Inside Tech Comm with Zohra Mutabanna

S1E11 How to Build a "Think Forward, Move Forward" Mindset with Laurel Beason

July 07, 2021 Zohra Mutabanna Season 1 Episode 11
S1E11 How to Build a "Think Forward, Move Forward" Mindset with Laurel Beason
Inside Tech Comm with Zohra Mutabanna
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Inside Tech Comm with Zohra Mutabanna
S1E11 How to Build a "Think Forward, Move Forward" Mindset with Laurel Beason
Jul 07, 2021 Season 1 Episode 11
Zohra Mutabanna

Laurel Beason has covered the journey from journalism to technical writing, and everything in between.  If you are new to the field and would like to find out how you can move forward with the "think-forward" mindset, then tune in. In this episode, we chat about:

  • The transferable skills that you can leverage to transition from journalism to technical communication.
  • What is on-demand writing and how do you do it?
  • How does the inverted pyramid from journalism apply to technical writing?

Guest Bio

Laurel Beason has earned her living as a professional writer for over 30 years. She started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Pacific Northwest and transitioned into technical writing after moving to Dallas in the mid-90s. She worked at Fidelity Investments, Brinks Inc., and Cisco, creating a wide range of deliverables and supporting a wide range of products. At Cisco, she was promoted into management and was at one point leading 42 writers in seven time zones. For the past two years, she worked in academia, teaching senior-level technical communication courses. Teaching was a life goal and a rewarding experience, but Laurel "missed the real world" and has, since, returned to high tech. Laurel wants to encourage tech comm professionals to give back by teaching and will share a few tips for success.

Show Notes Transcript

Laurel Beason has covered the journey from journalism to technical writing, and everything in between.  If you are new to the field and would like to find out how you can move forward with the "think-forward" mindset, then tune in. In this episode, we chat about:

  • The transferable skills that you can leverage to transition from journalism to technical communication.
  • What is on-demand writing and how do you do it?
  • How does the inverted pyramid from journalism apply to technical writing?

Guest Bio

Laurel Beason has earned her living as a professional writer for over 30 years. She started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Pacific Northwest and transitioned into technical writing after moving to Dallas in the mid-90s. She worked at Fidelity Investments, Brinks Inc., and Cisco, creating a wide range of deliverables and supporting a wide range of products. At Cisco, she was promoted into management and was at one point leading 42 writers in seven time zones. For the past two years, she worked in academia, teaching senior-level technical communication courses. Teaching was a life goal and a rewarding experience, but Laurel "missed the real world" and has, since, returned to high tech. Laurel wants to encourage tech comm professionals to give back by teaching and will share a few tips for success.

Note: This transcript is AI-generated. Please ignore typos or text that may appear confusing. The transcript has been edited for general accuracy.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  0:08  
Hello, listeners. If you are curious about technical communications, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, I will interview a guest who will share their unique journey. This is inside tech comm with Zohra Mutabanna Let's get started. I'm honored to welcome today's guest, Laurel Beason. Hi, Laurel, how are you?

Laurel Beason  0:33  
Hi Zohra. I'm good. Glad to be here today. Yes. I'm Laurel Beason and I started my career as a newspaper reporter, way back in the late 80s, and got into technical writing in the mid-90s. Here in Dallas, when it was really a Boomtown for technical writers. I had been in grad school learning how to teach English, and I thought I would teach writing at the college level. But when I came to Dallas, my fiance, was a tech writer and knew a lot of tech writers. And there were so many opportunities for tech writers. My first job was as a technical trainer, but then I quickly realized I'd rather do the writing than the training. So I've been doing it doing technical writing ever since you're a veteran. Yeah,

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  1:23  
you would have invaluable advice for anybody that is looking into this field, I suppose. So you started your career as a newspaper reporter. What I would like to know is, as you transitioned from being in the field of journalism, over to technical writing, what was that? Like? What are the transferable skills that you could kind of capitalized on? Just share a little bit about that with us?

