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Archive for April, 2015

Technically Speaking – What is Technical Communications?

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Ah, punctuation humour 🙂

I’d like to start by saying that just because I’m a tech author does not mean that I will be adhering to strict rules here. I’ll probably make mistakes with my grammar and punctuation, and honestly, the amount of times I went against my company’s writing guide specifications in my last post alone is more than I’d care to admit. However, I don’t really care. This is a blog after all. No one is going to rely on this nearly as much as the content that we produce at work, so I can use all the contractions and different types of punctuation I want! WOOOO!!

There are several ways of answering this.

Of course, there’s the people that think we just spell check what comes from engineering and repackage it but that is an unfair/grossly under-representation of what we do (although don’t get me started on some sentence structures and punctuation (or lack thereof) that I’ve seen since being here).

[NB I would like to point out however, that I know some very eloquent engineers who can write very well. I’m by no means tarring them all]

A common way of looking at it is that we ‘just’ provide the manuals that go along with the engineering products. This makes it seem pretty trivial, but the better the supporting documentation, the more chance the customers will have of avoiding issues or, be able to solve problems if they arise. This should mean the some of the pressure on the Support group is removed.

The other problem with this is assuming that the only way of communicating is by documents alone, usually pdfs. That is probably still the most common method but by no means the only way. Communicating can mean providing face-to-face sessions for training on a particular topic, it can mean posting on forums and blogs so that the information can get to our end users faster. We do presentations that can be recorded and e-learning modules that can better explain concepts and tools and make the user more confident in their knowledge and understanding.

A good way of looking at it is the recent increase in crafting hobbies, like knitting, at the moment. You know what you want at the end and you need accurate and simple instructions to get there. Diagrams are often provided which makes it a lot easier to understand, especially for people that are new to knitting. Patterns also don’t just come on paper anymore. There are YouTube videos and tutorials for specific types of stitches to full projects depending on how much help is needed.

I know a lot of people find this topic a little…dry sounding. But honestly, having to explain the ‘how, the what and the why’ of the products means that not only do I have to learn about them, but I’ve had to essentially teach myself computer science/basic engineering understanding to understand the information on the products! And I love that. Yes, I admit I miss biology but I read popular science books, I get updates from journals I like and talk to my friends still in that area so I’m not completely missing out.

I also think that as much as I love my job now, in the future, who knows where I’ll end up. What I enjoy most is editing, so I would love to get back into publishing one day, be that academically with journal articles, science textbooks etc. or maybe not STEM publishing at all! That’s the brilliant thing about what I do. I feel like it gives me so many skills that I can work on over the years and apply to other specialisms if I want to move on. (At the very least, I can’t imagine me staying in Cambridge forever…I mean, I want to buy a house one day and unless I marry somebody very well off, I can’t see that happening here).

So that is a fairly quick look at what I do these days. If anyone reading is interested in technical communications, please get in touch, ask me questions J I’m happy to help and give advice if possible. I also highly rate my employer and I believe they are currently accepting applications for their graduate scheme (for engineers and technical communications etc.), so if anyone would like to know more about who I work for, send me a private message.

I have been writing! Technically…

So this is a new topic for this blog, as I am usually writing more about biology, post-university options and things that interest me generally (books, current affairs blah).

But I have been pretty busy with a different type of writing for the last 7 months now. And that is my current job: Technical Author (well…Graduate Technical Author)freedom

SO. MANY. CHOICES (courtesy of xkcd.com/freedom)

Those of you who know me personally know who I work for but just I figure I should keep it to myself on here. Just in case. The big change for me is that it is within the Engineering Sector (I haven’t left STEM! Just changed letters).

Now, this has come with some brilliant advantages and exciting prospects but with change obviously comes challenges.

I am not an engineer. I am not a computer scientist. Before starting to work here, I could not code (I’m at a basic level of learning Python as part of my personal development, although I don’t need that type of knowledge for my role, it makes me feel more at home with my colleagues).

I have had a lot of people ask *WHY* if I’m a biologist (which I am and always will be, at heart) am I working where I am. I suppose there are three answers really:

  • Between working as a Publishing Editor and a tech author, I was working about 30 hours a week at a popular supermarket chain. It was awful, soul destroying, painful (due to the illnesses I have) and paid ~£6.83/hour. Believe me when I say, I was applying for everything out there.
  • I love learning. My old job was at a chemistry company and though that is considerably more relatable for a biologist (especially with a lot of biochem in my degree), it was still a change of discipline. And one that I dealt with well and thoroughly enjoyed (despite how it ended). So I didn’t see why the same wouldn’t be true here.

Now onto the main reason…

  • I got an interview and the job. Now this seems like I’m not really answering the question but stick with me. I saw who the job was for and wasn’t going to apply. But I looked into it as a job role and thought it sounded like something interesting that would lead me to good places in the future (and also thought, hey, if nothing else, it’s application practice). And then I got the interview. Well, three of them. A writing test to do at home, then a phone interview, then a face-to-face interview with a formal writing test and then an HR interview over the phone. And I got the job. So as nerve-wracking as it was (and occasionally still is) to work somewhere like this, *they* think I can do it. There are people in my department that come from other strange backgrounds for this company (English Lit, Linguistics and Translation, another biologist) and people who are closer to the sector but still, not engineering (couple of physicists). Basically what I’m saying is, not everyone in my department is an engineer. So why wouldn’t I be able to do it? As long as I put in the time and effort, inside work and out, I will pick up the necessary skills and knowledge. Which means I get to do a lot of reading (and coding is fun!)

So this post is about the WHY I am here. But when I tell a lot of people my job title, I get a lot of confused looks and mumbles of “Oh…um…what’s that?”

Which brings me nicely to the end of this post and onto the next:

Technically Speaking – What is Technical Communication?

Hope someone out there cares enough to read these, I am enjoying writing again and am hoping to make this more regular (I’ve set writing reminders now and everything).

Has anyone else had a big change of career, or subject base? I’d love to hear from you and why you did the change too.

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