When I left high school, I had no idea what I’d be doing in my career almost 30 years later. I knew I liked IT and German, was decent at English, but had no idea how I could combine my interests and skills into a career.
I had thought about a Law degree to become an intellectual property lawyer. Instead, I took an IT degree at the University of Queensland and am now glad I did. I’m not sure how long I would have lasted in a Law degree! (In Australia, Law is a direct entry undergraduate degree).
After two and a half years, I admitted to myself I had no interest in becoming a software engineer, even though I enjoyed working with technology. I swapped to an arts degree and had great fun studying linguistics and business German.
Through my studies, I was able to do an internship in Germany for two months – and started thinking about doing a business degree. I eventually graduated with my arts degree, without detouring onto business studies.
Somewhere near the end of my Uni studies, I heard about technical writing, and it sounded like my thing… play with technology, explain complex things to people – yup, sounds like I’d like that.
I met a man who had a local software business, building insurance software. I spent a week doing work experience with his small company, developing their first user guide. I was hooked. This technical writing gig was my jam for work.
I live in Brisbane, and the local employment market here is very much based on your connections. My first technical writing interview was through a connection. I’d met the hiring manager at a youth camp after graduating and applied to work with him when he had a job open up a couple of months later.
I started working as a graduate writer in a telecommunications software company. We used Frame Maker, and still had our manuals printed and sent in a box with CDs of the software. (Today, if I told the graduate writer on my team about that, I’d feel like I was talking about ancient history.) Learning the telecommunications and Internet protocol layers technology was tricky, but not impossible.
I had three great years at Astracon before the company slowly started going through rounds of redundancies, and my position was made redundant. In my last two years at the company, I’d heard about a new postgrad program at University of Queensland in writing, editing, and publishing. So I completed a graduate diploma to put some formal writing credentials on my CV. I loved going back to study as a postgrad student!
STC enters the picture
In 2002, I used some of my redundancy payout to attend my first STC Summit in Nashville. What an amazing experience! I was also fortunate that my new employer allowed me to take a week off unpaid to attend. I’d just started working with a local Aussie company, Mincom, a month earlier as their Technical Editor – my local connections again helping to find out about an unadvertised role.
17 years of mining success
I spent 17 years at Mincom (and its successor companies, thanks to takeovers), and had many different roles, including technical editor, tech writing project manager, manager of tech writing, internationalization and content manager.
My favorite years were working with a great content and internationalization team, and then developing my own team a few years later. I had a particular manager who I learned so much from, and I still do when I get to see her at conferences.
Through this time, I was part of international teams — initially only with the US and Australia. Then eventually I began working with teams in Asia, North and South America, and Europe. Juggling time zones became tricky when we had meeting with Aussie, American and Polish attendees. Someone would inevitably end up attending in the middle of their night. Often it was me.
We worked on a range of software for asset-intensive industries, primarily Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Enterprise Asset Management software and mining software (that’s software to help with digging stuff out of the ground, not data mining).
Cutting documents down to size and more mining
One of my proudest achievements was when we implemented a component content management system (CCMS) and reduced the word count of our ERP online help from approximately three-million words to around 1.7 million words. That made quite a difference to our translation costs!
Three years ago, I decided to take a leap and join RPMGlobal– the leaders in the digital transformation of mining, as their internationalization manager. (Since about 2010, I’ve worked in both technical communication and internationalization – I love how these two areas are complementary and both use a range of my skills and my Uni qualifications.)
Over time, I’ve been given more responsibilities (managing the content team, training development, our quality system and being the internal cybersecurity auditor).
The benefits of technical communication and lockdown
I believe the core skills of technical communication give us the ability to take on so many different roles – if we want to and have the opportunity to grab them.
Curiosity, having to see issues from the perspective of an end user or customers, and clear communication are always assets to a project, a team, and a company.
Last year I worked on a small project to help envision our future of work when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I was invited to contribute — along with the development managers of our two largest development teams — because my manager saw that I think about things differently.
We put together the basis for 80 percent of our development, working from home most of the time – a huge change from two years ago, when everyone was in the office full-time.
Looking back on Kirsty 30 years ago? I was just the little kid born in the Queensland outback, destined to grow up to live and work on a sheep and cattle station. I couldn’t have imagined where my career would go. I’m so happy that I found technical communication – and I’m looking forward to what the next 20 to 30 years bring.
To learn more about Kirsty’s career, go to her LinkedIn profile.