good grade. (I don’t test well.) And in almost every job I had, writing was a significant component.
I’ve held a lot of different kinds of jobs in my life. Here’s a list (in no particular order):
- Administrative assistant
- Import/Export Customer Service Rep
- Accounts Receivable clerk
- Voicemail voice
- Dating service phone support rep
- Department store sales associate
- Fast food worker
- Healthcare call center rep
- Healthcare provider credentialing clerk
- Healthcare complaints case worker
- Healthcare claims letter writer
- Database administrator
- Incidental desktop support rep
As you can see, I have a pretty solid background in customer service. There were some awesome times (Bookseller, in particular) and there were times I wanted to slit my wrists and bleed out in my chair (call center rep at an insurance company). So, how did I go from there to tech writing?
Short version: Dot-com boom.
Less short version: I managed to get the attention of a manager at a dot-com web hosting company who needed warm bodies that could write. I had no portfolio and my résumé sucked, but I could learn quickly and I could string words together well. I was hired. I learned a ton there, from document design to writing style to project management and business process — luckily, a couple of the more experienced writers were happy to mentor me.
So, why tech writing? A few reasons:
- The money is really nice. Even at the low-end of the scale, I was making much more as a tech writer than I had been before. It’s only improved over time.
- I wanted to do something that helped people. With a few exceptions, my earlier jobs helped no one. They were simply low-value cog-wheel positions designed to help the business, not customers. And because of that, I was treated like a cog — expendable, replaceable — instead of a person.
- I wanted to do something that used more of my brain. Once I learn a job and how to succeed in it, I get bored. And when I get bored, I get lazy and disengage. Since my entire sense of self-worth is tied to my intelligence, I didn’t want to spend my working life killing my brain with crap work.
- I wanted to be respected for a change. When you work in an area that is commonly derided as “low skilled,” (like customer service), you get treated like you’re stupid and incompetent, even when you’re really good at your work. I don’t like being treated that way. Indeed, I have a huge issue with people who treat others that way. Although tech writers aren’t widely regarded as geniuses no one can live without, my contributions as one are still valued. That’s important to me.
- I wanted to work with smart people who like to get things done. As a tech writer, I typically work with people who are way smarter than me. I dig that because it forces me to keep learning.
- I wanted to succeed on the merits of my work, without consideration of my sex or marital status. Having family members who suffered mightily from sexual harassment and discrimination back in the day, I wanted to avoid being sidelined or having my options artificially narrowed because I happen to be a female. Luckily, working in tech, no one really cares that I’m female. They just care that I know what I’m doing.
I didn’t really know what I was doing when I got my first tech writing job. But being a tech writer has been the only thing that’s allowed me to do what I really love to do — write and learn — and try to make a difference in the process.