Please tell us about yourself. (For example, your name, age and a brief early history. What do you do when you’re not doing technical writing?)
A former Sydneysider, now a Melburnian in my 40s. I like travelling a lot, been to China, Turkey, Russia, Germany, New Zealand. Worked as a high-school teacher, simultaneous interpreter, journo, documentation department manager, and even a bricklayer (for one day only in my uni days). When not writing, I am reading up on the history of the English language (can’t recommend more M. Forsyth’s Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language), or writing and self-publishing, via Kindle on Amazon, e.g. Laurasia: Edge of the World. That’s me, Alexander Timanyuk.
How did you get into technical writing? Was it by accident or on purpose?
It was a purposeful accident. Before coming into the technical writing fold, I have been working as a simultaneous interpreter and technical translator for over 7 years, but with the advent of automated translation tools like Wordfast, Trados, and other software suites, the jobs were dwindling away. A friend of mine recommended me for an entry-level position, I passed the interview, and got the job. That was way, way back in the ’90s, in a fine city of Kharkov.
How long have you been a technical writer?
Around 15 years.
Did you attend university? Which one? What course? How well did it prepare you?
A Teachers-Training Uni back in the former USSR; my major was ‘Russian and English Languages’, Master of Arts. My tertiary diploma gave me absolute no edge in the highly competitive technical comms marketplace. Mostly, ‘self-taught’ myself all I know: Coursera, Udemy, General Assembly, on-the-job training, books, conferences, webinars, online specs, whatnot. In fact, I would go as far as saying that most of those I had crossed paths with are self-starters.
What is your level of expertise including software packages and skills? How much was self-taught or learned on the job?
Pretty comfortable with any software suite out there: if I’d say, in-depth skills, that’s showing-off; if I’d say, good skills, it is false modesty, so let us go with the olde-worlde notion of ‘sprezzatura’, and say it is sufficient. : ) Self-taught – 70%; about 30% on-the-job.
What job was your favourite?
Rocket Software, Sydney. They care about Technical Communicators. Project were pretty challenging and rewarding, too (DITA-based).
What job was your least favourite?
A company where we had to stick to a really ill-designed content workflow just because… wait for it, ‘we always did it that way’.
What is the longest amount of time you have ever stayed with one company?
About 3 years, with Globallogic Software: I quit only because I was about to immigrate.
Do you work on contract or full or part-time? What type of work do you prefer?
Full-time contract. Used to prefer contract positions (variety is the spice of life, plus you get continuous and varied exposure to new skills, technologies, etc.). Getting longer in the tooth though, I begin to lean toward permanent positions: better chance of career growth, a more sound life-work balance.
Were you ever unemployed for a long time? If so, how did you handle it?
For about a year or so, when I had to go back from Australia to Ukraine to look after my nana. Luckily, the city had evolved into a major outsourcing hub, so was not too difficult to find a part-time job with a US subsidiary: quite a few software development and IT companies had opened their offices in the former Eastern Bloc countries, from Poland and Ukraine to Russia and China (the downside though is that employers are likely looking around to outsource your job as we speak, wink-wink, nudge-nudge). While said in jest, a lot of the stuff we use is now getting authored in countries where English is not the first language, from tech specs to even mission-critical heath-care user guides.
Where do you currently work?
AgilityCIS, as a Business Analyst. It is a great company to work for, and I am about to post a positive review on glassdoor.com.au
In addition to being paid money, how else has technical writing changed your life? (What are you passionate about? What part of technical writing do you enjoy and never stop talking about?)
Technical writing, or I’d rather prefer, information development, laid down pretty good people skills foundations. Nope, not kidding: having to chase up and investigate new features, questions, moot points, etc. takes a special kind of a person, like we all are: first and foremost, communicators. Technical, in fact, comes second. Minimalistic content design, DITA, positive user experience all float my boat, too. The other thing I could babble on for ages is metrics when applied to technical communication. Remember Peter Drucker’s ‘What you cannot measure, you cannot improve’?
Do you have any regrets regarding your career path?
Yes. My only regret is that maths is not my forte. Let me explain. We live in amazing times in the sense that the world is changing faster that we think. Just in my lifetime, I witnessed a nearly complete disappearance of a translator’s profession (most of the remaining translators morphed into nothing more but content curators); in January this year, a Japanese company announced, the first one worldwide, that their staff processing the incoming insurance claims would be completely replaced by artificial intelligence and neural networks mechanism (look it up on BBC). A similar thing will eventually happen to some of the aspects of Technical Communication, too, is just a matter of time. So I regret I don’t have the right mathematical and programming skills to play with and tinker around the Big Automation shift that’s happening now, and I did not learn them earlier in my career.
What is your most significant accomplishment as a technical writer?
Weeding out the duplicate content in the original user’s guide from nearly 400 pages to 220 while still adding the new content (and cutting down the time it took to find a topic by almost 60%), single-sourcing the most re-usable chunks of text by employing Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) framework (and thus making it easier to maintain for the next technical author!).
What do you consider to be the best possible work environment?
Where there is little office politics, plenty of challenging tasks, improvement and career opportunities. Oh, and a nice Espresso coffer-maker!
Who was the biggest influence in your career?
The API Technical Writing seminar by Sarah Maddox, Google. A continuous reminder to keep pushing the envelope.
What would be your ideal job?
Where one does not wake up one day with a knife between their shoulder-blades, i.e. little office politics and back-stabbing. I think that matters, but then again, it is just me.
Are you a member of any technical writing societies, mailing lists or websites? Do you contribute to the technical writing community in any way?
A member of quite a few Linked-In groups, plus a member of International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA); Swapnil Ogale’s ‘Write the Docs’ meet-up; just this December got certified in ‘Change Management’, plan to join this non-profit organisation, too. Did not contribute for a while, so giving it a go with this newsletter!
Are there any technical writing books, websites or other resources that you use often and would recommend?
Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
Do you have any advice for people trying to break into technical writing?
Start with an entry-level role, possibly, volunteer for a stint with a non-profit organisation, but whatever you aspire to, be it a tech communicator, compliance manager, instructional designer, API programmer writer, BA, etc. role, always ask yourself this question: where would that career path take me, say, in 10 years’ time?
Where do you see technical writing going in the future?
The question we keep asking ourselves all the time, at conferences, and recently in Southern Communicator… I think it will morph in a two-fold way: Technical writing as we know it will cease to exist, transforming itself into content curation and knowledge stewardship, but will continue to thrive where machine-learning or deep-learning would not be able, or ‘allowed’ to because of an error rate, replace humans, e.g. API docs, mission-critical publications, aeronautics manuals, high-end user guides. Virtual, i.e. augmented reality, training materials might gain traction, too.
Have you anything else to say about technical writing?
I’d like to think of us, tech communicators, as sabre-toothed tigers: highly specialised, narrow-niche professionals used to eliciting information and solving tasks by using MadCap, oXygen, FrameMaker, JavaDoc, AuthorIT, interviewing skills – you name it. However, with the ongoing downward trend in the tech comms number of jobs ‘Down Under’ (does not apply to the US and Europe, apparently), and at the same time, the rise and rise of hybrid jobs, e.g. TW-cum-BA, or trainer, etc., we will face the same challenges that Ice Age felines did: with the disappearance of the mega-fauna that they were born to hunt, they simply could not catch more agile, faster quarry. So it is ultimately up to us to take on the new skill-sets, adapt to an ever-changing world of tech comms, or… face extinction.