Laurel Beason  1:52  
Yeah, I've often thought that the background in journalism was really a great preparation for technical writing. I've often looked back and just been really thankful that I had that training and those experiences early in my career as a writer, two main things. One thing that comes to mind as a benefit of that training is the ability to ask questions, and to not be afraid to ask questions, and to ask that so-called dumb question. And to ask questions with the audience in mind, to ask questions, knowing I have to leave this interview, or this city council meeting, or school board meeting, or whatever it is, with all the information I have, I have to then turn around and write something for an audience. So that was really great training. And I often think that prepared me for all kinds of intimidating conversations with engineers, people who know more than I do, but I have to ask questions to, to draw that out.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  2:53  
I couldn't agree more with that. Interestingly, I also kind of come from a journalism background. And I did not work as a journalist, but I worked for a media company, and what you shared with me the ability to ask questions, and knowing your audience, it's half your job as a technical writer. And if one doesn't have that skill, or is intimidated to ask questions, as a technical writer, wouldn't you agree that that's something that you would want to cultivate and focus on? Because your job depends on it?

Laurel Beason  3:28  
Yes, yeah, I think that's a great thing that we're talking about because people think about technical writing, sometimes as writing. And of course, it is a job that involves writing. But yes, information development skills are a huge part of it. In fact, I've often heard writers say that they'd rather be writing than doing all of the many, many other things that we have to do as writers. But the research, which is what we're talking about, right, interviewing and so on, information gathering, yes, the fun part two,

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  3:58  
I sometimes also feel like I'm getting to know the psychology of the person. And when I approach them with those questions, I'm trying to keep that psychology in mind. What do you think about that?

Laurel Beason  4:08  
Yeah, I think when you're talking about psychology, are you talking about the psychology of the person you're interviewing?

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  4:15  
Yes, yes. So yeah. Like when you're talking to engineers, some engineers are very forthcoming with information. So you may not go as prepared because you know, you're going to get that while another engineer may not be forthcoming. So you kind of get to know the person, as well as your grooming your skill to ask the questions.

Laurel Beason  4:35  
Right. Yeah. And that was part of the journalism training, too. How do you establish rapport with the person you're interviewing? How do you walk in cold, you have an appointment, but you're walking in cold in terms of bombarding this person with a bunch of questions. You don't want it to feel that way to them that they're being bombarded. You want them to feel that you're friendly and A nice person to talk to, and that by talking to you, they're achieving a goal to Yeah, they have a goal of sharing this information with the public, or the readers of the Help site or the technical manual. And so you're helping them achieve a goal. So yeah, I agree that psychology is a good word for it. Yes, yeah. The other thing I want to mention about journalism is that it also gave me the experience of having to write on demand having to write in any situation to write quickly, to right off the top of my head. I think, when I was in school, when I was in college, as an undergrad, I'd like to spend a lot of time thinking about what I was going to write and planning what I was going to write, and perfecting what I was going to write. But in journalism, there's no time you go to a city council meeting. And on the way, I remember this many times, on the way from the city council meeting to my office, maybe a 10-minute drive, I had to outline the story in my head and think about the key points and, and then write that, the minute I got back to my computer. So I'm sharing that because I just think that's so important for technical writers too. We can strive for perfection, we have to strive for getting things done on time. And it's a different approach to writing. That's part of the fun to working under a deadline and trying to make it clear and well structured, but getting it done. I want to dig deeper because this is

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  6:45  
I think I haven't focused on it as much writing on demand. Because, again, coming back to my process that I kind of tried to follow. As a journalist, you are not part of a development lifecycle or software development lifecycle. So you really have to be thinking on your feet. I want to understand from you when you say writing on demand in the field of technical communications, how does that apply? And how does one, if you do not come from a journalism background? How does one work on that? I do see a parallel that you do. And even if you're working in a process, you're thinking on your feet, you're kind of coming up with an outline of what this content or this article is going to be like. So I do see the parallel. It's a very intriguing, I think value add, and I want you to share more, and kind of the whole thinking process. It really is intriguing to me.

