I have little recollection of how I decided to become a technical writer. I’m not even sure how I found out that technical writing was a thing people did. I followed some roommates from college to Atlanta from Connecticut in the fall of 1993. I was a pretty good writer and I had always been a “computer nerd.” Today that might conjure up visions of Red Bull fueled hackathons. When I was growing up it meant reading operating system manuals. For fun.
I’m pretty sure I faxed my resume into Shoap Technical Services after seeing a want ad in the local paper. I had lunch with Dr. Shoap and soon began learning the craft of technical writing. After ten years in this profession I accepted a job as a software product manager, not fully realizing how useful my technical writing skills would be in this new role.
The defining characteristic of technical writing is the ability to simplify complex information and communicate it in a written form. As a product manager, I use this skill every day. It requires a mode of thinking that is rare and sought after in any business. I may be writing a white paper for my marketing team or describing a complex feature to a non-technical colleague. I’m constantly opening that toolbox, even when I don’t realize it.
Technical writing also instills a sense of empathy with the audience. High tech products and software – even good ones – can make people feel stupid. Technical writers learn how to think like their audience. As a product manager, there is arguably no more important skill.
When I reflect on the successful aspects of my career, I can draw a direct line back to the skills I learned at Shoap Technical Services. During my seven years as an STS employee I worked on a huge variety of projects for many different audiences. It was a great education and one that I can now pass on to younger colleagues as they get started in technology. Lesson one: Don’t bother reading the MS-DOS user manual.