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David Farbey is a senior technical communicator selected the 8th most influential technical communicator on MindTouch’s list of 400 Most Influential Technical Communicators. David’s blog “Marginal Notes” is at www.farbey.co.uk, and you can follow him on Twitter as @dfarb.
QUESTION (1): How long you’ve been a technical communicator? Where do you work right now? How would you characterize a typical day at work?
ANSWER: I have worked in Tech Comm since 1994, and I am currently a Senior Technical Communicator at Medidata Solutions (www.mdsol.com). We provide technology to support clinical trials. I am responsible for the user documentation for two products and I am also leading a content strategy project team. Sometimes it feels like the only thing I do at work is attend meetings.
QUESTION (2): How did you become a technical communicator? Did you start out as one or did you switch to it from something else? What was the reason?
ANSWER: In the early 1990s I was living in Israel and working in a rather dull management job in a public service department. I had a lot of friends who were working in the software industry which was blossoming in Israel at that time, and I was interested in getting involved in high-tech as well. Everyone in my department would come to me – rather than to the department’s technician – with their computer problems. I realized that I was quite good at explaining technology to other people, and that I enjoyed doing so, and so I decided to look for a new career which would interest me. I took an evening class at a private college to learn the basics of technical writing, and was very lucky to find my first job, through a friend of a friend, at a local software company. I worked with a fantastic technical writing team at that company who taught me far more than I had learned on my course, and I haven’t stopped learning since then.
QUESTION (3): What is the single most important change that you see in the technical communication sector since you first became a technical communicator?
ANSWER: I can’t single out one thing, as there have been so many positive changes. For example, the recognition that end-users are partners in the development and dissemination of product information rather than merely consumers of it is a big change. The growth of social media as an important channel for communication is part of that. Another major change is the widespread adoption of structured authoring methods, which in the past were only used by the very largest corporations.
QUESTION (4): In your judgement, what is the best and worst thing about working as a technical writer?
ANSWER: The best thing for me is the opportunity to work in product development
“Don’t stop learning. Ever.”
QUESTION (5): What’s your advice for those who are just starting out their careers as technical writers today?
ANSWER: Don’t stop learning. Ever. Never think that you know everything about anything at all. Learn about your product, your company, the tools and methods used by your development team; learn about your users, and their needs and expectations; learn about how people learn and communicate; learn about the tools you are going to use in your job. Learn from colleagues, from the Internet, from discussion boards and email lists, from wherever you can. But the most important thing of all is that you must always be ready and be happy to share what you’ve learned with your peers.
QUESTION (6): What’s your views on globalization, out-sourcing, and the way it affects technical writers in UK, and abroad?
ANSWER: Business decisions on outsourcing, like all business decisions, are made on the basis of costs and benefits. Costs include monetary value, of course, so it’s always tempting for a business to move non-core activities to parts of the world with lower wage costs, as long as the work is of comparable quality. The key is knowing what a business considers to be its core activity, the activity it will never outsource to someone else. If product development is regarded as a core activity, then is technical communication thought of as part of that? We have to be good enough in terms of quality and efficiency to show businesses that we do belong there.
QUESTION (7): Ask yourself a question that we didn’t ask and answer it please.
“David, you use Twitter a lot. Is that something you’d recommend to other technical writers?”
ANSWER: Yes I would. There are lots of technical writers using Twitter and by following them I keep up to date with the latest blogs and articles and presentations. I can find out what’s happening at a conference 3,000 miles away without leaving my desk. I can also waste my time reading about what my favourite celebrities or sports personalities are saying, and we all need to have some escapism in our lives!