My journey into technical writing

Technical writing was a career path that I had never considered. I had been working in records management for the past six years and it was time for a change of job.

After some brief conversations with coworkers from another team (business analysts), I decided that I could do that kind of work too, and that business analysis is where my career would head. I put a lot of effort into applying for either junior business analyst positions or senior records management positions. Very few were in my city (Dunedin), and all the opportunities seemed to be in Auckland or Wellington.

I had no luck with my applications for business analyst roles, but I was shortlisted for several senior records management positions, including one that would have seen me working as part of a team that included a business analyst. That seemed like the best one for me to aim for, as it had good possibilities for career advancement and paid a good salary!

On 7 February, 2012, I decided to apply for a technical writing position with a software company, which was based in Christchurch. This seemed ironic for several reasons, given that I’d told myself that I’d never live in Christchurch, and that the city had been devastated by two large earthquakes and was still experiencing aftershocks.

As fate would have it, I was travelling to Canterbury for personal reasons when I received a phone call asking if I was available for a “conversation” (it seems that in modern times, some companies want to meet for a casual chat without any offer of an interview). Being less than one hour’s drive from Christchurch, I accepted the meeting.

The meeting went well. The company seemed like a good place to work, but to be honest, my heart wasn’t really in “technical writing.” I was still blinded by the bright lights of becoming a business analyst, or settling for another records management job (comfort zone) – no criticism of that role either; just after six years, I was ready for a new challenge as well as a new job. However, on the five hour drive home I did a lot of thinking and both moving to Christchurch and getting that job where good options.  I had told the manager that I had other strong job leads, but once back in Dunedin I emailed him to explain that I was actually very interested in the job. I sent through examples of some of my writing (and was thankful that I had taken a remedial English paper at Summer School a year or so before).

A couple of days later, I received another phone call from the manager. This time, he offered an interview, but back in Christchurch – an expensive trip and a relatively long shot at getting a job in a field I’d never actually worked in. I wanted to show a strong that I was keen for the job, so travelled up for a formal interview and testing. The manager seemed like a good guy, but I couldn’t read him at all, so I wasn’t sure what my chances were. It wasn’t long before I received another phone call with the manager asking permission to contact my referees. This sounded positive and I only had to wait until the next day to find out. I was offered the position and immediately accepted.

Now that I had a technical writing job lined up, I needed to quick learn what I’d be expected to know. I spent time researching technical writing by reading articles and blogs, as well as compiling lists of associations and training courses. As my new job was with a software company, I bought a copy of the Microsoft Manual of Style and later made the case that the company adopt as primary technical writing style guide; a case that my new manager agreed with.

After I started my new job, I continued my studies and research into technical writing. As part of my professional development, my manager encouraged me to join an association and attend meetings. Luckily for me, the Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand had a local branch that held regular meetings. It was a good opportunity to network, and I discovered the Christchurch had many different companies that employed technical writers, most in the informational technology field.

While studying technical writing, I continued with my interested in business analysis, taking a couple of Laura Brandenburg’s business analysis courses – Business Process Analysis, and Crafting Better Requirements. It was through the feedback from Laura that I discovered my role as a technical writer was very similar to that of a business analyst. However, I was essential starting at the end of the process and drafting documentation from release notes (if any existed) or eliciting business process (how the software functioned) from the subject matter expert (product manager) after it was finished.

For a number of reasons, I decided to start looking for another job, once again applying for business analyst jobs, but open to another technical writing position. I found one advert for a local technical writing company that wrote in the healthcare field, and wasn’t a software company. This sounded interesting and certainly a challenge, as it was outside the IT industry. I applied, arrange an interview, and successfully gained the position. While I had reservations about leaving one job after only nine months, I have no regrets, finding myself in a role that is challenging, dynamic, and involves working within a team of technical writers. I’ve now been in this role for just over one year and have learnt a lot more about technical writing as well as developing my skills in other technical areas, for example, creating batch files, Powershell scripts, not to mention troubleshooting Author-it problems!

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