Laurel Beason  7:41  
Okay. Yeah, this is great, because this is going to be creating the meaning as we talk here because it's not something I've thought about in terms of how would somebody develop that skill, but I know it's a skill writers need. Writers need to be able to think ahead to the writing, as they're asking the questions. And they need to, you know, think forward to the next conversation as they're writing to writing something and you're thinking ahead to the follow-up questions, you need to go ask someone else to fill in the gaps. So it's all about thinking about your audience, all the time. All of these different facets of our job are tied together. There's not a discrete-time when you're gathering information, and then that ends and you start writing. Right? It's all right, flow. But you're writing on demand is what you asked about. I think it's a mindset that we develop when we write every day. It's a mindset of plowing through the writing, I'm going to write what I think the message is. And as I'm writing it, I'm aware that this is not the final draft, it will get better as it goes along. But I have to write something. Deadline pressure is always there. Especially now, I think when I started working as a technical writer, we were working on waterfall projects. And we did have time to write. But now, all of us are working in a much faster pace. Even if our companies don't use the word agile. We're writing the fast pace we on my job now. And in my previous job, we could write something today and click a button to publish it. So the public could read it, the users of our help site could read it the same day. So that's what I mean by writing. Yes, giving up those ideas of perfection. Writing what you know, writing it as well as you can, knowing it's not the final draft. You'll tweak it as long as you can, but then you will let it go because it's clear enough.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  9:56  
I'm taking my notes as you speak, because what you touched upon I think what you said made complete sense to me, as you were kind of giving me an insight into what on-demand writing to you looks like. I'm thinking, yeah, right, I do that. And probably most technical writers do the fact that you're writing iteratively. And you want to give up your ideas of perfection. That's what you said. And that makes complete sense that your article can never be perfect. And you have to be accepting of that. But at the same time, your audience, if you have your audience analysis, done to some extent, then you know what kind of Article you're going to be writing. And you keep that front and center. And then based on that you write your article and you ask your questions, you have defined a scope is what I'm trying to say. And within that scope, you can do your on-demand, because you have sort of a certain set of parameters to guide you. Because if you go in without any of that, then you're going to be all over the place. So you do want to think so as you said, you're thinking about what my writing is going to look like what my structure is going to be, that allows you to write on demand, but you have in your head started planning for it ahead of time. And your questions guide you. What do you think about how I paraphrase that?

Laurel Beason  11:17  
Yeah, I think that's good. And that will help people to think about how they can either acquire those skills or hone those skills. The planning is so important understanding, not planning in the sense of having a detailed outline and pages and pages of pages of doc plan. But planning in the sense of, as you said, understanding the audience understanding the purpose of this document I'm writing, understand the need of the audience understand the need of the project team I'm working on, so that I'm working very efficiently. I'm guided by that understanding of the purpose, I'm asking questions with that in mind, and then creating what I think people need. And that's partly the training. As a journalist, probably most people have heard about the inverted pyramid style, and the five W's and the H and these things we've all heard about journalism, there are certain principles and structures that people learn when they go through journalism training. But we go through that too. And as technical writers, right, whether we have formal training, or we learn on the job, we know there are some there are topic types. For example, there are ways that we do things. There's a style guide that tells us this is the way that we do things. So not saying it's formulaic, because you're thinking on your feet all the time, right. But those structures, those best practices, I think, are so important to learn and to adhere to. Because that's what enables us to do this hard thinking, this complex thinking and to think on our feet and, and write things make sense

