A technical writer’s guide to NDAs

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I was cleaning out my home office recently and came across a collection of Non-Disclosure (NDA) Agreements that I’ve signed over the years as a technical writer. A quick leaf through of the folder made it clear that many of the NDAs were much the same if not identical.
As a tech industry contractor or employee, you need to consider the following about NDAs:

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From print books to the Kindle: My evolution

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Print books have always been a source of comfort for me. When I was a child, I was an avid reader right down to the large selection of hardbound classics handed down to me from my grandmother. Reading was also a favorite pastime when I was growing. In college, I was an English major finally sealing my fate with reading and the printed word.

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Indecision and the evolution of my personal websites

kaitlyn-baker-422999-unsplashYears ago, I thought it was a good idea to publish both a professional website and a personal blog. It was around the time I was able to purchase willkelly.com and willkelly.org. I was a contract technical writer and figured that the sites would help people find me in search results. Then reality set in…

For me at least, the first casualty of billable work is personal publishing. As time went on, I grew less dedicated to my personal blog because of a busy schedule and some life events. Eventually, I took my personal blog offline after the hosting provider didn’t notify me about some backend issues.

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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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My advice to junior technical writers

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Much of my technical writing career has been spent working in the trenches directly with technical teams. Unfortunately, this means I don’t know any junior technical writers anymore.

I’ve seen a lot in my time as a technical writer, and if I did advise new or junior technical writers, it would be the following:

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