Saturday, August 8, 2009

Waking up is hard to do

Change is hard.
Challenging your own assumptions is hard.
Waking up and realizing that you need to change is enough to send a lot of people back to bed. It's so hard that many people, confronted by the need to change, don't change. So people stay in relationships that no longer work. So people become old and bitter from decades of doing work they hate. So people die from things they choose not to change - smoking, drinking, other drugs. At some point, the cost of changing becomes smaller than the cost of not changing. If you are fortunate, you wake up and realize that.

My mind realized a couple months ago that I had reached that tipping-point (My job is not me, May 27), but it took some time to accept it in my heart.

I love the process of learning and documenting a technical product - playing with it, asking the engineers how they intended a particular feature to be used, picking the support technicians' brains about what problems make up the bulk of customers' calls to the help desk, comparing notes with the software quality assurance people when I encounter an unexpected behavior. But I still get irritated at having to combat the common perception that "technical writer" means "non-technical person who writes about things she doesn't understand."

I love the process of working out what kinds of information people need, what audiences I must address, and how to chunk up and present the information to meet each audience's needs most effectively. I love the process of creating the process - how will we consistently meet schedules? How will we consistently produce top-quality work? How will we handle version control? How will we ensure that our processes scale as flexibly as the company's product strategy? But I still get irritated at having to combat the perception that somehow, as if by magic, all this takes care of itself for technical writing even though it does not in other areas, because after all it is only writing and anybody can write.

I love working with engineers who know they can "talk tech" to me. I don't love managers who insinuate that they can have the new intern write the manuals instead. (Bubba, I hope you're right about your intern, because I'm not going to do business with you.)

I just woke up and realized that it costs me more to keep calling myself a technical writer than it does to take advantage of the glorious opportunity this recession has handed to me. I've had to work through a lot of internal resistance to change, but I've gone back to school. I've chosen to start a new career doing the thing I had originally envisioned when I started college. I'm studying for my first round of IT certifications.

I'm sure I'll keep on doing technical writing as a sideline, just as I never completely stopped fooling around with electronics; but it's not going to be my whole life any more - and neither is my new career. I've learned the hard way about allowing my job title to trap me in a box.