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How I Became a Technical Communicator
2007, Q3 (October 01, 2011)

All Paths are Different

By Simon Bate

{img src="img/wiki_up/simonbate.jpg" alt="Simon Bate" desc="Simon Bate}

I didn't grow up to be an Information Developer (or a Publishing Tools specialist, for that matter). I wanted to be a number of things, but always got turned on by computers and programming. Unfortunately I went to college during the dim time when there was no such thing as an undergraduate Computer Science major. After thrashing around as a math major in upper-division computer science classes (and not doing well, to boot), I took a light semester. I took a course in Geology, a course in Economics, and a course in Science Fiction writing with Joanna Russ. I vowed that I would major in the course in which I got an A. Perhaps I had the system sussed out at last.

I got an A+ in Geology. My path was set.

That same spring, I applied for a summer job at IBM. Because I hadn't settled on a major, I said I was an English major. After working for two weeks as a builder's go-fer I got a call from IBM. I was told I would be interviewing for two jobs: driving a forklift on the loading bay and working in a publications department (they noticed my major). They asked, if both managers liked me, which job would I prefer? The choice was obvious, but my path now had a fork in it.

Unfortunately I went to college during the dim time when there was no such thing as an undergraduate Computer Science major.
Once I started in the publications team, my ability to write and my knowledge of computers fit perfectly. I was asked back for a second summer. The summer after that I wrote "solo" for a small company in Denver. During my senior year I applied for jobs in Geology and Computer Technical Writing. The geologists saw my computer science experience and instantly pigeonholed me in computer processing of geophysical data. As a budding paleontologist, I found the geophysics stuff boring.

Connections are so important. I sent applications for technical writing jobs to many companies on the East and West coast. During that time, my father crossed paths with a fellow who worked for Digital Equipment Corporation, who suggested I send in my resume. His group had no need for technical writers, but when he received my resume, he ran it across the street to the VAX/VMS software development team. DEC flew me out to Massachusetts for an interview (what a different world!) and made me an offer the following week.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Simon can be reached at sbate at scriptorium dot com. End of article.

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