Diverted from law, but destined for tech comm

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Not all of us blond chicks are meant to be lawyers like Elle Woods.

The other day, I had jury duty. I was rather anxious on a number of levels, but mostly because I was fearful of being chosen for a jury that would last more than a day or two, because I had already put off the first day of a new contract to fulfill my civic duty. My anxiety really got the best of me, as it made me physically ill all day.

I felt very nervous being in the courtroom during the jury selection process. I shouldn’t have been. It was straightforward. This was for a civil case, so it wouldn’t be about anything too gory, awful, or drawn out like a criminal or murder case.

But here’s the irony of the whole thing: when I started college, I was very determined that I was going to be a pre-law student studying international affairs, and that I’d eventually continue to law school. I had participated on high school mock trial teams, and watched courtroom shows all the time, soaking in all the courtroom action whenever I could. So, what happened?

Eventually I’d work for law firms during the summer as an office clerk or a receptionist, and found that I really didn’t like it. I also was having second thoughts about going to law school, since I had some trouble with certain courses in my undergrad years.

As I sat in the courtroom the other day, my memory was refreshed on how court proceedings were done, such as what it means if a judge says that an objection is overruled or sustained, how a court case is run, and the types of questions that need to be asked to elicit the responses that the lawyer wants to get out of the witness. It occurred to me that I was GLAD I wasn’t a lawyer after all. I would have hated it after a while. Sure, there’s a structure to how things are done, and laws are often written so there’s as little interpretation as possible as to what is liable and what isn’t. But sitting in that courtroom made me grateful that I did not lead a lawyer’s life.

After being dismissed from that courtroom and waiting to see if I would be called to another trial, I had time to think about how my life choices took me in another direction. I thought about the qualities of a lawyer, and thought about which of those qualities would make me think I’d be good for that, yet would be applicable to my current career in technical communication.

The reasons were very clear to me almost instantly. Both lawyers and technical writers need and like structure. Lawyers work off the law guides, while technical writers work with style guides. Both are very keen wordsmiths. They often are the authors of policies and procedures and other documentation. The wrong word or the right word can make the difference in what they are doing. Related to that, they are acutely aware of details. One incorrect detail can make or break the situation at hand. Both professions work to relate to their audience, whether it’s a judge and jury, or end-users at large. Both have to be at least a little bit clever to be able to convey their content clearly, cogently, and concisely.

So, was my time being a law wannabe for nothing? I don’t think so. Little did I know that it would help me figure out skills that would be needed for a vocation that I did not know I had yet. If anything, it most likely helped me ease into the technical communications field more easily because I had attuned these skills at a young age for a different purpose.

The very next day after jury duty, I started at my new contract, going back to doing content strategy and management. Oh, what a relief it was! Even though I was working with a new client and a new content management system that I hadn’t used before, I knew that I had something substantial to provide with my skills, and I felt so much more at ease than having to present a case based strictly on law and courtroom decorum. I didn’t have to worry about my skills not being enough to convince someone to judge in favor of someone–or something– I was advocating. Instead, I got to work in a team environment, where my voice was heard as one of a few contributing ideas to create something with a positive outcome–no matter what the outcome. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I think many technical communicators know that they must have some of these same skills to be able to produce the best outputs they can to serve a larger audience for positive purposes. We have to advocate for our field constantly, to prove that we are needed in the workforce, and we strive to get positive results.  There are even technical communicators whose specialty is to write up policies and procedures.  Not law school worthy? I beg to differ.

What do you think? Do you think we possess many of the same skills as lawyers, or not? Include your comments below.

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TechCommGeekMom’s 2013 Year in Review

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TechCommGeekMom visits Multnomah Falls during her Lavacon/Adobe Day 2013 visit to the Portland, OR area.

Okay, I’ll admit this is going to be a slightly self-indulgent (and slightly long) blog post. I read something recently that said that there shouldn’t be so much “self-promotion” in promoting your blog. This has always been a blog that not only encourages community, but it also tracks my own journey through technical communications, for better or worse. Taking the time to do the year-end review of what’s gone on in the past year is a good exercise for anyone.

At first, I thought my year wasn’t all that great, meaning that it wasn’t exciting. I hadn’t achieved some things that I wanted to do; I did not fulfill all my tech comm resolutions for the year. But as I looked through photos of the past year on my mobile devices to come up with something to put in this blog post, I realized that a LOT of good things still happened this year.

