Interview with Mandy Morgan

Mandy is a sole technical writer who has been working primarily in software for the past five years.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t be afraid of the complicated subject matter that comes with technical writing. Learning and asking questions is part of the job.
  • When searching for jobs, make sure that your potential employer understands the value of what you offer as a tech writer.

What is the story of your technical writing career so far?

I have both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in technical communication. That was completely by chance. I started college and knew that I liked to write, but I never thought it would be something I could turn into a career. So I took an introduction to technical writing course at Missouri State University, and that kind of sealed my fate. I loved every aspect about it and then decided after four years and getting my undergrad degree that it wasn’t enough. Then it was during my master’s that I had to get an internship, and I got in touch with someone in Chicago through the Society for Technical Communication. I asked him, “If you could keep your ear to the ground for any internships that open up, please, let me know.” A few months later, I got my first, which was at a company called Relativity. I was there for about two or three months and then got the full time offer. So I started up quickly as a full time technical writer while wrapping up my master’s degree, and I was at Relativity for about a little over three years. Then I found myself wanting a little bit more responsibility, a little bit more of a challenge, so I went to another company as their first technical writer and got them spun up with their whole technical writing program and processes, got them their first knowledge base, both internally and externally. That led me to the company that I’m at right now, which is Sertifi. I’ve been here for about a year and a half, again, as their first and only technical writer.

Why did you pursue a masters degree instead of heading straight into the workforce?

What really drew me into that master’s program was the ability to do a lot of client based projects before setting out into the real world. I wanted a really strong foundation, so I would know what I was doing. And a lot of the graduate program at Missouri State has you actually looking with clients in a variety of different industries. I got to work on projects for nonprofits that included everything from website designs to brochures, all kinds of content. I worked with the Missouri State Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning and made them a user guide. I also had the opportunity to write a thesis, which was something that I found to be very exciting, being able to do my own research. I wrote my thesis about the need for technical writers in the medical field, specifically for patients with inflammatory bowel disease. I wanted to have that time and the ability to contribute my own research to the greater pool that was out there, but I also wanted to see those different industries that technical writing could be used in and see why technical writers are important.

What has your experience been working as a lone writer?

It’s definitely challenging. I went from a very large company with a very large team of technical writers, that were respected for what they did, and everyone knew the role of a technical writer. When you come to a smaller company that’s a start up as a lone writer, I think you’re pulled in a lot of different directions to help with a lot of different things. I’m very fortunate in my position now that I have a couple of product owners that I bounce content ideas off of, and they humor me a little bit when I do that with them. But I really just find people that are interested in content, and care about it as much as I do, that I can bounce those ideas off of them and get their feedback. In a way, it can be challenging to not have other writers to talk to, but I feel like it’s also liberating in a sense. I get to have the control to make more executive decisions about content and the direction we’re going. I think it’s really cool to be able to influence that and have the support of my peers, because you are seen as the resident expert when you’re the lone writer

What advice do you have for aspiring technical writers looking to break into the field?

My advice would be, first and foremost, to not let the software intimidate you. I was very intimidated when I first started out, especially as a woman coming into the tech space. It’s very male dominated. I doubted myself quite a bit. But don’t be afraid of an industry that you might not be familiar with. One skill I think all tech writers have is the ability to learn and learn quickly and learn things well. Even though writing within these domains might be a challenge, I don’t think it’s something that’s out of the tech writer’s reach.

I would also say don’t limit yourself. Take up every opportunity to learn something new, especially if you ever find yourself in the lone writer position. Not only are you going to be producing written content, but you might have to do training videos and some video editing and, making infographics, and designing those types of content. It was never something I was necessarily great at, but I’ve continued to learn, grow, and put myself out there to try new things. I think tech writers are some of the most adaptable people out there to see a content problem and come up with a very creative and informative solution for other people to learn. You’re more than someone that just produces an instruction guide. You’re someone who can take content, synthesize it, and make somebody else’s life a lot better and a lot easier. I think that’s something to be proud of.

I think my last little nugget would be, as you go to break into the field or get started as a technical writer, make sure that the places that you interview for truly understand what you do and what the responsibilities of a technical writer are. If you find that a potential employer doesn’t truly understand, help them to get there. I think technical writers can be a huge asset in explaining kind of what we do, Why we do it, and what our responsibilities are. So I think it’s very important that potential employers understand that, especially when they’re hiring. But also, the technical writer should be strong and be the expert giving advice to whatever potential employer about what they should be doing, their responsibilities as a tech writer, and where their expertise lies.

Mandy goes by Mandy Morgan on the Write the Docs Slack group. You can find her in the #meetups and #lonewriter channels.