By Jackie Norey
Parker Brown became interested in technical communication after taking a job at a commercial art studio during college. His job was to design sales brochures, advertisements, specification sheets, posters, logos, and technical illustrations for international clients. Working as a technical illustrator, Parker gained experience from his job at the studio and decided that technical communication was his niche.
After six years, Parker left the studio and pursued a career as a freelance commercial artist. For five years, he worked from a small rented office, selling his designs to local manufacturers, advertising agencies, and public relations firms.
Now, Parker works for a global medical device manufacturer as a technical writer. He writes, illustrates, and publishes Instructions For Use (IFU) manuals, which then are shipped out with the company’s products. Parker is also responsible for ensuring that these manuals meet legal requirements, such as those mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Parker went to college for two years and left without a degree. However, he has gained priceless knowledge from on-the-job training, along with several other influences. “Mentors have had a tremendous influence on my career and my life,” Parker says.
Many of Parker’s mentors were not assigned to him specifically as a mentor, but he’s been able to experience a strong and encouraging work environment. “Most of [my mentors] were simply excellent managers and friends who wanted to see me reach my full potential.” Recently, Parker has decided to strengthen his education, and he is working on an associate’s degree at a local community college.
Technology is a huge part of Parker’s career. “I consider myself fortunate enough to have worked for a year or two before PCs were commonplace,” says Parker.
At his first job with the art studio, he did ink-on-Mylar exploded-view illustrations using a Rapidograph pen and ellipse templates.
Technological advances included Computer Aided Design (CAD), which has really become a key tool in Parker’s field. Because of this advance, he explains, there aren’t many opportunities for him to create an illustration without using CAD. Although CAD is helpful, Parker doesn’t regret doing his work the old-fashioned way. “I believe the lack of technology forced me to learn the fundamentals and helped me to build a strong foundation.”
In order to create IFU manuals, Parker has to research the product. It is important that he becomes an expert on the object he is writing about so he can make it easy for others to interpret his work. In order to write, illustrate, and publish the manuals, he must first communicate with several representatives from various other departments.
Parker talks to the engineers about what the product is and the essential information that users will need to know and understand. The engineers also provide parker with the CAD reference that he will need. The marketing department gives Parker the product names, part numbers, and customer information. Marketing also lets Parker know how many and which languages the manual will need to be translated to.
Parker’s designs also undergo input from the departments of Regulatory Affairs, Regulatory Sciences, Quality Engineers, and Electrical Approvals. Sometimes, Parker has to coordinate with the Legal and Packaging departments to figure out presentation of trademarks, as well as limits on page size and book thickness.
Parker’s favorite part of being a technical communicator is learning new skills and information. “I’m totally fascinated by mechanical devices and physics. Being a technical communicator allows me to spend time with engineers and learn everything about how our products work,” he said.
Developing this passion for his career has contributed to Parker’s success. He advises future technical communicators to be educated in the skills they need to obtain to be the best they can. “Be sure to spend some time developing good verbal communication skills. The role of the technical writer involves so much more than the written word. Just like any job, you will need to be able develop relationships, gain respect, and advance your career through networking.”