A typical day

October 29, 2008

The prolific Susan Wu described her “Typical Day as a Technical Writer” last March. At the risk of boring you to death, I will do the same here.

8:24 am
Pat dogs, kiss husband, and leave home for work. Listen to Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography on CD in the car. Tears come to my eyes when Schulz’s mother says to Charles as she is dying of cancer, “If we get another dog, let’s call him Snoopy.” What a way to start the day.

8:45 am
Arrive at work and boot up computer knowing it will take at least 15 minutes before I can read e-mail. Brings to mind the article in Sunday’s New York Times about this universal annoyance. Researchers are working on a cure.
Two of the four writers on my team will be in the office today. The other two work for other clients on Tuesdays.
Grab a cup of tea in the kitchen. For the second day in a row I find free cupcakes on the counter. Can I resist?

9:00 am
Head down to CIO’s office with my director and the other manager in my group. This is a weekly meeting where we report on what we’re doing. Currently I have about 10 separate projects creating user guides, online Help, training materials, and training content. The other manager is in charge of records management and has even more projects underway. As the meeting wraps up we lament our diminishing 401Ks and our increasing years until retirement.

On the way back to my office I run into a friend from our California office who is in town for meetings this week. We went through some hectic times last year on another project so it’s great to see her again.

10:00 am
Read, answer e-mail, and listen to voice mail, rewrite my to-do list.

Unsubscribe from three lists I never signed up for. My title is Manager, Technical Communications and lots of people think I’m in Telecommunications. Further evidence that everyone just skims instead of reading today.
Howard from Atlanta STC asks if I’ve reserved a room for the November Council meeting. I confirm.  

Another former co-worker has asked to link up with me on LinkedIn. I accept. Hurray, I’m have over 200 connections now. 

10:30 am
Call internal customer who needs our help writing a brief user guide and back-end manual. Discuss deadlines, who will be single point of contact, etc. Call writer to ask if she has bandwidth to take this on. She does not. Consider who else to assign to this job.

Another manager on my floor pops his head in the door to say that I have to move my contractor who is squatting in one of “his” cubes. Luckily, there is another vacant cube for him to move. Otherwise, he’s condemned to the cramped “bull pen.” I dutifully submit a move request and inform the employee. He’s cool with it.

11:00 am  
Receive a draft of a user guide from one of my off-site writers. Begin editing.

Phone rings. Someone from Legal needs another online course set up ASAP. I promise the world and then look at my list of projects and my calendar to see how I can deliver.

Manager of contracting firm e-mails to ask how his employee is doing. I send back a glowing report.

11:30 am
We are preparing to deliver an instructor-led course to employees on Word 2007. I’m reviewing the outline we created and thinking about useful exercises. 

12:00 pm 
Lunch bell rings (in my head).
I decide to do something I’ve been thinking about for several days. Next door they are building a mixed-use development. Today it’s just a big hole with a big pile of dirt next to it. I go to the top of the parking deck and take a picture. Resolve to take one picture each day until the structure is built. Then I’ll put it on YouTube (or something).  What the hell, I’ll get some exercise walking to the 8th floor and back each day.

Grab a salad at the cafeteria in the next building. While I’m eating, check out Twitter.

12:30 pm
Write short set of instructions needed to update our timekeeping manual and online Help. Determine appropriate environment (dev, UA, QA, or TRAIN) to capture screenshots, which user to represent, dates to choose, etc. 

Finish editing the document I began this morning and send to writer. 

2:00 pm
Daily meeting for one of my key projects. It’s not an Agile project, but sometimes it feels that way. 

2:15 pm
Finalize travel plans for trip to NY plant in early December.  Answer more e-mail and go in search of answers to other queries.

3:00 pm
Weekly one-on-one with most senior (in years, not age) employee. She is wearing several hats and overworked, too. I offer help, consolation, cheap advice. We agree to a cram session on the Word classes in late December when most people are out of the office.

3:45 pm
Husband calls to say he’s taking the dogs to walk on the river. Would I leave early to join them? I sigh and decline. Confirm that we’ll have salmon for dinner and green peas. Check out the stock market while I’m talking to him. The Dow is up!!

4:00 pm
Go to the kitchen to wash out my tea mug and notice that two of the six Halloween cupcakes are still on the counter. Take deep breath and return to desk sans cupcake.

4:05 pm
Call contact in Accounting who promised to deliver training content to us today. She confirms she will send it today.
Stop by “hotel cube” where my friend from California is catching up on e-mail. We talk about pets, holidays, travel. She has dinner plans with other out-of-towners who are here for the big Operations meeting tomorrow.

4:20 pm
Return to office to see that Accounting training file is in my Inbox. Grab another cup of tea and begin reviewing. What kind of graphics can we use for this stuff?

5:00 pm
Another look at e-mail. Ann from the STC Management SIG promises to get the candidate bios to me soon. Someone sends me a job opening for a tech writer. I forward it to several people.

Open folder where I send all e-mails for top project. Click through to see if anything is relevant to me. Nada. Delete all.

Another e-mail from the same project pops in with question: “User wants to know what reports are available to her in the application.” I write back, “See the online Help for details on all available reports.” I suppose it never occurred to them to check the Help. Bleeaaah!

Review schedule for tomorrow. Review what I didn’t do on my to-do list. Add a few more things I forgot about.

Check out my sister’s blog. She’s in Japan visiting her daughter who’s teaching English north of Tokyo.

6:00 pm
Pack up and leave. Nearly collide with one of the company’s head honchos on my way out of parking ramp. Rats.

6:30 pm
Home!

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Time to stop blogging?

October 21, 2008

Yes, it’s been a while since I last checked in.

This article from Wired magazine struck a familiar chord, but it doesn’t completely describe my funk. It points out that Facebook, Flikr, and Twitter are becoming the preferred social networking channels for individuals. I’m not blogging, but it’s not because I’m Twittering, Flikring, or Facebooking instead.

The article also says that today, it’s almost impossible for a single individual to be a big-time blogger. But that was never my goal in the first place and still isn’t.

Technical communication is and will always be a small niche in the blogosphere. Since we are writers by profession, more and more of us have started blogs. I’ve been reading some of them and they are pretty good. I slowed down partly because I didn’t think I had much to contribute to the conversation.

But the blogging conversation is different than a conversation at a dinner party or even on a listserve. In those situations if someone says, “Consider the oyster,” and you just happened to also be contemplating oysters, you would look foolishing saying, “I want to talk about oysters.”

In the blogosphere—even the narrow tech comm corner of the blogosphere—there is room for two, or even five or ten simultaneous oyster diatribes because we all have different audiences with some overlapping on the edges. If we are truly speaking in our own voice, we won’t be talking about oysters in exactly the same way. This may or may not be useful to our audience.

I began blogging as a way to reach out to the STC chapter in Atlanta when I was president two years ago. I had a lot of fun with it and decided to continue. I like to write and I like to share things I’ve learned or seen or thought about. Sometime over the summer I lost my inspiration. Then I felt guilty as each week passed without a blog post.

When I read the Wired article today I thought, “What the heck? There may not be any pearls inside this oyster, but I’m still swimming along in the STC/tech comm tide with some opinions, thoughts, and observations.” So I will chug along here at a relaxed pace for a bit longer even though it is so 2004.