In going back through the “On This Day” feature on my Facebook page, I discovered that I’d forgotten to respond to a suggestion from my mentor Dede (D2) that I talk about things that are fun or eye-popping about technical writing. Hm. While I cannot guarantee that everyone’s technical writing track will feature theses sorts of things, I will throw in my experiences so you can get an idea of how tech writers fit into organizations…and manage to have a little fun along the way.
This first one might not be for everyone, especially if you don’t enjoy taking classes, but I thought it was cool. As part of starting my time writing for the Disney University, I was required to take all the classes that Disney managers take as part of their orientation to the Disney way of doing things. That was like 16 hours’ worth of college-level courses on everything from leadership to human resources to legal. It gave me a better understanding of how managers think, which was an insight I’d lacked up to that point.
Product knowledge tours were fun, too. When I was in Guest Letters, we got to tour the one of the Disney Cruise Line ships when it was nearly brand new (this would’ve been the Disney Magic in 1998). That was also the year I got handed the job of answering letters for Disney’s Animal Kingdom before it opened to the public. I’m certain the theme park people were thrilled to have a bunch of correspondents strolling through the property, taking notes on all the things they expected guests to complain about. (Mind you, the guesses were right.)
When I worked at a mid-size defense contractor in Northern Virginia, I got to observe a training exercise with soldiers using the equipment I’d been writing about only. We also got to tour a museum on base where they had, among other things, a full-size wax figure of a mule wearing a gas mask. Field trips are fun for adults, too! This is true even when my buddy Scott asked the guard at Fort Lee to give my car an extra-careful going over “because it’s fun to watch his Irish color get up when he gets nervous.” Yes, I probably did have a lot of blood rushing to my already-ruddy face, but I stood back quietly and let the guy ransack my Honda. You think I’m going to argue with a 17-year-old holding an M-16?
Product knowledge at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, of course, had some of the best field trips or side activities, from astronaut visits to NASA-employee-only previews of space films (In the Shadow of the Moon was one of my favorites). We’d also get to see new space hardware roll out/in, including rocket engines, 3D printers for processing lunar regolith, and sneak previews of new displays at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. (I felt sort of proprietary about some of them…I got to write the signs explaining what they were.) We also attended some pretty nifty conferences and public presentations by NASA scientists about the latest cool stuff the agency was doing. I do recall that we also did a tour of the property one day. I was fine until they hauled us up to the top of the 25-story, open-air main engine test stand. Open air? See-through metal grates for walkways? Um, no thanks. My palms are sweating even now thinking about that. The rest of my coworkers had fun, anyway.
In my volunteering/free time, I played roadie/logistician for the Science Cheerleaders (NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science, technology, engineering, or math careers). I got to watch them perform science-themed cheers at the USA Science & Engineering Festival…when I wasn’t handling their music or PowerPoint slides, that is.
Life after NASA has had its fun moments, too. I recall the “christening” of a new office space for a small company I went to work for. Rather than champagne, the chosen beverage was 14-year-old Oban whisky. Whatever works! That was also the same company that used to decorate the office for Halloween and bring in kids for trick-or-treating; took “field trips” to go see space-related movies; and at one point visited the local gun range to expose some of us newbies to target practice.
As a freelancer, my adventures have come from visiting out-of-state customers’ facilities. The Nissan corporate office in Franklin, Tennessee is pretty nifty. And as a space freelancer/reporter, I’ve gotten to see a lot of behind-the-scenes facilities at NASA and some of its contractors. There’s nothing like a rocket manufacturing area for a space geek!
Could Your Life Be Like This?
Okay, my career path has been a little strange. Odds are you wouldn’t get the same experiences I had. That doesn’t mean you won’t have fun. Corporate America has gotten a lot more fun-loving than it was a generation or two ago, if only because people end up spending a lot of time at work. If it’s all work and no play, eventually people can get cranky and unproductive. And even if you’re not doing movie day or indulging in field trips, you are likely to have the opportunity to visit your customers where they “live,” which is bound to be different from whatever you’re doing in your cubicle. If your workplace really is boring, then maybe you can arrange “field trips” for your coworkers after hours. There’s no rule against that, right? Wherever you end up, enjoy the ride!