A lesson I learned as a contract technical writer

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As a favor to an old friend,  I spoke to one of their friend’s kids who got laid off and was forced to go into contract IT work so they could keep paying the bills.

Here is one question and answer that stuck out from our phone call:

Them: What do you find true about contracting?

Me: The very people who will criticize you for the tiniest mistake will be the same people who take credit for your successes and good ideas after your contract gig ends.

Unfortunately, depending on the organization, it happens to full-time employees too.

Weird things I saw when I was a contract technical writer

alex-kotliarskyi-361081-unsplashI’ve been out of full-time contracting for almost two years and recently thought back to some of the stranger things I saw during the contract technical writer chapter of my life:

  • A fellow contractor was posting nude pictures of his wife on Usenet from his client account. He was busted and walked offsite by armed security guards when a Usenet reader emailed the Webmaster of the client’s domain.
  • A client who demanded the word, Please be used to begin every procedure in a user guide.
  • Contract agency recruiters who just told so many obvious lies I wondered if their nose grew. There should be a special place in hell for unethical contract agency recruiters.
  • A contractor who got sick and went AWOL while on a business trip to NYC. The contracting agency had to evict her from her hotel room. After taking over her hotel room, I could understand how she would want to lay in bed all day in that hotel.
  • A contractor who inflated their resume so much it made me see the problems that swept along technical writers and swept along trainers cause for real professionals.
  • A contractor who quit via email the Sunday evening before leaving Monday on a trip to Los Angeles. He knew the whole time he was going to stop. While I understand At-Will Employment cuts both ways, there is professionalism and decency.

Once upon a time, contractors could always count on other contractors. I stayed too long at the party. The contracting market I entered was not the same one I left.

What weird things did you see as a contract technical writer?

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Reflections on my technical writing career

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I was once asked in a job interview: “Why do I stay a technical writer when it must be such a dull and boring profession?”  After the meeting when I was peeling rubber out of the parking lot, I took a few moments when I was decelerating to think about some of the more interesting moments (at least to me) from my career:

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Learning new software: A personal retrospective

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When I was in college, I took an on-campus job in my college’s computer lab that I still consider to this day to be a very formative experience. The director of the computer lab helped me discover the technology chops that I still carry me to this day. He had a penchant for scouting student employees from non-technical and liberal arts areas of study like English, Education, and Psychology. He is one of the only people in my academic and professional past I call a mentor. When I found a home working with technology, I gave up my goal of becoming a journalist for becoming a technical writer. College was tough because of my dyslexia, but my job in the computer lab charted a new course for me that I am still following today.

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Simple guidelines for running technical document reviews remotely

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

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The 7 deadly sins of project leadership

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Project team leadership is an even more important skill in today’s tight economic times making it even more of a shame when new, and even some experienced project leads fumble the ball in the name of their muddled agendas.

While doing more with less is quite a mantra these days, there are seven deadly sins of project leadership holding back once successful project teams from continuing to thrive.

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6 ways to sabotage your technical documentation

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Every job hunt and even unsolicited discussions with recruiters during the past few years brought me more tales of organizations continuing to have issues producing and maintaining technical documentation. It is not isolated in one sector, and I keep hearing the same problems repeatedly. This has been a real disappointment for me over the years I was a contract technical writer and now that I have a staff technical writer job.
 
Developing technical documentation isn’t fun. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be such an afterthought. Things aren’t made any easier with a technical writing profession that is fragmented on the actual role of the technical writer.
 
Here are some ways organizations sabotage their technical documentation:
 

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