What should I do with my life?
August 4, 2007 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I need help figuring out how to shift my career into something I will love. Right now I am a technical writer, but after some deep thought I have realized that there are a few specific things that make me unsatisfied with this work.

Right now I am a technical writer and have been in this position for almost 2 years now. I love the company I work for, and the position I am in is one I had wanted for awhile prior. I actually have a BS in Technical Writing as well.

I am good at what I do, which is writing manuals for end-users of my company's software products. However, lately I have found it increasingly hard to concentrate and have to argue with myself to get stuff done.

I realized that maybe this just isn't the field for me. The three things that make me sort of depressed about it are:

1) Not enough active interaction with other people. In past positions, I had always enjoyed being a part of a team, bouncing ideas off of each other, etc. Now I just feel like an outsider ... I will spend some time with one team to learn their product, and then go to document it. It's very, very lonely.

2) Not enough problem solving. My favorite thing to do, the thing that thrills me to no end, is to identify and work on solving a problem of some sort. I suppose you could make an argument that technical writing solves information/documentation problems, but it's not an urgent enough or satisfying enough problem to solve. I will easily and cheerfully work my ass off when I'm trying to resolve a problem with some urgency.

3) I'm pretty much invisible. My boss appreciates me greatly, I know, as do some of the project managers. But overall, I feel like a very unimportant cog in my company. I used to, when I worked in the customer service dept, feel indispensible, like people relied on me. I find it very hard to worry about letting people down at this point because people rarely think much about the documentation.

So... what should I do with my life? What can I start doing in my current position to prepare me for a shift towards a career that will make me feel more satisfied. Or what can I do to make myself enjoy my current position more?

My overall plan is to:

(1) Find something I would love to do.
(2) Continue in my current position doing the best I can, and try to take on some extra responsibilities that might relate to my future goal. Also maybe try to do some work on the side that might apply to my future career path.
(3) Once I have developed a good portfolio & have done some more professional development, I'd like to start applying for different positions within my company or if none are available , then outside of my company.

I could really use your help in deciding what I should be doing with my life!

Here's what I'm good at:
Problem solving, dealing with difficult people, working in a team, leading a team, writing, presenting, identifying problems, solving problems, brainstorming, and while I am not a programmer, I am able to learn about highly technical things quickly for the purpose of writing or explaining.

Here's what I'm not good at:
Selling things, Traveling a lot (makes me cranky!), Number crunching, Being on the phone 24/7, actual programming.

I would love any advice. Thanks so much!
posted by dumbledore69 to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I used to be a copywriter for small companies, which ended up including some amount of technical writing because I was one of the few people at the company with the skills to instruct our customers through writing.

I also loved the problem-solving aspects of my job, and those all come through the customer-service writing work I did. Usually it was things like "How do explain this new thing in a way that makes it look like a benefit to the customer, rather than the money-saving move it actually is?" or "How do I respond to this complain in a fair, friendly way?" We also were in the process of creating a wiki for customers to use to answer some of their questions, and trying to combine the customer-service aspect and CYA-corporate aspect was an interesting writing challenge.

All of this to say: Can you take on more of the customer-service role through your writing, or propose additions to your companies websites where you could interact with customers? I don't think it would be totally unusual for one writer to be working on both the tech and service sides, since I've done it at many places.
posted by occhiblu at 9:38 AM on August 4, 2007

I've worked as a factchecker and a tech editor, either of which would be a perfect match with your skills. Unfortunately, I suspect that neither pays as well as your current job.

Can you become an editor, supervising writers, still working in your current field?
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:04 AM on August 4, 2007

Response by poster: I guess what I failed to emphasize in my OP is that I don't want to be a writer anymore. Or an editor. Or a fact checker.

I am happy to DO those things as part of a larger picture, but I just don't really see an opportunity for personal growth when it comes to just being a technical writer or an editor. You write something, you update something, you send it out into the wild, and it's done.

I suppose maybe something like writing proposals might not be as bad though since there is a more urgent aim for that type of documentation. Does anyone have any experience with that?
posted by dumbledore69 at 10:14 AM on August 4, 2007

Response by poster: Unfortunately, I suspect that neither pays as well as your current job.

Yeah...that's another problem. I can't take a job that would pay less than $50k at this point (in the Boston area). I'd rather do something fun for free, believe me.
posted by dumbledore69 at 10:15 AM on August 4, 2007

I think you want to be a business analyst. You can learn technical stuff quickly and communicate with developers, but also write stuff people can understand. BAs work with customers/business teams to understand their process needs and work with technical people to turn those into technical requirements. They also often do documentation on the finished projects and plan and implement education on the finished projects, at least, on smaller projects where there may not be dedicated tech writer.

It's a position that will make great use of your current skills, and involves significant problem solving and people contact.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:26 AM on August 4, 2007

I second jacquilynne's BA recommendation. BA's are always in demand, the position meets all of the needs you identified, and you will earn $20K more a year than you do now.

