This week is our final spotlight on Washington, D.C. area technical writers and their journey into the profession. Becky Todd, Senior Information Developer, closes out the series with her story.
Like most children, I spent most of my childhood dreaming of becoming a technical writer. I mean honestly, who wouldn’t?
Actually, I didn’t even know technical writing was a profession until part way through college. In fact (and I hate to admit this), I even took a class on technical writing and didn’t give it a second thought until years later.
Like many nerdy kids, my childhood dream was pretty predictable. I wanted to grow up and become either an astronaut or a scientist so that I could spend my life learning new things, doing experiments, and sharing research. I also wanted to be an artist. And probably an astronomer.
I began college by taking pretty much every available science class and wound up majoring in chemistry (one of my favorite subjects). It was during this time that I took my first technical communication course. Although I really enjoyed writing, I thought the class was boring because we mostly wrote memos and learned how to format letters. To be honest, I didn’t even understand why it was called technical writing (I had assumed I would be writing about technical topics). Like any good college student, I completely forgot about the class and moved on with my life.
Part way through college, I took a job doing chemical research at a paper chemical company. I worked there for a year or so, and did some fascinating research. At one point, I probably knew as much as any person should about gum rosin and creating emulsions. As much as I loved it, working as a chemist wasn’t satisfying my creative side.
A year or two later, I stumbled upon the Professional Writing program at Missouri State University. The writing program provided me with an excellent foundation and technical skillset. I learned various tools, writing techniques, methodologies, and design skills. I also learned that technical communication was more than just dryly explaining bland topics in memos and reports.
The program also forced me to get a jumpstart on my career. As a result, I started working as a technical communicator well before I graduated (which I highly recommend to anyone still in college). One of the first documents that I ever edited was for the chemical company that I worked at.
Almost immediately after starting my career, I realized that my love for math and science wouldn’t go unused. This realization was reinforced when I wound up working at a company that created predictive analytics software. In that role, I frequently needed to break down semi-complicated mathematical concepts into easy-to-understand content. And I’m sure that my high school math and science teachers would have a little laugh if they knew I wound up creating videos explaining mathematical concepts.
My analytical and research skills continue to come in handy to this day. I have found that working as a technical communicator isn’t that different from the experience I had doing chemical research. I start with a problem to solve and a blank page on which to record and explain my results. The only difference is that I’m solving a problem for a user, and the research doesn’t require handling hazardous substances. Instead, I get my hands dirty by playing with brand new software, and I solve the problem of communicating its functionality to users. The fun part is crafting the explanation into a combination of words, graphics, videos, and other mediums of communication.
Before I ramble for too long, I want to summarize by saying that this career has allowed me to satisfy my most basic childhood desire: to never stop learning and sharing information. I may not be doing ground breaking chemical research or blasting off into space, but I am constantly learning and sharing interesting things. More importantly, though, I love what I do. I get to share information and create something new every day.
About the Author
Becky Todd is a Senior Information Developer in the DC metro area. She has six years of experience in technical communication and holds a B.S. in Professional Writing. She is the 2nd Vice President of the STC-WDCB chapter and founding member of the InfoDevDC meetup group.