I’m taking an adoption break this week, and focusing on something I’ve never really talked about before: what I do for work and how that came to be.
I went to Carnegie Mellon, initially intending to major in Professional Writing, but to try and get into the College of Fine Arts. I wanted to be an actress. I auditioned three times for the Drama program, and I never made it. A lot of people don’t. Anyway… I had a wonderful advisor, Barbara. She convinced me to apply for the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program. I did, largely because – and I’m not making this up – BHA students didn’t have to take Calculus. There were other reasons as well, but that was the selling point. I was accepted into the program, and declared my majors in Professional Writing and Performance Studies.
My plan back then was to become a theatre critic, if acting didn’t pan out. The summer before my junior year of college, I remained on campus working for Computing Skills Workshop. We had three or four students developing Authorware presentations – interactive training. I created the instructors’ books, which told the instructors what the interactions were, as well as the major points to teach.
I loved it. I was getting paid more than minimum wage to do this job, too. After a heart to heart with a good friend, I realized that I wasn’t going to be a working actress, ever. I loved acting, but I didn’t want it to be my job. And I didn’t want to spend years eating macaroni and cheese in New York or Los Angeles, either. I decided to become a technical writer.
Now, because I was a junior, I never officially changed my major. I was still Professional Writing. If I had switched to Technical Writing, I would have had to take three semesters of science and, yes, the dreaded Calculus. By staying in Professional Writing, I could still take Online Information Design and Planning and Testing Documents, which is really where I wanted to be.
My favorite professor at CMU was Don Marinelli. Don was one of the founding members of the Entertainment Technology Center. Don once wrote on a paper of mine that I “had the makings of an excellent scholar.” He took me aside after class one day and told me I should apply to the ETC. The problem was, I was at CMU primarily on loans and grants. My parents didn’t have the money to send me to grad school, and I didn’t know if I could – or should – borrow more, hustle for more grants, go deeper into debt. The tech bubble was building. I had Netscape and Oracle involved in a minor bidding war. Ultimately, the salary Netscape offered me was almost twice what my mother made each year. I couldn’t say no to that. At least, I didn’t say no to that.
One of my deepest regrets is that I chose short-term cash over long-term goals. I hate that I didn’t go to grad school. I honestly feel like I let Don down.
I was pompous at Netscape, a real know-it-all. I cried in the bathroom a few times, when I was told that we wouldn’t be able to use my ideas because they just didn’t fit into the schedule. I also couldn’t grasp the fact that, when the editor was critiquing my work, she wasn’t critiquing me. It was years before I got that.
Netscape laid off half of its workforce, and I was one of that crowd. I had worked there for six months. I went back to Pittsburgh for a week or two. I was depressed. I wanted to write a book to teach kids how to use computers. I wanted to see my friends. That trip was actually fairly depressing in itself.
Through my then-friend Jeff, I ended up interviewing at and working for Hotmail, which had just been bought by Microsoft, where Jeff was part of the team integrating Hotmail into the collective. Now, Jeff and I often referred to one another as brother and sister – I really felt like he was the brother I never had. Someone at Hotmail was chatting with me one day and remarked at how we didn’t look anything alike. Apparently, Jeff had told the hiring manager that we were brother and sister. The hiring manager was pissed. Hotmail was big on nepotism, and I guess they felt Jeff and I had used that unfairly, or something. Anyway, I was crying a lot at Hotmail too, because being the only tech writer is lonely, especially when your manager doesn’t really know what a tech writer does. My favorite docs to write were the API docs, and my manager didn’t like me writing those, because they weren’t for his group.
I decided to leave Hotmail and move to New England, where I was quickly hired by eTravel. Again, I was the only technical writer. Again, I ended up crying a lot because no one in the company knew what I was supposed to do. I was forbidden from talking to the engineers. The CEO just wanted me to write a document that would make a loud thump when it hit the table. I wanted to do cutting edge, human interface based, accessible, XML-enabled, integrated help systems. They wanted a door stop.
Oracle bought eTravel. I found the Documentation Tools group when I had to archive my eTravel door stop to be published. There were no instructions, and the very nice woman who called me up to tell me I couldn’t archive a doc like that also happened to mention that she did dozens of calls like this one all the time. I found out who the manager was. I emailed her, and explained that I really thought DocTools could benefit from my kind of writing. She wrote me back, incredulous, her first sentence: “You WANT to work for DocTools?” She said they didn’t have any headcount, but she CCd her manager. Her manager had interviewed me at CMU a few years before, and remembered me. I was hired within the week.