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  13:05  
that, of course, I would completely agree with you on that. You touched upon the inverted pyramid. I mean, as a writer, I know what you're alluding to, but for our audience, in your words, however you think of it. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Laurel Beason  13:23  
Yeah. for journalists, it's one of the first things you learn in journalism school is that if you think about information is a pyramid with the most important information comes first in the news article, and all of the most important information comes first. And as you continue writing the article, you go down to the nice to know but not necessary to know information. So that if needed, if the article is too long, it could be chopped from the bottom and still retain the essential content. So I was just giving that as an example of something. A newspaper reporter learns and uses. I always put the most important information first because somebody the editor might chop my article from the bottom. You know, in technical writing, it's things like you know, when I was teaching technical writing for a while, it was things like teaching them to structure procedures with numbered steps, and have one task per step and begin that step with a verb and use subject, verb order, sentence structure. those rules make it sound formulaic. But journalism is not formulaic. It's very challenging writing and work. And technical writing is not formulaic, either, right? complex, but I think the low structures those habits are Best practices, just like the planning, like we were talking, yes, that forms the foundation that helps you to be versatile and quick.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  15:09  
I like all the objectives that you're using because that describes the nature of this field. As much as it may sound, again, I've had conversations with people who asked me, you do technical writing. And I'm like, Yes, I do technical writing. And this is why it's versatile, it's challenging. It is testing your skills, and you're learning new things on the go. Every time technology changes, you have to pivot. But coming back to your point, if you have the best practices, if you follow them, not trying to be formulaic, but there are industry best practices, if you follow them, your job becomes easier, because you don't want to keep learning how to write, you should know how to write. But you're going to take those skills, and then apply that to whatever you're writing about. Right.

Laurel Beason  16:01  
Yeah. And then that enabled you to focus on the content.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  16:06  
Yes, you want to focus on the content? Absolutely. You want to focus on the content, we can segue into your teaching.

Unknown Speaker  16:13  
Okay, career,

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  16:15  
I have mostly known writers who have been writers for the longest time. Fortunately for you, I guess you have, I would say fortunately for me, I have gotten to know you as an academic and as a practitioner. So you have seen both sides of the field. And I'm curious about what do you have to say, I taught for two years at the University of North Texas. And I had taught

Laurel Beason  16:43  
writing before when I was in grad school many years ago. I think technical writing programs are very valuable. I think it's great that some universities like University of North Texas, have departments that focus specifically on technical writing. And that it's not just something that's sort of, you know, a business writing class that's taught by a business person or business writing class that's taught by an English literature professor. And it's great that some universities and community colleges are offering courses, specifically in technical writing, with an awareness as some of the challenges that we were just talking about. Right, right. And often these courses are being taught by people who have technical writing experience. That's

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  17:33  
great. Actually, I'm really happy to hear that.

Laurel Beason  17:36  
Yeah, even the professor's you might think, oh, they're academics, they PhDs, which they do there, they do research and teaching, all of them. All of the people I worked with at UNC had some experience in their lives when they were working. Oh, in some kind of technical writing, or I see that. Yeah, they had some practical experience. Okay, in addition to their focus on teaching and research, I think when the guy became aware of when I was there was how broad our field is. I know this as a practitioner, but I was aware of it really when I saw them trying to teach a technical communication program, and teach students who wanted all kinds of different careers. It's such a broad field, there are some people who want to go into the marketing side of things, or the proposal side of things or the procedure writing right here are, as we know, as practitioners, there's a whole spectrum of technical. What I mean by that is there's people who are very technical, their engineering majors are biology majors. And they're taking technical writing classes, because they know they have to write highly technical documentation in that career. And then there are other people who aren't, don't think of themselves as technical, but they like writing and they, they see this as a career choice. And the professors are coming at that from all different perspectives and trying to teach them about the latest trends in the field and latest trends and communication. So you were saying that it's a very interesting field to be in as a practitioner, and it is, yeah, I think it's also interesting for the academics because there's so much to the field. Yes. And, you know, let

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  19:29  
me clarify why I asked this question is, I personally feel like there is a disconnect between how you know, somebody in the field a practitioner is practicing, and the professors, the academics, if you look at the department, the Bureau of Labor's the website, the profession is growing by about seven to 10%. That is the projected growth and However, there is going to be demand for this field and we Want to make sure that the next generation comes in prepared. And as much as coming in being technically savvy is important, the technology is going to change. But this brings me back to what you started the interview with. Learning about the best practices, being able to think on your feet, you also have to focus on soft skills. As you're developing your core skills about writing, you also have to pay attention to communication skills, information, gathering skills, because that is what is going to take you forward. But what do you think, is my view, I wouldn't say it's accurate. This is not about accuracy. But I want to be corrected, if my approach is wrong,

Laurel Beason  20:50  
I think this is a really good thing to bring out. Because our field is so varied, that there is a lot to learn. It's a very challenging career, you can't just come into it thinking, I like writing and I like technology, I'll probably succeed. And as I mentioned, at the University, where I taught, the faculty were really dedicated to covering a wide range of topics in the courses. So the students are learning about usability, and they're, they're doing a little bit of coding, the students are learning about research skills, interviewing skills, audience analysis, project management, the information gathering, as we talked about, and I'm leaving out other things that

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  21:36  
we've covered things, you've covered, an umbrella of a list of things that I wouldn't have even thought about that is actually very impressive.

