Lori Meyer is a veteran software technical communicator who has documented products for the telecommunications, business service management, and information security fields. She is an STC Fellow and volunteer for several STC communities. Lori blogs at http://lrmeyerwriter.wordpress.com.
1. How long have you been a technical communicator? Where do you work right now? How would you characterize a typical day at work?
I have been a technical communicator for more than 25 years, all of it in the software industry. I am currently employed at Hewlett-Packard, where I work with two teams to write, edit, and update documentation to support enterprise security software. Our release cycles are typically four to six months, during which we document new product features and enhancements. A typical day for me includes a combination of meetings, researching product features, writing, and editing.
I started out as an editorial assistant working mostly on marketing and public relations material. When my position was eliminated as part of a workforce reduction, I took a position as a technical editor for a telecommunications firm, which led to technical writing.
3. What is the single most important change that you see in the technical communications sector since you first became a technical communicator?
I’ve seen many changes, but most of them revolve around the transition from the traditional book paradigm to the concept of reusable content generated from a single source and distributed to an increasing variety of media. Thirty years ago, “content” meant a printed manual. Today, that content — or any part of it — could be a PDF, a help system, a podcast, or a file uploaded to a mobile device that fits in your pocket.
4. In your judgment, what is the best and worst thing about working as a technical writer?
I like the precision of technical writing — getting hands-on experience with a product, making its workings clear to customers, and helping make their jobs easier. I like the challenge of grasping the technical complexity of a product while being able to explain it in terms that will be beneficial to its users. As interesting as the work is, though, we often have less time than we would like to complete projects, because of increasing time-to-market pressures that are shrinking release cycles.
“Get involved with professional associations such as STC, IEEE, and ASTD”
5. What’s your advice for those just starting their careers as technical writers today?
I love this profession, and I think it offers many ways to get started on some great career experiences.
If you have not found work in the field yet, look for ways to build your portfolio. If you’re interested in software, for example, open-source communities such as the Apache and Mozilla foundations can provide opportunities to get hands-on experience with tools, and contribute to your technical, writing, and editing skills.
Get involved with professional associations such as STC, IEEE, and ASTD. Membership in these organizations is a great way to keep up with industry trends, build your professional network, and gain a sense of community with other professionals. Volunteering for these organizations can provide opportunities to build marketable skills as well as to experience the satisfaction of giving back to the profession through service. I’ve been a member of STC for more than 25 years, and have met wonderful people who have become my friends and mentors.
Get to know fellow technical communicators through social media. Engage with your colleagues through Twitter and LinkedIn. On Twitter, technical communicators post tweets daily with helpful links and information. LinkedIn is an excellent way to build on the information in our resume, share information about the profession, and find job leads.
Embrace lifelong learning, which will help keep your skills current, expand your perspective, and keep you energized.
6. What are your views on globalization, outsourcing, and the way they affect technical communicators in the U.S. and abroad?
I am encouraged that more people around the world have the opportunity to become part of the technical communication profession and to benefit from the good income it offers. On the other hand, the loss of so many jobs in the U.S. has been deeply painful, and an ongoing reminder of the tighter and more competitive job market here. Because so many jobs that involve only writing and editing have been outsourced, technical communicators in the U.S. must look at their careers in a much broader scope. We must see technical communication not as one principal skill, but instead as a cluster of skills that touch on related professions such as project management, usability testing, graphic design, localization, and training. We also need to look at technical communication more strategically. The amazing advances in technology over the last few years provide more options than ever as far as information delivery, but also challenge us to consider the business value of those options. Finally, we need to consider not only WHAT content we develop, but HOW we develop it. We need to be champions of clear, simple, and streamlined processes, which not only make our jobs easier but save time and money for our employers.
7. Is the title “technical writer” obsolete?
Yes and no. Because jobs involving only writing have moved to lower-cost areas, we must see our profession in far broader terms than writing alone, and build the skills needed to add value in our workplaces and stay marketable. However, no matter what our job titles or skill sets, clear, concise, logically organized writing is vital for the benefit of our customers. Think of the content we provide for our customers as a road map to the successful use of a product. We owe them a safe journey.