Interview with Jane MacKenzie-Smith, Certified Performance Consultant and Owner, JEM Communications

Jane MacKenzie-SmithJane MacKenzie-Smith is the presenter for the February STC RMC meeting, Transferring your skills: Where can you go from here?

How long have you been in the technical communication profession?

25 years – YIKES!!

How did you get your start as a technical communicator? If you made a career change, how did you go about it?

I started out as a high school teacher, and then taught at the local community college, when I needed to make a change.  A career counselor took a look at my love of teaching and my love of clothing design and recommended instructional design.  Much of the rest is history.  I moved around a lot at first, primarily for financial reasons, but the benefit was that I gained a variety of skills and a lot of experience in many different industries.

What was your first or favorite technical writing project? Describe some of the challenges you faced and successes realized as you completed it.

One of my favorite projects was my first Interactive Multimedia Training courses, which eventually won a gold award in Brandon Hall’s contest.  I was able to take my multimedia skills to the next level while having an opportunity to be creative.  The course was story-driven with a cast of 10 characters and three companies.  Their stories wove together throughout the course, which really taught the use of a software application.

Have you had other professional jobs outside the technical communication field? Did you learn anything from those jobs that has been useful in your technical communication career?

I was a county social worker for a year, and I learned to appreciate communicating with a large variety of people with different needs.  I also taught high school, where I developed and designed my own course, incorporating media resources and experiential activities wherever possible.  My classes were fun for the kids.  For a number of years, I taught in a community college learning lab where I saw five students per hour and had to quickly determine their needs, their preferred learning media/style, and how to keep them motivated.  These quick assessment interviews honed both my interview skills and my intuition.  Since I taught basic writing skills and GED, I also reviewed and firmed up my grammar and writing knowledge as well as learned how to guide a student in basic writing skills from pre-write through proofreading.

What advice would you give to people who want to begin a technical communication career?

[Sign up for the webinar for the answer to this question!]

What do you feel is the most important skill for a technical communicator?

  • Communicating with all levels of employees.
  • Interviewing
  • Organizing
  • Discriminating levels and types of information

What tools do you use to do your job?

Microsoft Office suite, FullShot, DreamWeaver, and PhotoShop.

If you weren’t in the technical communication profession, what would you be?

A teacher or social worker.  I am currently starting Sedona Swim School to teach swimming lessons, aquacize, adult fitness, and basic water safety and rescue.  I’m excited about combining two passions – teaching and swimming (I’ve been a lap swimmer for over 30 years).  I hope to combine my instructional design webinars with teaching swimming either by season or by parts of the day. It is unfolding as we speak.

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