Laurel Beason  21:44  
So thank you for sharing died. It's exciting to be there and see what they were teaching the students. And I think that all of that equips them well, to have the versatility they need the breadth they need to adapt to whatever gets thrown at them as tech writer. Yes, yes. Back to your point. The reason I'm commenting on that breadth, is that to your point, yes. What, what I've heard from other people, too, is that students graduate from a four year program in technical writing, I'm saying they can't write in a putting that in quotes, right. They lack the skills that the hiring manager is expecting. At the University where I taught they, there was an editing class, which I thought was great, because they were really teaching the students how to edit and then teaching us how to edit someone else. We're learning how to improve our own writing, how to edit ourselves, and so they were getting into the grammar and style. I think that is fantastic. because it teaches them you may have pure peer reviews, how do you deal with it

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  22:54  
in that scenario, without getting personal about it. And I think this applies more to probably graduates of technical communications, but also somebody who is changing their field into technical writing, they may have done some writing, and they may have received good feedback that you know what, maybe you should pursue a career in technical communications. But I think I'm focusing on this aspect of the conversation about editing, peer reviews, many companies may not be doing it. But if you can edit your own work, that is a big win for you. Because what I have struggled with is the younger generation that comes into this field being exterior very smart, no doubt about that. They're technically savvy, but when you're unable to write, as your mentor, I will be invested in your success. But sometimes, when they get review, when they get feedback from the engineers, and you know, the other technical members, their SMEs, they feel a little threatened about their job, the young writers, they feel threatened, or they take that feedback without questioning it. My goal with this conversation is to make them feel empowered. They should have the ability to say no, this is how I'm going to do it. We want to be open to feedback. But sometimes that feedback is long run on sentences. And it may not make sense. So in those scenarios for the young writers, the young listeners who might be listening to this podcast, I'm trying to address what skill sets do they need to focus on confidence building is one of them. And I have seen several young writers who are who feel threatened, who then kind of drop into a shell and you need to go and ask your questions. You'd have to have that. As you said the dumb questions. They are not dumb, but to an SME, they may be dumb and that's okay. But I'm really focusing on The confidence building aspect because I've seen a few in my career that have struggled with that.

