Tech Writers Talk

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Tech Writers Talk

Carrie Chambers

Carrie Chambers Headshot resized

Tech Writers Talk is the monthly series where OCSTC Secretary, Amoreen Armetta, meets up with an OC-area tech writer to talk about what they do and how they got started. Thanks to Carrie Chambers for taking the time out her busy workday to call and talk. Carrie has been a technical writer for 16 years, for nearly 15 she’s been at Eyefinity in Irvine, and for a little over 13 years she’s been teaching at Cal State. 

 

Tell us about yourself

I actually have a master’s degree in Technical and Scientific Communication, so a very specific degree in our field. I started as the lone technical writer at Eyefinity and now we have, let’s see, seven of us. We create electronic medical records and practice management systems for, mostly independent, optometrists and ophthalmologists. I help write the documentation that supports those software systems.

Did you know you wanted to be a tech writer when you were in college?

I knew from junior high or high school that I was a good writer. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with that quite yet. So when I started college, I started as an English major. And—I still remember this—I sat with my advisor and he said, “What do you wanna do, do you wanna teach?” And I said, “No, no I don’t wanna be a teacher.” And I said, “I’d love to just—is there some sort of job, where I can just kind of sit and read books all day and say, ‘We should publish this, we shouldn’t publish that?’” (Both laughing). And he guided me toward a woman who taught Tech Comm. So I took her first Tech Comm class and I realized, ‘OK, wow, this is an area where I can use the skills that I know that I have and actually make a living.’ So I minored in Tech Comm in undergrad and then immediately went on to get my master’s degree in Tech Comm.

The job search

As soon as I got all that great education I left Ohio and came to California, ‘cause this is where the jobs are. I was 22 and it was January 2003—looking back, I’ve always been very, very, very lucky. In my last semester of coursework, I started applying for jobs—at least a hundred jobs. I interviewed at three companies and one was for an internship and I ended up choosing the internship, actually. I started work in January—right away, had it all lined up. I only worked at that internship for four months and I was offered a fulltime job at another company and so I started there. I worked there for 13 months and then I started my current job. So, you know, I’m a huge proponent of networking and I tell my students a lot, too, it’s really through networking and perseverance that I’ve always been able to easily find jobs.

What else do you tell your students?

Most of my students don’t want to be technical writers, but the ones who do, I tell them that you don’t have to know how to use Framemaker or Flare or anything because all of those tools are going to change as you move through your career. When I’m hiring people, I don’t really care about that at all. Obviously, you have to be able to write well, follow style guides—I think now you have to be very comfortable in an agile environment, you have to know how to work well with developers. But I feel like some tech writers you meet—people have this vision of tech writers being nerds who sit in corners and just type all day, right? But I think the more successful tech writers, they get out of that corner. They’re out there, they’re chatting with people, they’re building relationships with developers and customer care reps, and people on other teams, so that when they need information they can get it. And when they are trying to publish content that will help end-users, other people from other teams are advocating for the writer’s goals, also.

What’s a typical work day?

Usually I start my day off checking emails—I work with people across the US, typically. So, for example, when I got in this morning I had a request from someone in our Louisiana office to update some files that our clients download, so I did that. And then I go to a stand-up meeting—here the writers are integrated in with the development teams, so we attend all the regular scrum meetings, standups, planning, sprint reviews, retrospectives. Let’s see, I’m working on a major project right now so I’ll allocate some time to research and work on that. And then I’m looking at our JIRA development board throughout the day, watching tickets from development and documenting those for an upcoming release. I also have team meetings at various times. Today we had a meeting about the templates that we’re going be using in [MadCap] Flare and, you know, we need to agree on all sorts of different things about those templates, what the wording is going to be, the look, all sorts of little, nitty-gritty things. 

What Tools do you use?

We’ve been using Framemaker and RoboHelp for a very long time, and we are currently transitioning to MadCap Flare. It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to learning a new, little bit more modern, tool and publishing our content in a more responsive and user-friendly way.

When I started we had one product, and then we added two, and then we bought companies, and then we built new products, so we’ve grown a lot—we got acquired, all this stuff happened. Now we have a handful of products and we have content all over the place, so one of our goals is to consolidate content so users can more easily find it. And then another goal is to really push users to use that content and get it in front of their faces so they don’t really have to go out there and search for it.

So how do you consolidate content?

You tell me! (Both laughing…)

We don’t have a content management system so that’s a little bit of a challenge, but moving to Flare will help a little bit with consolidation. We still have other challenges out there. We still have content in multiple places. We’re working with other teams, too: customer care, training, marketing, and other teams that create content and deliver it to clients, so it’s trying to work with other teams to consolidate all training and user-facing content. Other teams are using different tools, pushing different products, and different delivery methods for clients. So I don’t have a perfect answer, I wish I did.

If I were to pare it down I would say that having one place for users to go to and having content just be available for users when they need it are our two biggest challenges—and getting users to use that content when they need help as opposed to picking up the phone and calling support.

What I didn’t tell you about my day

I just came back from maternity leave—I guess it’s been three months now—this is my third child. So what I didn’t tell you about my day is I have to stop what I’m doing every three hours and pump milk. I’m working on the next release of our software and it’s—right now my days are very disrupted so it can be a little frustrating because I want to be more productive than I am, but this is just life right now.

December 14, 2018

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