This week kick-starts the series exploring how Washington, D.C. area technical writers broke into the profession. Viqui Dill, the Technical Communications Leader at American Woodmark Corporation, guest blogs this week and outlines her journey for us.
I always knew I would do something nerdy and technical
I always knew I would do something nerdy and technical. I’ve known it all my life. I loved science and dreamed of being an archeologist or an astronaut. Well that and a rock star. I hated arithmetic and spelling and history and all that pointless rote memorization. I loved geometry and geography and geology and figuring out how things work and how they fit together.
So I ended up going into engineering as my first career. I loved engineering, especially mechanical drawing and what-if analysis. I loved being able to stand back and get the whole big picture and then fill in the details of the little picture. I loved taking things apart and then putting them back together in new ways. I loved being able to explain complicated things to myself and then other folks. So I became an engineer.
The Cold War
The Cold War was very good to me. The defense industry was booming. Defense contractors had to show that their hiring practices were fair toward women and smart women were in demand. I was at the right place, at the right time, and I was prepared. I had five job offers before I even graduated, all in the defense industry of one kind or another. I went to work for IBM Federal Systems until the Cold War ended and IBM sold my division. And then I got laid off for the first time. I was heartbroken.
Laid off? Now what?
Being laid off was totally unexpected. I know that seems crazy to say in these times, but I couldn’t believe I was laid off. I had carefully planned my career trajectory to never be laid off. I joined IBM, a company famous for never making you rich but also never having a lay off. I went into engineering, a career famous for having endless eternal demand and opportunity. I worked hard for both of these goals and here I was laid off with nowhere to go. Curse you, Ronald Reagan, for asking Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall. My career crumbled with it.
So I set out to revise my path toward something that would use all of my superpowers and none of my kryptonite. I wanted something that would be technical but not repetitive, something that would be challenging but not frustrating.
At about that time, my husband decided to set out on his own and open a dental equipment sales and service company. I would work for him and help him get organized and automated. I really enjoyed the startup phase of this project, and I had the bonuses of having a flexible work schedule, working from home, and sleeping with the boss. I loved developing the internal business processes and writing the marketing material. But after a while, my husband could handle the company on his own and it was time for me to look for some kind of work that brought in a paycheck and benefits for the family.
A friend of mine was president of a small company that wrote specialty programs and they were looking to expand. He asked if I wanted to learn programming and join up. I thought it would be a great opportunity so I spent a season as an okay programmer. I wasn’t great at it and I found that I really liked the front end and interface design more than the back end and the actual code.
The company also contracted out for training. I loved being a trainer and explaining the complex processes of advanced Microsoft Access and Visual Basic to a room full of students. The extrovert in me loved the long day of interacting with people more than the isolation of writing code.
Good friends to the rescue
Another friend of mine was working as an information developer for a much larger software company as a technical writer and they were looking to expand. I knew my friend really liked what she was doing and the company she worked for. She talked about it all the time. The work seemed nerdy enough with a lot of interpersonal contact. I polished up my resume and submitted a few writing samples.
Initially, it was challenging to learn the tools. The company was an Adobe shop, so I began to tackle the challenge of FrameMaker. The first assignment was really easy. The company had recently been acquired and they were migrating all the documentation from one style guide to another. So I spent several months changing phrases like “click on” to “click” and changing the format and style properties of the content.
And I discovered I really loved being a technical writer. Every software system was a puzzle to solve. Every document was an opportunity to explain something complex in simple terms. Every team was a group of smart, diverse nerds and I felt at home.
A great career and a great fit
So that’s the story of how I wandered into a great career as a technical writer. I started out loving all things technical and traveled into an opportunity to research and embrace those things and carry the message. I said yes and I took chances along the way and I’m so very glad I did.
Your story is bound to be different. All of our stories are different. I encourage you to share your story and to say yes to more opportunities as we travel this road together.
About the Author
Viqui Dill is the Technical Communications Leader at American Woodmark Corporation. She is STC’s Community Affairs Committee and Social Media manager for STC Washington DC Baltimore. Viqui would love to connect with you: