In January, I got a message from an old co-worker asking me if I might be interested in talking to him about a position at his current company. I last worked with him in 2003 (or possibly 2002 – it was a while ago) while I was a senior technical writer for the information technology and services department at a small telecommunications company. I had my youngest son in 2004 and have worked sporadically since then. I was flattered that he had remembered me after all that time (and I still am). He needed someone to write requirements at his new company and, since they also needed technical documentation, he thought of me. And so I went back to work at the end of January after (basically) being an on-call writing consultant for several years and after a brief 1 year position at a history magazine group (they outsourced my position and let me & other co-workers go).
It’s been interesting and exciting and reinvigorating. I’m learning new software and catching up with a technology. I mean, I knew what storing things in the cloud meant but not quite what building and running apps in the cloud was and now it looks like serverless is going to catch on … and more. Even the software development process I left – traditional waterfall development/CMMI – has been supplanted by Agile, which isn’t quite as new as I thought since the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was written in 2001 while I was still working.
If you haven’t understood a lot in my post up to this point, my apologies. As a technical writer, I’m write (mostly) about how to use software (and at a previous job, telecommunications hardware) by talking to developers and looking at anything that’s available, including source code. It’s not that different from writing knitting patterns except in that case I’m also the developer.
But the other part of my current job – writing software requirements – is new to me. So I read some books to figure out how to approach it. Software Requirements Edition 3 by Carl Weigers and Joy Beatty from Microsoft Press is an excellent resource and fairly readable, while the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge is comprehensive but less engaging than watching paint dry. I also got advice from two requirements analysts I know and read Writing Great Specification: Using Specification by Example and Gherkin by Kamil Nicieja to learn Gherkin, a language for specifying and testing requirements.
Did I mention I started working again at the end of January?
Along with all of this, the team I work on has some say about how the software looks, so I’ve read some books about user interface (UI) design and user experience (UX) design: About Face, Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design
And I re-read Edward Tufte’s first 3 books: Visual Explanations, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information. I highly, highly recommend Tufte’s books regardless of the field you’re in; they are beautifully designed and packed with useful information about design.
I’m currently working on some redesigns using Adobe XD (tips welcome). Along the way, I reconnected with an old friend from college who is a UX designer who offered help and advice. I’m really grateful to have so many friends – especially a few others in more technical areas I haven’t mentioned – who are willing to answer questions or help me find answers.
Working again has been really great. I miss being able to work on fiber projects at any time, but am glad to have new things to learn and write about, and to also get paid to write, which is what I wanted to do when I was growing up. For a long time I beat myself up for not being a creative writer, which is what I started out majoring in in college, but I realized after going back to work in January that being a technical writer still counts just as much as all the other flavors of writing. I’m a writer! They pay me to write!
A week or two ago I polled my friends/followers on Instagram about whether or not I should start writing outside of work again. I realized after getting answers that I hadn’t asked what I really wanted to know.
Writing blog posts is all well and good – some people are able to parlay that into freelance writing gigs. I realized a while ago that that some people isn’t me and I think that’s part of the reason I stopped blogging – it just seemed pointless. It’s not a journal, but it’s not necessarily publishable essays either. This post, for example, is a mess.
What I really meant was, should I try freelancing? I should. I should just take the deep dive and figure out how to write a pitch and where I want to get published and, most importantly, what I want to get published. I pay for a weekly newsletter (info) with freelance opportunities, so why not take advantage of it? My fear of paperwork/taxes, that’s why. Time to get over it and figure it out!