Wisdom from my father

Photo by Christian Holzinger on Unsplash

The anniversary of my father’s death and his birthday have passed again for another year. He was a good father, a good man, and he was my best friend, trusted advisor, and confidant until he passed away in January 2000. There were many times I wished he was still around these past few years but he left me with some good lessons I still hold true to this day.

Here is some of the wisdom my father passed onto me:

Always follow your gut

He would always advise me to follow my gut instincts when I needed to find my way and I must say this advice has always served me well. Every time I’ve ever gone against my gut in personal and professional matters there has always been trouble. When my mind was foggy from thyroid issues there were problems. Now that I’ve regained my health, my instincts are back and I look forward to moving ahead personally and professionally.

You play, you pay

We all mess up in life and when you play, you pay my father would always say. This one made a lot of sense when I was a kid but I am not sure I agree with it in today’s day and age where bad behavior is rewarded; big business scandals; financial scandals; and ethics seems to be forgotten in some circles of society without any real repercussions.

Sometimes people are so smart they are stupid

My father worked as a respiratory therapist in Baltimore hospitals for years before his health went bad giving him the opportunity to work with many educated people who had common sense deficiencies. He taught me just because people are highly educated it doesn’t mean they have common sense or street smarts. I’ve seen this time and time again throughout my IT career. It is also rings true in the halls of our government right now.

Always try to do the right thing

He was a man of principles who always tried to do the right thing for his family and friends. There have been times this can feel like falling on one’s sword.

You had a job when you got there. You will have a job when you leave

This wisdom was true a few years ago but hasn’t stood up in the gray underbelly of today’s economic and employment apocalypse. I still look to this lesson for strength around the end of contracts. It just takes me longer to secure my next gig these days. After my layoff last September, I walked right into freelancing again. It felt good. I stayed true to this bit of my father’s wisdom.

You always land on your feet

Growing up with dyslexia made school very hard on me. Calling it challenging is being too polite. I am fortunate to have had great parents growing up and owe them both for standing behind me during the tough times. My Father would always say, “You always land on your feet, boy!” during those times. I took this mantra into adulthood with me and keep saying it long after he passed away like during the dot com bust, being laid off from jobs, and making it through to the other side after years of suffering through a misdiagnosed Thyroid.

January still isn’t a very happy month for me but I am busy with writing projects which is always a good thing.

What wisdom did your father pass onto you?

My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

5 things every technical writer needs to experience at least once

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

During the course of my annual end of the year home office clean, I came across some meeting notes from my last job hunt in 2016. It got me thinking about the current state of the technical writer profession.

Many senior technical writers are driven into contracting. Yet, there is are still technical writers that havenever taken such risks. Every technical writer needs to spend some time as a W2 and independent contractor. They also need to publish original work to expand their own horizons beyond font fondling.

In no particular order, here are five things I believe every technical writer needs to experience during their career:

  1. Publish an original work in a national technology publication or on an Industry Web site. There are too many technical writers who have never written original technical content. Even fewer have published an original work. That’s shameful. While yes, there are times every technical writer has to work from SME authored drafts and other source material, a technical writer should be able to write technical documents from scratch. A bylined article or articles or even book credits are big differentiators. The idiot as a user advocate is a myth
  2. Wear more than one hat. The things that excite technical writers rarely get a rise out of programmers and no more than a blank stare from many IT managers. There are some things that technical writers need to worry about for themselves. I propose that technical writers need to wear more than one hat in their career. Whether it be managing the team’s SharePoint site; delving further into requirements analysis and business processes; becoming involved further in application testing; or managing the team’s resource pooling or project schedule using Microsoft Project. There is more value a technical writer can add past technical writing and editing.
  3. Work as an Agency Contractor on a W2. Whether a contractor interviewing for a FTE position is going to stay around seems to be a question tree huggers and FTEs harp on when interviewing contractors for full-time positions. They need to understand that contractors are more akin to their employers versus the full-time employee Working as a W2 contractor will help technical writers experience a different business model where they aren’t an employee and there is no career development or coddling outside of how the contractor markets themselves. They can also learn how to work independently and become more project focused.
  4. Work as an Independent Contractor. Much in the same I stated above. Yet, you get the added responsibilities of managing a business including getting paid. You also have to manage client expectations and relationships means a technical writer working as an independent contractor is going to learn a lot. They can also get some business education while working as an independent contractor. Contracting whether on a W2 or as an independent on 1099 is about taking risks.
  5. Experience Unemployment. A person’s mortgage, car payment, and other bills don’t discriminate whether they get paid from contract or full-time employment. The current economic apocalypse means the game is changing in the information technology industry and not just for technical writers. Today’s times mean that contractors and FTEs may need to cross the lines to continue earning and further their career growth.

My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

The center of continuous technical education must be you

I’ve come to realize the importance of working in environments where continuous technical education is imperative to the success of projects and overall company health.
We live in a world that harps on the value of work/life balance. I have no arguments with balance but technical learning needs to be an integral part of that balance.
Yet, keeping abreast of the latest technologies should be the responsibility of the employee not always the employer. We live in a web-enabled world where new apps and services are accessible via download or through a trial account.
Today, accessibility to new technologies is too easy especially compared to when I started in the IT industry.
Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Running technical document reviews using remote team members

With some clear expectations and a little planning upfront, running remote writing and document review projects can go smoothly. Here are some lessons I learned when I was a freelancer about running remote writing and editing projects:

  • Set expectations for review comments. When I was freelancing in computer book publishing, each publisher had in-house reviewing and editing guidelines for technical reviewers like me to follow. In the past, I’ve worked with clients to set up and formalize technical document review processes.
  • Set expectations for communications. By my nature, I am a very responsive person but I can’t speak for everybody. One way to get past this is to set up an informal communications plan to include email or phone call check-ins. Another thing not to forget is for everybody to on the project to have each other’s contact information including email, IM, Skype, and mobile phone.
  • Set deadlines and project milestones. While this sounds basic, some organizations don’t set firm deadlines for documents. With set deadlines and milestones, the remote writer and the in-house team each can have peace of mind that dates are being hit and project communications aren’t stacking up in the other person’s Outlook inbox.
  • Remember email, deliverables, and review comments are your “face”. Remote writers, editors, and technical reviewers should always remember that their work is their first impression on the people who receive them. Your comments and edits need to stand on their own. Spend the extra time to craft comments that are clear, concise, and diplomatic.
  • Place documents online even if you work through email. While collaboration tools are ideal for remote working, some organizations are reluctant to implement them for such purposes. Even if you are working remotely through email, it is always wise to have your files online and available for access. Hurricane Irene and last year’s Snowmageddon with their power and cable broadband outages are prime examples of why putting project documents online is a good thing. With free and fee-based services like Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive now available there are fewer excuses for power or connectivity outages on one side delaying the entire project.
  • Use track changes and comments. Both Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat include robust editing and reviewing tools that enable you to review and edit documents online without the need of printing documents out. It means no more marking documents up, and then scanning them into PDF for emailing to the next team member. The best part is that these tools make it easy for writers to work through the changes and if need be to make comments back asking for further clarifications on the edit.

It comes down to putting down just enough structure to give reviewers to get the job done independently.

How do you manage technical document reviews?

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic,Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

Originally published at willkelly.blog on January 23, 2018.