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"Hat" Your Service

By Liz Herman | Senior Member

In my very early 20s, I left a lucrative career in millinery to become a technical communicator. It was the best decision I ever made. Wait, that doesn't sound right. I was never a milliner, although I do like to talk about the different hats we wear as technical communicators. My technical communication jobs have been no different and I have worn many different hats and served in many different roles. Let me start over.

The author during a lightning talk at the 2014 STC Summit
The author during a lightning talk at the 2014 STC Summit

In my very early 20s, I knew more about health insurance for people over the age of 65 than I knew about my own personal policy. I also knew a lot about defaulted federal student loans, but perhaps not in the way that you may think. I trace my career back to what I consider to be my first real technical communication job, which was writing letters on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to students who had defaulted on their school loans. My technical communication career had begun. I remember around that time being featured in a University of Iowa alumni magazine article titled “Dubuque [IA] Native Falls into Technical Writing.” That's how it happens for most of us, I suppose. We fall into what becomes our careers.

I moved on from that job to work for another government contractor, but this time it was in the area of healthcare and, specifically, Medicare. I taught providers how to submit Medicare claims for reimbursement, created training materials, wrote support manuals, and maintained a website for our customers. I didn't know then that the healthcare industry, along with technical communication, would be a common factor in all of my jobs going forward.

Today I work for Battelle out of its Arlington, VA, office where I support our health and analytics division doing business development and program management. Medicare and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are still areas of focus. My technical communication skills are put to use in a variety of ways at Battelle, which I enjoy, from developing proposals to managing customer accounts where content management, quality improvement, and program management intersect in both exciting and challenging ways. In addition, I truly love transforming complex information, particularly healthcare information, into accessible business intelligence that I can share with people.

Like many technical communicators, most of my past titles do not identify me as a technical communicator. I was an information specialist, a technical trainer, an online training designer, a webmaster, a knowledge manager, and a director. Along the way, however, I've learned to see technical communication in all of the things I do. And I've tried to share the enthusiasm I have for the field by teaching writing courses to college students, showing people the connection between technical communication and other fields like program management, and staying active in STC. Ah, joining STC. Now that might have been the best decision I made in my very early 20s.

I've been a member of STC since 1997. I wasn't always an active member. Personal and professional responsibilities got in the way at times, like they do for most of us. Getting re-engaged at both the chapter and society levels has been rewarding. I am once again enjoying the camaraderie of people who actually like to talk about writing and communication and who have amazing perspectives and interesting things to say. It allows me additional avenues (chapter meetings, Intercom articles, Notebook blog posts, Summit presentations) to share what I know. Most importantly, perhaps, is that it encourages me to keep learning and I tip my hat to you, technical communicators, for that.

Dr. Liz Herman, who is currently developing a hat fetish, is a long-time technical communicator and project manager with industry experience in general management, knowledge management, healthcare, information technology, and education. She is certified as a Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute and is a Certified Professional Technical Communicator through STC. Find her on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/lizhermanphd) or on Twitter (@dr_herman).

1 Comment

  • Hats off to you for a wonderful article! I especially love your quote about transforming complex information into accessible business intelligence. That’s the heart of what we do as technical communicators.

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