Thursday, February 23, 2012

What People Think I Do: Technical Writer

My manager once forwarded to me this article on that ranks the best jobs in America. I was surprised to read that Technical Writer was only ranked at number 28. From my (admittedly skewed) perspective it should top the list.

Right-click to enlarge

As a technical writer I put together the pieces of a mathematical puzzle and tell everyone how I did it. I collect and research information, interview subject matter experts, write and publish at least two, but always more, 400-500 page books every six to nine months. And I work in my pajamas with the birds and squirrels.

The sounds of silence

I was reviewing a book I had written when I realized there was not enough information describing a particular topic. I found the information I needed but no matter how many times I read it I couldn't grasp the fundamental concepts. I decided to drop the task to the lowest position on my to do list and pick up something else.

A couple of days went by when the fundamentally perplexing topic had risen to the top of my to do list again. I read the papers again. This time, rather than dropping the task down the list I called in sick. I decided I'd rather watch Jean Arthur than try and figure out what the subject matter experts were talking about. (I was sick but I digress.) So I return to work with renewed vigor, read the information in hand and finally - I get it. It works just like HTTP and the WWW. The rest helped ease the cogs in my mind and I whipped through that puppy in 7 hours.

Technical writing is a challenging job that offers the opportunity to educate yourself and others. Over the years I've worked at some amazing companies, and with some incredibly talented people. And I get to write! And I get to create diagrams and illustrations! I might not have the paparazzi on my tail but can Nicole Richie explain the difference between symmetric and asymmetric key encryption? I think not.