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A Straight Shot into Technical Communication
2011, Q4 (December 28, 2011)
By Meredith Kinder, Associate Fellow and Past STC Carolina Chapter President

Meredith Kinder
Meredith Kinder
When I hear stories of how people entered the technical communication field, they often start with “I never thought I would wind up doing what I do today…” My story is different. I have wanted to be a technical communicator since I was in high school, although at the time I didn’t even know that it was a profession.

When I was about 15, my mom packed up the car and we drove three hours to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC-G) for a technical writing information session. On the ride home, I explained to her that I wanted to create brochures and pamphlets that doctors could use to educate patients about health issues. I felt drawn to the challenge of communicating information that some people perceived as complicated. I wanted to help patients understand medical issues by boiling down information to only the essentials and using pictures and drawings to help them see relationships and draw conclusions.

A few years later, while pursuing an undergraduate degree in English literature at UNC-Chapel Hill, I became obsessed with learning about and using emerging technology. (This was in 1992-1996, the beginning of the boom of the technology era!) Simultaneously, I struggled in the biology classes that I was taking to support the dream of doing medical writing — which, by the way, had grown from doing brochures to writing for professional medical journals.

Following my interest in technology, I signed up for a technical writing class whose teacher was a visiting professor from IBM. At that point, I decided to pursue technical writing rather than medical writing. However, UNC-Chapel Hill only offered a minor in technical writing, not a major. I knew that graduate school was in my future.
I am fulfilling my dream of helping people by communicating complex information in a way that they can easily understand.

In North Carolina State University’s Master of Science program in Technical Communication, I learned the theories behind technical writing, more about graphic design than I could ever teach myself, and how to write a thesis. I was prepared to enter the workforce.

Before I graduated from NCSU, I scored a job as “technical communication lead” with a small (I was employee #7) human factors consulting company in Cary. There, I wrote user manuals for VCRs, DVDs, two-way radios, and this new-fangled thing called an HDTV. I also helped run usability tests and write the resulting reports and run focus groups. It was fun and educational and fueled my passion to become a great technical writer.

After five years of working for the small company, I took a job offer at SAS Institute Inc. (which employs 10,000 worldwide) documenting software. For four years I maintained a user guide and various other pieces of documentation for one statistical software product, but I craved to be back in the consulting world. I moved into a different position at SAS, this time in the Professional Services Division (Consulting) helping document the services that technical consultants provide to customers in the health and life sciences industry. Since that time, we have gone through a reorganization, and I am now documenting services across all industries and all products that we offer.

I mostly create requirements documents based on information collected during face-to-face workshops and online discussions with customers about their pain points, needs, and what they want to see SAS software do for them. I also create system administration guides, design documents, online help, and services proposals. I love the variety and I love the challenge of learning new technology all of the time.

My story might not have the twists and turns that most have, but I can say that it is a focused one. It might not be sexy. Okay, it’s definitely not sexy, but I am certainly fulfilling my dream of helping people by communicating complex information in a way that they can easily understand.

Meredith can be reached at meredith dot kinder at sas dot com. End of article.

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