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A Winding Road to Tech Comm
2013, Q2 (July 08, 2013)
Robert Perry
Robert Perry, Incoming Secretary
As I read Meredith Kinder’s account of her career path, I remembered thinking how nice it must have been to have known your calling from the very beginning. My path to a career as a Technical Communicator took quite a few twists and turns until I finally landed in a position where I knew that I was doing what I was meant to do—taking complicated, technical data and transforming it into understandable, helpful information.

I was always torn between science and English in high school, and that split continued into college. Eventually I felt that a degree in chemistry would be more prudent than one in English, and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a BA in Chemistry, with enough electives in Literature to almost double major. I was hired as a Development Scientist at a pharmaceutical company, and although I was excited by the prospects of working in the industry, I soon discovered that unless you have an advanced degree, you are relegated to performing rather mundane and routine tests and procedures.

I also discovered that most technical people don’t like to write and don’t have the skills to do so. Part of me still longed for writing essays and compositions and I soon found myself volunteering to write the reports and procedures that were necessary in the work place…and I liked it. I was taking complicated results and transforming them into comprehensive reports, and I was also developing step-by-step procedures and instructions for others to follow.

As this was the early 1990s, I wasn’t aware of the growing field of technical communication. I just kept taking on more and more writing responsibilities. While working as a chemist at an environmental testing firm, I started looking into the possibilities and soon learned about a technical writing program at North Carolina State University. I decided to go to back to school part-time and get my master’s degree. The company I worked for was onboard, helped pay for my schooling, and was excited to be getting a technical writer.

I graduated from state with my Masters about the same time of the government shutdown in the mid '90s and the company I worked for started going under. I was fortunate to get a job as the lone technical writer at a medical device/software company—my first real job as a technical writer. I took all of my rhetorical insight from school, my practical knowledge from work, and my own personal excitement and started my new career without hesitation or doubt. It was the best thing I have ever done and I have never looked back.

I had an amazing career at the medical device/software company and forged a very talented and respected department that output clean, concise, coherent, and award-winning documentation. I also became active in the Society for Technical Communication and continued to grow and learn with our ever changing and evolving industry.

Unfortunately, management got swept up with the off-shoring craze that seemed to hit most software companies in the early 2000s, and our department was targeted. I was quite proud of the work I and my team accomplished and found it very difficult to leave it behind, but I decided to venture off to New York City to gain experience in the financial data industry. After four very successful years in New York I decided it was time to return to NC where I am currently employed at SAS in the JMP division.

I have enjoyed watching my field grow and explode into so many different areas and opportunities, and become more respected over the years. I thoroughly enjoy what I do and can’t imagine a more perfect fit and career for myself.

Robert can be reached at robert dot perry at jmp dot com. End of article.

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