My background: former technical writer and translator (who hated the isolation) now working doing market research and project management, with a heavy focus on tech HR.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 AM on August 4, 2007

also, software program manager
posted by Good Brain at 11:03 AM on August 4, 2007

Former tech writer and trainer, now proposal manager... if you think you might be good at sales/marketing but want to make good use of your writing skills, this is a good option.

(If you want to talk about proposal management, e-mail is in my profile.)

Also, nthing the Business Analyst idea.
posted by enrevanche at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

How about project management? Good project managers should be able to document everything and have a keen sense of organization, as well as the ability to develop a clear understanding of projects from the nuts-and-bolts to 30K-foot view. And project managers never have a chance to be lonely.

I started out in user-facing web-software documentation eight years ago, bounced through marketing and content acquisition editing & proposal management for a few years, and now I'm doing project management full time for web projects. I write a lot of requirements documents and correspondence, and the writing background helps immensely. I also get to interact with client technical teams, programmers, and sales. I really disliked the part of technical writing that entailed scribbling in a dark corner, wilting.

Your backround in technical writing and your ability to document and explain technical topics could be indispensable as a project manager. If you'd like to stay in your current company and check it out, start branching out into some project management tasks -- perhaps helping with QA, legal, release-related projects, etc. Make contacts, and let those contacts know you're available to help out with additional tasks.

Also, consider training. I have several friends who were able to cross over from documentation to training. You may be able to train, in fact, on the software you've documented, and offer more insight than a trainer delivering a straight script. Other friends are enjoying proposal mangement. And if you really, really end up enjoying phone time, you may also try technical sales -- essentially, helping the sales process along by helping client technical teams understand technical aspects of products or systems.

Good luck!
posted by mochapickle at 11:30 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your feedback. Business Analyst sounds like it could be very appealing to me. How would I go about shifting towards that career path? What experience will I need? Are there any resources you can recommend for me to learn more about this field?

Also project management is very appealing to me. I'm trying to branch out to sort of take on more project management tasks, but it's a sticky area in my company. People are very concerned with having their toes stepped on, so there are only a few projects a year I can take a leadership/organizational role in and not step on anyone's toes.
posted by dumbledore69 at 11:44 AM on August 4, 2007

Response by poster: I also thought about going into training, because I do love explaining in person how things work. However, once I pinpointed that the lack of urgency was a problem with my current work, I can see that being a very similar issue in training. I think once I trained/taught for a couple years it would become as grueling and boring as I find technical writing.
posted by dumbledore69 at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I recommend going to a career counselor. According to The National Board of Certified Counselor's CounselorFind search engine there are four career counselors in New Hampshire (where you live, according to your userpage). Here they are and their phonenumbers:

Nancy Cramer Webb, Durham, NH
(603) 868-1241

Carlotta J Willis, Keene, NH
(603) 357-3122

Susan B Posluszny, New Boston, NH
(603) 487-2952

Maureen M Ross, Pelham, NH
(603) 635-3647

I recommend calling one of them, ask for more information about them and possibly setting up an appointment. Career counselors have expertise in helping people discover what they want to do as a career and can help you figure out how to get there.
posted by Kattullus at 2:13 PM on August 4, 2007

Are there actual BAs at your company now? Or people with other titles that fill the roles I described? It's often a position people sort of sidle into from a business role--they get tapped to provide requirements and work on process mapping because they're experts in executing the processes--or a technical role--they understand the systems but also manage to speak whatever dialect of business jargon the client organizations speak. It's becoming more prominent as a role unto itself, with certifications and conferences and stuff, but it's still developing so there may not be anyone in your organization who does it, exactly, but if you're in a technical business, there's almost certainly someone(s) who do that work.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:27 PM on August 4, 2007

Something you can start doing right away, if you pitch it to your boss correctly, is work with your sales team on proposals and tenders. These documents need all your tech writing skills, require super creative problem solving, and usually involve bid teams in the development (say sales, tech, legal, finance etc.).
If you can start doing a little bit, you can edge your way into project managing the whole process - bid management is what it is called in the UK and AU, but judging from google it is called something else in the USA, maybe proposal development?
Its what I do, is well paid, has a different project every few weeks or months and involves a lot of personal interaction.
The only hesitation I would have is you stated you don't like selling. Is this a reluctance to do the customer facing selling, or that you are not good at the strategy/proposition and find it all a mystery? If the first, you should not be concerned, but if the second, you probably won't be able to do the problem solving the job requires.
Email is in my profile if you would like more info, I'd be happy to answer questions about what I do etc.
posted by bystander at 3:53 AM on August 5, 2007

work with your sales team on proposals and tenders. These documents need all your tech writing skills, require super creative problem solving, and usually involve bid teams in the development

And urgency, lots and lots of urgency. Responses to tenders usually involve a strict deadline, and if the proposal writing team isn't a well oiled machine, all night sessions are pretty normal..
Okay, okay.. I don't really know how normal it is.. When I did this for a while, the company went from near chaos, to well oiled machine, as the process was ironed out. Later on, there were still serious deadlines, but the whole office all nighters were no longer necessary.
posted by Chuckles at 12:00 PM on August 5, 2007

« Older Help me help my boyfriend   |   Picky Eremite Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.