Laurel Beason  25:07  
Yeah, I think we should expect young people out of college to be lacking in confidence, you know, or lacking in Polish, because it comes through experience to write down. But I don't want to let them off the hook altogether, because part of the confidence comes from learning the rules, paying attention in class and listening to the professors and absorbing those best practices and holding yourself accountable to the highest standard that that professor is communicating to you with an awareness that someday you want to get a job doing this, and you want to be highly skilled. And I think I would encourage those people also to think that they might be hired into a situation where the manager isn't a writer isn't an expert, they might be in the scenarios, you mentioned, working with engineers who who want to correct their writing, but don't really know the best practices of writing. And so the new graduate, the new and career writer, can become sort of a consultant in that sense, where they're telling them now the way it should be done is is this and here's why, to be able to explain why these best practices are in place is part of the learning they need to do in college as well. So I don't want to let those students off the hook, if they want to be technical writers, they need to be aware that it's not just a way to make money. If you have some writing skills. I think students might be attracted to that they think I love to write, but how can I make money doing this? technical writers make a lot of money. I'll try that. It's a very, very challenging career for all of the reasons we've mentioned. And I have heard hiring managers say that students can't pass the editing test, which the hiring manager thinks it's a pretty easy editing test. So I think that's an important message for us to share. Yes, yeah, it's a very high in the real world, and people will hold you accountable. I'll tell a little story about absolutely, please go for it. On my first tech writing job. You know, I had been a writer, been a journalist for many, many years, I taught writing college level before I got my first tech writing job, but on one of the first manuals, and this was my second tech writing job. But the first step was writing procedural manuals. And on the first manual that I wrote and updated, I gave it to the developer to review. And I thought he would review the technical aspects. And I'm pretty proud of myself, because I'd done a lot of work, to learn that product, and to learn the latest features, and I was working hands on in the product, and I was pretty proud of myself. He handed it back with so many red marks on it. And he said to me, didn't you run spellcheck before you gave this to me? And I had to admit, no, I was so focused on the content, that I didn't even run spellcheck What a dumb mistake. But what I realized from that, and why I'm sharing this story, is that that's what other people notice. Yeah, first thing I noticed, and it brings your credibility way down. They're so disappointed in you. Because they might think that writing is kind of easy. It's the easiest thing they do, compared to the coding they do. And the Yes, the Dziedzic thinking they do with technology every day. And you can't even get your spelling, right. You can't even put your commas in the right place. As we said, Sometimes they're wrong. They don't really know the rules as well as they think they do. But that's pretty embarrassing for a writer to absolutely get caught up like that. So we need to constantly hold ourself, yes, high standard. I'm contradicting myself now because earlier I said we shouldn't be perfectionist, get it to a point where it's good enough we meet the deadline and move on. But this is part of it, though. You do have to hold accountable to that. Yeah, I mean, grammar and spelling and punctuation,

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  29:19  
right. In my opinion, that is not a contradiction, it is that there's a baseline expectation, and then how you evolve from there, where you got to stop being a perfectionist at that point. You're like, Okay, I have got my baseline, I'm going to learn the best practices, I'm going to continue to learn them. But whatever I have internalized, I need to apply that and I need to grow with experience as I write. I have learned from my engineers and sometimes they have given me better sentence structures. And absolutely, we work in tandem. We are not working against each other. Remember, we are all part of the same team. We're all working towards the same goal. But at the same time, as I keep coming back to the baseline expectation of the fact that you you should be able to write you should be able to self edit is, is equally important.

Laurel Beason  30:12  
Yeah, definitely. And the ability to learn, that's really what we've been talking about. Yeah, at this point, I learned to do my spellcheck. It reminded me, you know, the importance of that, am I new? You know, we all know that we should do spellcheck. But given that as an example, every bit of feedback you get from anyone is valuable. And we're constantly you know, adapting to feedback and trying to achieve the highest quality we can absolutely, yeah, I think that's an important message to give those entry level writers, you have to be a good writer, you have to be hold yourself to very high standards. We're talking about the variety of skills you need, and the many challenges we face and the complexity of the work. And that can be intimidating. But it's all learnable. And I think anyone who really likes learning and likes working with technology, and likes writing, can succeed in this field. And yet, it's true that you also have to like serving you have to like that sense of, I'm here to serve the public, I'm here to serve my readers, I have a mission, I have a responsibility. And sometimes that's the responsibility to speak up. Sometimes that's the responsibility to go back to someone you feel intimidated by and ask the question again, to say I still don't understand I'm sorry. Go through it again. Yeah, those are important skills to develop, whether in a tech reading program or making a transition, learning Yeah, be brave. We all have to learn to be brave.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  31:51  
Yes, you've been talking about all these young writers that I mentored, but I'm thinking about my own self, I was there. And if I had a mentor, who could tell me that it is okay, everything that you just said to be, it's all learnable, you have to be brave, it's okay to go ask questions. And I felt so intimidated. And I would literally say I can do this, I can put myself out there. And you know, you'd be surprised, as a technical writer, you would agree that we have to be asking questions, information gathering is the core skill set. And it took me some time to say, you just have to do this. But that perspective of what I see in the young mentees today, I actually went through it. And through this conversation, I'm realizing I was that someday. And if somebody had told me like what you just shared, it would have helped me, although I did a Masters it, I still felt, I guess, insecure, if you will, about my skill set, I just wouldn't speak up, I wouldn't speak up. And now I do. And I think that is important to keep in mind, to speak up in a professional way, and to hold yourself accountable. And when you do that, the confidence comes in, because you're learning constantly, everything is learnable.

