Computer Software/Hardware, Manufacturing/Industry
By Keisha Reynolds
“The tools don’t make the writer, and they haven’t changed the fundamental writing process,” says Peggy Frizzo. She found herself falling in loving with writing during college, although it took her a while to realize her path, which somewhat fell right into her lap. In this conversation, she allows us to see the path she took to becoming a tech writer, and offers two pieces of advice for our readers and those interested in the field.
Question: What is your Job title and description?
Peggy: My job position is Technical Writer. I coordinate all facets of technical writing projects for software product and project manuals and other areas as assigned. I also provide technical support, guidance, editing, and other services to help establish and ensure suitability, uniformity, consistency, and technical accuracy among related documents that are prepared by other technical writers. Plus, I must maintain expertise in software product and project manuals and other areas as available.
Q: Where did you attend college and what is your level of education?
P: I received a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University [Indiana].
Q: What inspired you to become a tech writer?
P: I have a degree in English, but wasn't sure what I was going to do with it. I just fell into the field of technical writing.
Q: What was your first job as a tech writer?
P: I was hired to do technical training, but there were no materials, so I wrote the training outlines, all the materials to go with the training, and some job aids and manuals to leave with my customers. (It wasn't until I started my current job almost 11 years ago that I knew there was such thing as a technical writer.)
Q: Did you face difficulties/ challenges becoming a tech writer? Would you do anything differently?
P: In documenting software I see usability issues with the applications I document. Working with the engineers who are creating the applications can be frustrating —when I know my input could improve the software product in an important way, but they don't care or don't have time to consider changes. But, overall, no.
Q: What is the best part of being a tech writer?
P: I'm not a creative person. If I had to write short fiction I would flounder. I love writing procedures and clearly describing technical things — pretty geeky, but true!
Q: How as technology affected your career, such as any software or hardware changes?
P: The software and hardware have the potential to makes us more efficient. A good computer, good software, and skill in developing efficiencies all go together (such as creating macros in Word to apply consistent formatting). I can't think of any whopping new changes in software or hardware that have had impact on me personally. I was happy to use WordPerfect for Windows 3.1 18 years ago, Microsoft Word 2003 serves me just fine now, and I'll upgrade to Word 2007 in a few weeks. None of the software and hardware changes were necessary from a writing point of view. The tools don't make the writer, and they haven't changed the fundamental writing process.
Q: What is your daily schedule like?
P: It varies, I work part time, 9 am to 3 pm Mondays and 6 am to 3 pm Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
Q: What is a typical day like for you? What tasks do you complete and what types of documents do you produce?
P: My primary responsibility is documenting the software our company develops. I use Microsoft Word to create documents, Jaws PDF Maker to make PDFs, and I use RoboHelp to create help files. To access the software interface so I can use it, review it, and document it, I frequently use Remote Desktop. When I am creating a customer version of the help and/or manuals, I usually connect to the customer’s server and start with a base document/help project to reflect the configurations and customizations for each customer. I mostly use email and IM to communicate with the SMEs (subject matter experts).
Q: Who are your clients, and how often do you communicate with them?
P: My clients are internal to our company – basically I am working for the product and project engineers. The engineers work with our end customer (Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Federal-Mogul, etc.) but it extremely rare for me to have contact with the end customer. I’m in contact with my internal clients frequently, however: several times a week, sometimes several times daily.
Q: Who do you collaborate and communicate with most often?
P: My TechComm coworkers and the product and project engineers.
Q: Do you have any specific stories about your career, or the path you took to get there?
P: My career happened to me instead of my seeking it out. In college I tried out several majors and finally landed on English with a minor in Business; they were the easiest for me. I had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated. A few weeks before graduation, a job offer fell into my lap. The person who contacted me about the job is someone I knew from college, and he knew I was a good writer and a hard worker with great communication and customer service skills.
Q: Can you offer one piece of advice for technical writing students, or anyone who is interested in the field?
P: Make sure you are good at it and that you love doing it. …whatever “it” is. Having a “can do” attitude is important but isn’t worth anything unless you follow through.