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(Excerpts from an excellent interview by Tom Johnson)
How did you make the career transition from academia and teaching to technical writing?
I taught basic writing courses to university students at The American University in Cairo for a couple of years. I also taught composition as a graduate student at Columbia for two years. Teaching writing is okay, but grading student essays was never fun. It was something I really hated. And at times it was okay — but by and large I felt like I was just justifying Bs and C, having to explain why these essays were poor, how to improve them, and so on. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to actually be the writer, not just teach others how to write. So I transitioned into professional writing.
For a while I did copywriting, which was all right, but it didn’t make a whole lot of money. And there’s a certain truth element that’s often missing in the copywriting role. Finally I decided to go into technical writing because it paid better and I thought, well, alright, I’ll try it. And it turned out to be a great fit.
Are you happy with your decision to work in technical communication? Why or why not?
By and large I think I’m pretty happy. Technical writing combines my love of writing and technology. I also enjoy working on projects in IT settings with other people engaged in the same work. That aspect of it that can be really rewarding.
It’s not entirely satisfying, though. It can be a little boring and can lack a little bit of excitement. I mean, you’re not out there saving somebody’s life in an emergency room. You’re not winning a case for some poor person being evicted. You basically sit at a computer all day writing instructions or figuring out how something works, and you occasionally interact with people. It depends on your role, it depends on the project. Some projects are a lot more fun than others, but by and large it is a good choice and I’m happy with it.