Laurel Beason  33:06  
Right? And I think people will see that too, you can be assured that if you are learning people will see that. So you you start out asking the dumb questions, but you demonstrate knowledge, and you write something that conveys that knowledge very clearly, people will notice that absolutely not about you, you'll quickly overcome that feeling of being the person who knows the least in the room. And I've also had the experience of being as a tech writer, a person who people would look at and say, Well, you know, more than I do about this, wait a second, this is interesting. As a technical writer, talking to developers or QA analysts, I would find that I knew the product better than they did, they would notice that I knew the product better than they did. Because I knew the breadth of the product. And I knew how that product interacted with other products, where they were focused on one feature, right? Sometimes Yeah, you might feel that it's intimidating. But as you keep working, keep learning. Keep writing. What's so cool is by writing we learn even more.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  34:18  
Exactly, it reinforces, yeah.

Laurel Beason  34:23  
You become someone who's able to contribute, contribute to a better product, contribute to a better UI, contribute really positively to the project team. Yeah,

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  34:34  
I think there's a lot you know, after going through this, this entire examination that we just did, of what skill sets we need to have and work on. You came back to the point you the important point that you're trying to make is you can be a valuable contributor because you have launched the breadth of the product you can become an SME so to speak,

Laurel Beason  34:56  
right? Yeah. And that should be part of our goal. We should be Become a subject matter expert on whatever it is we're writing about. Absolutely, we should be driven by that. That's it. Another really important message to send to students, it's hard being a student, they're taking so many different classes, and they have a lot of pressures on them. But sometimes as students, they're doing what it takes to get by in a class. They're doing what it takes to manage the many challenges they have, working full time going to school full time, maybe raising kids, or dealing with relationships at the same time that they're trying to build their careers. And it's hard. But sometimes students can get into that habit of sort of doing what it takes to get by. And as a professional, what we're talking about is doing what it takes to excel, doing what it takes to serve the public, doing what it takes to work fast, and produce good results, doing what it takes to become a subject matter expert. Yes, it's a lot of work. But I think that that drive is part of it. If you see that drive in yourself, that drive to do really good work to help people and contribute, then this is a great career to do that. And people will appreciate that about you.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  36:19  
I know that you've also done management, you've managed technical writers, you really kind of really done we are you you've had a pretty packable career, I would say in different roles. And I envy that. But I'm also curious about what would you say about being in a management position? What skill sets would you advise to someone that is going to be a manager or is in that role? And is looking to build upon their writing skill set? What do you have to say about that?

Laurel Beason  36:57  
That's a hard question. I think management is a great field to get into. It's not right for everyone. I think for me, what happened was that I never thought I would be a manager wanted to be a manager. But what happened was, I was involved in a situation where the manager of the group, the writing team, wanted us to improve our performance as a team wanted us to change and meet some new challenges. So I got involved in process improvements. Work on this, can we can we do better about this? Can we create better doc plans? Or can we figure out how to align our our work as writers better with the work of the cross functional team? Little problems like that, little projects? Maybe not so little projects, things like we have to start localizing all of our documentation into French, so that we can sell this product in Canada? How do we do this efficiently and what has to change? Little process improvements, content improvements, little projects to change the way we do something. Those are great ways to develop leadership skills to contribute in a different way. Besides writing your day to day work, I would encourage people who are interested in leadership to start leading to start leading look for problems that need to be solved. Don't be the person who sits back and complains, we should figure out a better way to align our tech writing schedule with the QA schedule, because we're not working well with that team. Don't be the person who complains, Oh, those QA people never give us the kind of feedback we really need. Don't just sit there and be a person who complains. Think how can I lead? Hey, what if we sat down as a team with the QA people and talked about this problem? We did this on one team I was on. And we discovered that we were giving them our drafts to review too early in their cycle. They didn't have access to the product really at that point to begin their testing. So they were only giving cosmetic feedback or editorial feedback, which wasn't what the writers wanted. The writers wanted technical feedback. Once we sat down and had that meeting, we solved the problem because we understood the problem and we understood how to align better with them. Give them the drafts at the point in their process when they're ready to review. But I think that would be what I encourage you to do if you're interested in leading Yeah, look for a problem to solve and volunteer to form a little tag team. You and one or two other writers to look or do it on your own to look into the problem and come up with the solution and talk to people so that you have research you have data.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  40:10  
What I liked about what you just said, trying to be a problem solver is absolutely essential. It and especially if you want to go down the path of leadership, where you kind of step outside of your comfort zone and try to do something that you may not have done and it is there is no the success may not be guaranteed, but the fact that you tried and were willing to, to experiment and bring the take the team with you and try to solve and come up with some solution. Nobody knows if the solution is going to be right or wrong. But that is what I like what you focused on is the fact that just just try try to be a problem solver and process improvement and you're trying to improve upon something that is not working.