I loved working for DocTools. My manager, Edna, taught me so much. For example, that people were not criticizing me when they were criticizing my writing. I loved my team. It was Edna, me, and four developers. I called them “my developers.” I got to work on my cutting edge, XML-enabled, user-centric docs.
And then I slipped on a patch of ice.
This part of the story I don’t tell publicly, as it doesn’t reflect well on anyone. My health was poor for several years. Managers don’t like that in employees. Ultimately, CRPS ruined my career at Oracle.
I left Oracle in 2005, and my main focus was adoption. After Jackson was born and came home, I thought I might start a business creating adoption profile scrapbooks. I had a business name, a domain name, a business plan… and then I found out how much debt we were in. Max had been handling the bills. I had just been assuming everything was fine. It wasn’t. I had to go back to “real” work.
I had an almost 3-year gap on my resume. One recruiter called me and asked “Why do you have this gap?” I replied, “Because I left to become a mother.” He hung up on me. Others weren’t quite that bad, but I did get a lot of hastily ended phone calls.
The day I accepted my offer from Avanquest – taking a massive pay cut from my Oracle days, because I was an idiot – I got two more offers. One was a contract position with a former Oracle co-worker. One was a full-time writer position at a start up in the city. I should have taken the latter. I don’t regret not taking it, because one can only regret so much. But yeah, hindsight is 20/20.
The less I say about working for Avanquest, the better. I was working 60-80 hour weeks for the entire summer of 2009. My mom died at the beginning of that summer. I didn’t actually have the time to process that until sometime in October. I asked to become a contractor, and to be paid the same rate as the other contractor who worked for AQ (and who felt the need to define a rectangle as “a square with a rectangular shape”). My request was granted.
At the beginning of 2011, I was on my way to the Stockton Children’s Museum with my friend Kelly. I got a call from a recruiter. She was looking for a FrameMaker expert for a 3-month gig in Sacramento. I explained that I couldn’t commute that far, but I’d be very willing and able to work from home. Apparently, she had to do quite a bit of talking to convince them to interview me. I came in. They needed someone to convert a 1,000 page book from InDesign to FrameMaker. I actually said, “You’re not – no, that’s bragging – but I guess you’re kind of supposed to brag about yourself in an interview, right? You’re not going to find anyone who is faster or better at this than I am.” They hired me.
I basically did their 3-month contract in 3 or 4 weeks. And, I got picked up to do more fun work with FrameMaker.
Cassie was born in October, in the middle of an indexing project for Sacramento. I finished the book in December, and was told there would be more work in the summer. Meanwhile, Avanquest restructured, and they no longer felt they needed me as a contractor. I was effectively unemployed. Sacramento never called that summer (they were restructured too). It was a very stressful time.
But Sacramento called about one month before Cassie’s first birthday. I spent her actual first birthday onsite there, getting the work I was to do for the rest of the season. I have continued to do project-based work for them ever since.
When Cassie turned two, I could go back to work full time. I found a job working for Not Bank of America. Although it got off to a rocky start, in the end, I truly liked my manager and co-workers. I would have worked for them full-time, but they would not hire in California. I did get them to extend my contract, so I worked there for 18 months.
At the same time I was working for Not Bank of America, I was looking for just the right full-time job. I found a posting on Glassdoor (I think) for a position that sounded amazing. I wrote an unorthodox cover letter, and I got an interview. Hooray! I only talked with the hiring manager for 20 minutes, though, and I didn’t feel like I had given him the answers he wanted to hear. I was incredibly surprised when I got an email message from HR, asking me to come in for a full day of interviews in the city.
After interviewing with the people at Clerity (not the real company name), I knew it was my dream job. Well, my realistic dream job, as no one is ever going to pay me to live in Disney World or a well-catered tropical locale and read books. However, I was soon upset – Max and I decided we needed to move to New Hampshire, due to SB277.
Clerity called me and offered me the job. I sighed and said that was great, but… my husband and I had decided to move to New Hampshire. The HR Angel said, “Last time I checked, they have the Internet in New Hampshire.”
I was not supposed to be the only tech writer at Clerity, but the current tech writer wanted to move into another position, so I’m sort of the only tech writer. I still love it. It’s chaotic, so I’m just trying to be steady – hold to the ground. I think I can do great things here.