The year started off with a bang, as I was finally working full-time after a year of unemployment.  The new job ended up being a good opportunity. I get to work from home, I’m being paid well (a lot better than I ever had before), and it’s doing something that comes naturally to me–content management. I have had the chance to use my UX and web design abilities during this position, too. Things have gone well enough that my contract has been extended for another year.  I know that there’s a good chance that later in 2014, the company I’m contracted to will be switching CMS software, so it’ll be an opportunity to learn a new system and flex those content management muscles. I’m looking forward to it! It’s been a long time since I had a job that I truly enjoyed and feel appreciated for what I do. In past positions, I would offer my suggestions and advice based on what I had learned from my social media connections, graduate school courses, conferences, and personal experience, and I’d be ignored. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t take my suggestion if there’s something valid that will discount it, but using the excuse of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s what the end user is used to, so why change it?” doesn’t cut it for me. There’s always a better way. This was the first position that actually gave me a chance to use my voice and makes some executive decisions that would benefit the end user. My manager supports my decisions 99% of the time, so that’s been a huge load off my shoulders. Stress has not been a major issue with this job, and I know I’m fortunate to have made this employment connection.

Having a job, and a good job at that, would make for a good year. But there’s been more.

2013 was the year that I started to go out on the public speaking circuit. It started with my first conference presentation at the STC-PMC Conference in March, followed by two webinars this past fall. Three presentations might not sound like a lot, but considering that I have only presented to my tech comm peers twice beforehand (my capstone presentation at grad school and an Adobe Webinar that Maxwell Hoffmann helped me with immensely in 2012), and all these presentations were STC-related, I figure that’s a pretty good feather to add to my cap.  I’ve been told that the presentations were well-received, and I have gotten some good feedback, so I consider that a big success.

I also added an additional writing credential to my repetoire.  I started writing a by-line for the STC Notebook blog that started out as a column as a newcomer for the 2013 STC Summit. That column has now turned into a regular monthly column for the STC Notebook called Villegas Views. Again, I feel like I’ve received some good feedback on my writing there, so that’s another success.

I attended three conferences this year, namely the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, the STC Summit, and Lavacon (although I was only at Lavacon for a day–hey, I still need to write about that! I’ll try to get to that soon!).  The biggest one, of course, was the Summit, which was mindblowing for me. I loved being able to travel, considering I work from home day in and day out. (I’m not complaining, but it was a welcome change of scenery.) Actually, all the conferences were wonderful and overwhelming at the same time, and that sense of feeling somewhere that I belonged was never more evident than when I attended these events. I’m SO glad I did, and that leads me to the last thing that I found to be the greatest part of this year.

While I had started to develop some professional connections in 2012 through social media and through my first visit to Adobe Day at Lavacon in 2012, both social media and these conferences enabled me to expand my professional connections exponentially. However, it became more than just professional connections.  I’ve ended up making some fantastic friends along the way.  I know most people don’t think of me as being shy or introverted, but I actually am. I’m horribly awkward socially , and I know it.  Social media helped with the introductions, for sure. A few in-person introductions have helped as well. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but I have found that technical communicators to be one of the most friendly and inviting groups of people I’ve ever met. I have appreciated every person who introduced himself or herself to me in person when knowing me from my blog or a social media connection. I’ve appreciated the friendships that have developed over time from these connections. I’ve loved having some of these friendships with those who are industry leaders develop into mentorships as well. When one of those supportive mentors encourage me or tell me how proud they are of my accomplishments, I want to cry tears of joy. (Heck, I’m crying tears of joy just writing this!) For so long, I’ve felt like an outsider, so to have my professional peers look to me as an equal and show me constant support and encouragment is a huge boost that I’ve needed for years.

This blog has grown, too. The numbers aren’t done for the year yet as I write this, but I’ve added a lot more readers and had more response to TechCommGeekMom in 2013 than in 2012. I’m sure I’ll be doing more celebrating when the blog hits its second “birthday” in March, but for the calendar year, it’s been great. I know I haven’t always been able to keep up with this blog as much as I liked during this year, but I feel like the efforts that were made to grow and expand have been supported by the tech comm community.

So, thanks to all of you for reading my posts either here, on the STC Notebook, or in social media. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share ideas with me. Thanks for continually teaching me more about technical communication, and helping me to expand my mind and my understanding of this profession, and teaching me how I can continue to grow in this profession.

2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year as well. I will be attending three conferences before the year is halfway done, of which I’ll be presenting at two of them, I believe. I know, for sure, that one of the conferences I’ll be presenting at is the STC Summit 2014! That’s a big deal to me. I mean, think about it–only out of grad school two years, and already presenting at the annual Summit? Not too shabby, I would think.  I’ll be continuing to write here at TechCommGeekMom, and I’ll still be writing my by-line for STC Notebook, and I’m hoping that there will be some more opportunities to do presentations either in-person or in webinars.

2013 has been quite the year for me…time will tell how 2014 will be!