What Do You Do Again? with a Senior Technical Writer

Chelsea Lee
May 29, 2019 · 5 min read

What Do You Do Again is a blog series focused on sharing job functions that aren’t always at top of mind, yet are viable options for successful careers. In each interview, we focus on what lead them to their current role and how they could’ve gotten there sooner. The hope is to create more guidance around such big decisions that young adults have to make early in their lives.

This interview features Lauren Hirata. Full transparency, I work with her and get the pleasure of seeing her (almost) daily. Coming into Cockroach Labs, I had no idea what a Technical Writer was or what they possibly did day to day, but I hope Lauren gives you insight into how important her role is for technology companies. Along with being badass lady, she’s been very helpful in sharing her writing expertise to get this blog series off the ground (endless thank yous from me)!

What is your job title?

Senior Technical Writer

What does that mean?

I write the documentation that helps our customers use our software. I work with software engineers and product managers to figure out what our customers need to know, and then I figure out how to communicate this information in a concise and easy way. Technical writing is everywhere. Every time you get a appliance or electronic device (e.g., your phone!), its manual or online help it is written by a technical writer.

What is your day to day?

I get in and catch up on customer support channels, we talk with our customers through various platforms like chat and a forum. I try to understand what our customers are having problems with and prioritize my day/week’s tasks from there. Through the week, I meet with engineers, product managers, other technical writers, and designers to understand what I’m documenting. Outside of these informational meetings, I try to do a solid few hours of “heads down” (no distractions or context switching) writing.

Looking back, … I would’ve challenged myself with more technical classes.

What did you study in college?

Double majored in Creative Writing and Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

Do you think that helped?

Carnegie Mellon is a technical school to begin with, so you are exposed to new technology and smart people by proxy. CMU was one of the first universities in the country to offer creative writing and technical writing as majors. I could’ve majored in technical writing but I am not a technical person by nature and I was scared off by the required science and math classes.

Looking back, if I knew I would’ve become a technical writer, I would’ve challenged myself with more technical classes. It might’ve helped to be immersed in technical topics from the beginning.

What crossroads of majors would you job fall under?

Writing / Computer Science / Marketing / Communication Design

Is there something else you could have studied to get here?

A lot of people don’t go straight into technical writing, they might have started out as computer scientists, marketers, product managers- or nothing pertaining to tech at all, but they get into it because they saw a need for it at a company they are at.

What are courses that prepared you for what you do now?

Intro to Technical Writing — We covered different types of technical documents (e.g., resume, science journal article, user manual), and we learned how to write each in a way that considers who the audience is and how to write difficult technical information in an easy-to-read way.

Documentation Design — The course went through how to design documentation in a way that is easy for people to read, how to not overload your reader, and how to make important information stand out- all of which you need to be aware of when creating documentation. It also went through how to add graphics when needed, and how to use Photoshop and InDesign.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I had a lot of disparate interests: I wanted to be a dentist, an astronaut, or a television writer. My big dream was to be an Olympian in both basketball and swimming.

When college came around, I wanted to study creative writing and go into entertainment but my parents told me I needed to double major something else so I would have an easier time getting a job.

Why is your job important?

Customers would be calling support (and probably getting frustrated) all the time if they did not have technical documentation. People want to self-serve, than be reliant on someone else like a support person or chat bot.

It makes users self sufficient and take stress off of the rest of the company. It explains how to use complicated systems whether it’s a microwave or a database.

Wherever technology grows, … the need for technical writing will be there.

Where do you hope to grow next?

Within technical writing, there’s two routes to go: I can go managerial and manage a team of writers or I can go the individual contributor route, which would be taking on more challenging projects and possibly managing writers under the same projects, but mostly continuing to write.

Where will technical writing grow?

Wherever technology grows, whether it’s wearables, virtual reality, or something that doesn’t exist yet, the need for technical writing will be there. It may not always be in a user manual format, but some form of help text or documentation will be needed. I think a technical writer will always be needed- you can’t automate them away, and technology is never straight forward.

What’s an unexpected perk about your role?

The role is really flexible- both in a work/life balance and a job functionality sense. Because a lot of my job is to write by myself, I can do it from anywhere. I can also take on different types of projects (e.g., for sales collateral, more technical pieces, something that will help out of writers, etc.) to mix things up.

What Do You Do Again?

I write stuff so you don’t have to call customer support.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lauren Hirata is a Senior Technical Writer at Cockroach Labs. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her fiancé and their Chiweenie, Petee. In her spare time, Lauren likes to swim, watch the basketball, and volunteer with Foster Dogs, Inc. Lauren is still in search of the best fried chicken and/or doughnuts in NYC. Find her at: Website & LinkedIn

Originally published at http://chelsealeenyc.wordpress.com on May 29, 2019.

What Do You Do Again?

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