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Mentoring as a Two-Way Street
2005, Q3 (July 06, 2007)
By Andy Smith and Bill Albing

A good mentoring relationship can be a boost of professional development for the participant and the mentor alike, and should be a part of life for those involved in this dynamic profession. When Andy Smith was looking for direction when considering a career adjustment, he contacted the STC Carolina mentoring program and was put in touch with Bill Albing, who had volunteered to serve as a mentor. Andy was interested in learning more about technical writing, and met with Bill to get his input on some basic questions:
  • Was technical writing a good fit for his skills?
  • How does one make a transition from a current job and skill set to a new one?
  • What is the general outlook on the profession?

Bill had an engineering background and over a dozen years of experience as a technical writer. He gave advice on the need for good communications skills in a technical workforce, the emergence of XML as a trend of separating content from presentation, and gave a generally positive outlook for this changing profession. This discussion also gave Andy an idea of creating an XML resource center to help fellow professionals with less exposure to XML break into the technology. Bill recognized that not everyone that likes to write grows into a good technical writer, but Andy seemed genuinely interested in becoming more a technical communicator than his current job allowed. Since many of us come into the profession from other disciplines and backgrounds, Bill tried his best to encourage Andy without promising that a new job would solve all of Andy's concerns. Andy relates his work with Bill

"Bill gave great input about technical writing and helped me decide to move into the field. We continue to work together now that I have entered the field. Bill has given excellent advice on how to develop my skills as a technical writer and has challenged me to give back to the professional community in my local area. He has been very generous with his time and ideas, and he is a big part of the reason I made the move into this career path. I work for a major manufacturer now in a group that is using cutting-edge publishing technologies and it really feels right."

As they worked together on the XML resource center, sometimes only by exchanging ideas over e-mail, and sometimes meeting for lunch to discuss jobs and career choices, Andy learned about XML and gained a lot of confidence in his choice of career direction. Bill also learned a lot about some emerging technologies and his own sense of where our profession is heading. Though it's difficult to apply abstract labels like technical writing or technical communication or content engineering to capture all that we do professionally, it is more tangible to talk with a fellow professional, and this relationship is the value of a mentoring program.

In a profession that does not have clear discipline boundaries or many built-in mentorships with professors and internships, most professionals in technical communication depend on fellow professionals as mentors. Whether you join a mentorship program, such as the one offered by the STC Carolina Chapter, or you relate with a fellow professional in an informal way, the role of more experienced professionals in the career development of beginning professionals should not be underestimated. The benefit works in both directions and is essential to the continuing growth of our profession as we share our insights with the next generation.

If you are interested in either finding a mentor or serving as a mentor in our area, visit our Mentoring page.

Andy Smith now serves as the manager of the Carolina Chapter mentoring program and can help you cultivate a great mentoring experience. He can be reached at drewdevlin at yahoo dot com. Bill Albing can be reached at Bill dot Albing at keycontent dot org. End of article.

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