Laurel Beason  40:57  
Right, right. And it could be a content improvement object, it could be process, it could be content, it could be something your group isn't doing now that you think you should do. It could be peer reviews, that was one place where one area where I led, and I didn't even think of it as leading at the time. But I was involved in a group where we weren't doing peer reviews. And I recommended that we start doing them. And we found that it, it was really helpful because it was a form of cross training to if I'm reviewing your documents, I'm learning about that subject matter. You're reading my document, you're learning about the subject matter I've been writing about. So just looking for those little problems to solve. And you might think as I did that, I'm not a leader, I don't, I don't want to be a manager. But you discover that you are a leader, you, you're a problem solver. You're a person who takes action and gets things done. puffy other people appreciate that. And it's a way that you can contribute. And then other people noticed that about you. And that's what happened to me. people notice that about you and say, you should you should lead this team. We need you. I'm speaking to people who are interested in leadership, this is a way to get started. I'm also speaking to people who are thinking I would, I would never want to go into management. But that's okay. You don't have to go into management. But leading these kinds of projects is another way that you can contribute.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  42:32  
Good, great, this has been such a great conversation. I know we've we've touched upon the different phases of your career. And I think we could continue to dig more into it because you have had such a fantastic background to bring to this table. But in the interest of time, the one question that I would ask you Is anything else that you would like to add to all that we have talked about? And any resources that you would recommend to your audience, to our listeners?

Laurel Beason  43:02  
Yeah, in terms of resources, one resource that I discovered, I don't know a few years ago, is content And I think it's such a great site, because they have free webinars that you can join live or you can just go through the recordings, they have dozens or hundreds of recordings on there now about trending topics, about new problems that people are solving. And I think I've learned a lot going there. Sometimes I have gone there just have heard about something they're doing and I sign up and and tune in for that. Or sometimes I go there hoping to find an answer to some problem that I'm struggling with. And if I scroll down through their long, long list of topics, I'll see, I'll find webinars that have good answers. I like the site because it's practitioners sharing their knowledge about the field and sharing their experiences and ideas.

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  44:05  
That's great. And I think it's accessible to everybody. Right? You can just go there and I would second it. I have used it myself. So I know what you're talking about. So, listeners, if you haven't checked it out, you should definitely check it out. And any more thing to add, Lauren, to our conversation,

Laurel Beason  44:20  
I think I just you know, wrap it up by saying we've we've been talking a lot about learning. And that's what I find fun about technical writing, it's constant learning. That's also what I find hard about it. Every day you're confronted with what you don't know. Every day you have to get over that reluctance to go and be the person who knows the least in the room and ask the dumb question. But every day really you get the rewards. I do get the rewards of having learned something and having created something so

Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna  44:57  
I would love to end on that note Is that you have learned something and you've created something. Thank you so much Laurel, this was such a fantastic conversation. I would love to bring you back on my show. But for now, this is it for today. I want to thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge with us. And hope to see you soon on another episode. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please share on your social media to help me reach a wider audience. subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app, including Apple, Google or Spotify. Follow us on Twitter at insight tech comm or visit us at w w w dot insight tech comm dot show. For the latest updates. Catch you on another episode.

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