After going back to school in 1999, I received an IT diploma and decided that, combined with my BA in English Literature (1987), I might find work in technical writing. I knew I didn’t want to work the long hours expected of software programmers. So in 2000, at the age of 35, I reinvented myself and became a technical writer. When people asked me what I did, I said I wrote the software documentation that companies were legally required to provide but which nobody read.
When the big software company bought the small company I was working for in 2006, I expected only the programmers (and not the little technical writer) would get job offers. But I was given an interview and a job offer too. I moved from Canada to the US along with seven other employees (all guys). When I retired this year, I was the last one of the eight who was still working for the big company there: four had moved back to Canada, three remained in the US but had left to work for different companies. I was the last (wo)man standing.
After only three years there, it was obvious that the technical writing field in online software products was rapidly changing and fewer and fewer technical writers and editors would be needed. My manager, also seeing the writing on the wall, arranged an interview for me in a different role that he thought would be a good fit. It was a big decision but I made the shift out of technical writing at that time.
I’ve been reminded of my experience lately because I have looked to the paper and online instruction manuals for my tiny house appliances (trucker fridge, propane cooktop, composting toilet, woodstove, propane hot water heater, propane regulator, PV system monitor) during my (still) steep learning curve. I have found all the documentation … lacking. The troubleshooting sections in particular are sparse and encourage readers to phone for assistance!
I have been imagining the helpful notes I would add to the documentation.
For example, under the description for the on-demand propane hot water heater’s feature that prevents water pipes from freezing:
Important: The freeze protection function may cause the heater to TURN ON AUTOMATICALLY for the first time at 2 AM during a cold November night causing you to awake at the loud strange noise and the unmistakable sound of propane being ignited and to think WTF? WTF? WTF?
For the beautiful Danish woodstove:
Important: This small, efficient woodstove may be quite different from woodstoves you’ve used previously. After reading the entire manual and before lighting a fire, we recommend watching videos posted on youtube. Otherwise when you finally get the woodstove working optimally for the first time on a windy day, you may scream “Sweet Mother of Pearl it’s an INFERNO!” while reaching for the fire extinguisher.
With a sense of propriety, I’ll skip my initial suggestions for the composting toilet documentation.
Seriously though? I’m a former technical writer gaining first-hand experience with these tiny house components. The documentation needs help. If I want a paying contract job in retirement, I’ve found it.
References and related links:
- IT: Information Technology.
- PV: photovoltaics. Tiny house is mainly sun-powered.
- WTF: What The Fudge?