By Mitch McDonald
With over 26 years of experience in technical communication, Diane Herbruck provides a clear understanding of what this constantly evolving industry entails. As a co-founder of the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based “Wordsmiths,” a communication studio, Diane’s consultation and project management skills have made her one of West Michigan's authorities in document creation, training programs, and presentations.
Upon visiting the “Wordsmiths” website, samples of the company's work reveals the spectrum of skills that today's technical writing students should strive towards. “We only look for those with diverse skill sets. The best career advice I ever received was ‘don’t specialize; be a good generalist.’ Some career fields entirely dry up and disappear, so the more variety and diversity of skills, the more that person becomes indispensable,” said Diane. Diane uses her versatility to improve the communications of corporations from all industries and backgrounds.
Diane's career roots originated long before she'd ever heard of technical writing. “Several generations of writers and journalists in my family and an early interest in creative writing made me lean in this direction long before I knew there was such a field,” she added.
Despite knowing the reality of deadline-induced pressures and the lack of sleep that comes with being a writer, Diane enrolled at Alma College as a Creative Writing major. Diane has always enjoyed the small-college atmosphere, which is something many FSU students may relate to.
After majoring in what she called, “transferring,” from Alma College, Diane found herself back at another small school, Aquinas College, where she graduated with a degree in Business and a Master’s degree in Management.
Diane's transition from school to the “real-world” wasn’t much of a transition at all. While attending night school, Diane was also busy juggling a full-time job and married life. Having grown up within a family business, Diane was no stranger to hard-work and the eventual reward that was sure to follow.
“Because, at one time, I worked for the family business and was paid basically minimum wage, it was a shock to learn what I could earn out in the real-world,” Diane said. By managing her hectic schedule effectively, Diane was unknowingly training for a technical communication industry that would require her to multitask on several projects at once. “I was surprised how much I valued having a variety of projects going at a time. I needed that variety,” she added.
When Diane entered the technical writing field in 1983, she was still years away from the tools that modern professionals now take for granted. Imagine typewriters instead of computers, no fax machines, and copies had to be made at the local library, or by using what Diane called, “a jelly sheet-pan.”
When Diane and her co-workers bought their first fax machine and their first computer, you can imagine their excitement! There was also no computer-aided drafting or design to speak of, so layout had to be replicated on waxed columns and tables.
Diane noted that her work is just as difficult today as it was when she entered the field, but it’s just faster now. Instead of getting 2-3 days to work on and then send a copy, customers expect Diane and the “Wordsmiths” to be composing even while clients explain their project needs.
Overall, Diane believes the strength of the technical communication field is far greater than the old days. She cites the fact that newer technologies allow for corrections and additions to type right up to a deadline.
Despite all the innovations Diane has witnessed, she believes the quality of the end product is still purely up to the technical professional. Diane lent a few tips to prospective professionals: “an eagerness to learn, adaptability, grace under pressure, open mindedness, don’t burn your bridges, and build an incredible network of contacts across West Michigan.” A strong work ethic, which is evident by Diane’s years of 80-hour work weeks, doesn’t hurt either.