by Martha Sippel
Before attending the September meeting, here are some tidbits about our speaker, Kit Brown-Hoekstra. She will be presenting Communication Catalysts on September 19th. I’ll post more of Kit’s answers next week. This will be a practical yet entertaining session, so join us! Register here.
How long have you been in technical communication as a profession?
Since 1989, so about 24 years. (Yikes! Tempus fugit.)
How did you get your start as a technical communicator? If you made a career change, how did you go about it?
It’s a long, sordid tale, but here’s the digest version. I wanted to be a veterinarian and didn’t get in, so I was looking for a back-up plan that would allow me to use my biology degree and give me flexibility to keep trying vet school. One of my professors at CSU told me to talk to a friend of his in the journalism dept (Don Zimmerman) who was starting an MS program in Technical Communication. Surprisingly, Don let me into the program despite the fact that I showed up to the interview in my parks dept. work clothes and looking a bit bedraggled after repairing a last-minute irrigation break.
I was in the first graduating class of the MS program, and eventually found a job working for a pacemaker company. At that job, I was introduced to the localization industry and, the rest, as they say, is history.
What was your first or favorite nonfiction writing project? Describe some of the challenges you faced and successes realized as you completed it.
My first professional project involved working with a development team that was creating a myostimulator to help patients with cardiomyopathy. I designed and developed not only the user documentation, but also the patient booklet for the informed consent package, and helped with the submission to the FDA. It was so cool to work on something that had the potential to save lives, and to get to observe some of the lab experiments and to participate in developing the clinical trials.
Every experience has been interesting in some way. At the pacemaker company, I learned how medical companies use scientific advances to make people’s lives better, and was introduced to a global corporate environment. At the financial company, I learned how to do online help and gained a greater understanding of the business side of technical communication. At the localization company, I learned how to be an effective consultant and trainer, and about the business of localization. As a small business owner, every day is a learning experience and every project is different.
The tech com challenges have been the typical ones we all face: getting comments back on time, extrapolating design specs to the real world applications, creating global ready content, etc.
As a small business owner, the challenges have also been typical: managing resources and commitments to ensure good quality output and good customer service, dealing with the administrivia, and managing financials in a way that keeps the company healthy.
Most issues, ironically, boil down to communication and connection. I try to prevent and mitigate those issues by establishing a rapport with my teammates/clients, being proactive about communication, making sure that tech com deliverables are included in the overall schedule, resolving issues immediately, etc.
Have you had other professional jobs outside technical communication? Did you learn anything from those jobs that has been useful in your writing career?
I started working when I was 10, so I’ve done everything from babysitting, food service, janitor/maid, and stable girl to veterinary technician, parks maintenance, breeding/embryo transfer assistant, lab technician, research assistant, teaching assistant, and adjunct professor.
Each job requires a type of thinking and process to do it well. Having this variety has taught me that every job is important and should be done well, to be flexible in my thinking and problem-solving, and to appreciate the contributions and insights of everyone in the organization.