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Liam Basi

SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication | Arts + Social Sciences › English

Position Title
What's a technical writer, you ask? Well, it's the occupation I've got my heart set on after my co-op experience with Schneider Electric, so back off, because I could really do without the competition.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation

When I received an email from Schneider Electric saying that they wanted me to come in for an interview, I rubbed my eyes, reread the email, re-reread the email, and nearly leapt in joy before realizing that I'd have to prepare for the most dreadful part of any job search: the interview. As per usual, I researched the company, making sure to take thorough notes of their products and services, core values, mission statement, accomplishments, and so on.

I recall it was during a family drive--I don't remember where we were going--when I casually mentioned to my parents that I had an interview coming up for a company called Schneider Electric. I don't remember their exact responses, but it was something along the lines of, "Oh, Schneider Electric? We've heard of them. They're a big deal." I decided then that my research hadn't nearly been thorough enough and immediately got back to it once I got home.

After conducting research into the company, I conducted research into myself. Who am I? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What could I provide for the company? What could they provide for me? After an exhaustive investigation into the company, a deep self-examination, multiple run-throughs of answers I prepared for questions I hoped to god they would ask, and a few much-needed sessions of listening to Earth, Wind & Fire to get me pumped up, I decided that I was ready for the interview.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The first few weeks involved a lot of training and orienting as the company prepared me for the tasks and projects that lay ahead. In addition to the usual office tour, policy reading, tutorial on how to use the coffee machine, and so on, I spent weeks learning how to use the various software required for my role, including a technical writing program called Madcap Flare. Turns out, you don't just use Microsoft Word to write manuals. Don't bring up Microsoft Word in front of technical writers.

Learning the software involved one-on-one meetings with members of my team to learn different aspects of the software and how we utilize them to complete certain procedures, working through online training courses at my own pace, and completing small tasks assigned by team members that gave me the opportunity to apply what I've learned. My team was extremely helpful in guiding me through my onboarding, as well as in introducing me to the workplace and its culture. I have had the pleasure of being among other co-op students at Schneider Electric and have thoroughly enjoyed our fun (and educational) co-op sessions which have been a great boon in adjusting to this new environment. I would also like to attribute my smooth and relieving onboarding process to my manager taking me and the other co-ops out for lunch on our first day, as food is undoubtedly the best way to make a good first impression.

Day to Day

Technical writing is a project-based occupation, so your day-to-day fluctuates depending on the projects you're working on. Some days, I'll plan and write content for manuals--but these sorts of days are rarer than you may think. Despite what the title "technical writer" seems to imply, it's not uncommon to spend an entire day doing anything but writing! Technical writers don't just write documents: they create them. In addition to writing, creating technical documents such as manuals also involves extensive researching (it helps to understand the process you're creating a manual for), using design software to create technical illustrations, meeting with or emailing experts to obtain and verify information, searching for and grabbing relevant information from other documents, and a dozen or so other things.

The one constant element of my day-to-day has been the meetings with my team at the beginning of the day, in which we each discuss what we worked on the day prior and what we plan to work on for the day ahead. Every two weeks, we will meet to reflect on the past couple of weeks, and to discuss issues or brainstorm ideas relevant to our projects.

Learning and Adaptation

Adapting to my new work environment was a hurdle and a half. While my last co-op role was also a technical writer position, it was a very solitary one. I was the only technical writer, and my main sources of information came from silently observing warehouse workers as they worked, referring to out-of-date company manuals, and emailing questions I had to the warehouse manager. At Schneider Electric, some of these methods still applied; however, I found myself attending a lot more meetings, referring to a much wider collection of resources, and collaborating with individuals from different departments. Going from a lone wolf to a... pack wolf? was a bit of a jarring shift, but one that I was comfortably able to adapt to.

One thing that certainly helped was making an effort to build relationships with my co-workers, whether that meant talking with them during my lunch break, having a brief chit-chat with someone I bumped into when going to grab a cup of coffee in the kitchen, or something in between. I think it also helps to ask your supervisor for feedback on your work or progress, as doing so shows that you truly care about improving and are determined to excel in your role, as well as allowing your supervisor to communicate their expectations.

Accomplishments and Challenges

As I've been working with programs I've never used on projects of a scale that outweighs past projects I've worked on in both difficulty and complexity, it's safe to say I've encountered my fair share of challenges in this role. I could detail these challenges in-depth, recalling the fruitless attempts to scour the internet for solutions, the frantic ctrl + z'ing in a desperate attempt to undo the colossal mess I've made of things, or hopelessly flipping through my notes for the hundredth time as if I had somehow missed the solution to my problem that was there all along; however, none of that is very helpful. What is helpful is what my manager told me and the other co-ops during our first week, and what I've kept stored in the back of my mind ever since. He told us his approach to dealing with challenges, which is to spend five minutes, give or take, trying to solve the issue on your own before asking someone for help. It's quite a straightforward piece of advice, but nonetheless incredibly useful in ensuring that you're working efficiently. On the one hand, you won't be wasting too much time trying and failing to solve a problem, and on the other, your supervisor will appreciate you trying to figure stuff out on your own rather than assailing them with questions the second you run into an obstacle.

The real joy of this position has arisen from the sense of satisfaction I've received every time I've completed a task. Some tasks are quite small, such as updating illustrations in a manual by creating higher-quality versions of those illustrations, while other, far more rewarding tasks are lengthier and can entail taking charge of an entire multi-page document. If the thought of labouring away on complex and lengthy documents whilst having the freedom to create and perfect every single element of them sounds satisfying to you, you may find technical writing a satisfying occupation indeed.

Reflection & Tips

With my first four months in this co-op role concluding and my next four on the horizon, I've only become more sure of my ambition to pursue a career in technical writing. Writing, researching, and content creation are all things that interest me, and technical writing seems to be a perfect blend of all three, and so much more. I'm genuinely surprised to say that this occupation has been a far cry from the dull monotony I was warned of. Sometimes you're researching, all the while broadening your knowledge until you've absorbed so much that you're basically an expert in the material you plan to cover in a project; sometimes you're transforming that information into written and visual content using a variety of complex programs; and sometimes you're on the verge of pulling your hair out because the program you're working in is being rudely uncooperative, almost as if it has been plotting your downfall for some time and is now putting its plan into action at the worst possible time. That last point isn't exactly a positive, but it certainly makes the job interesting.

Another unexpected aspect of this role I've enjoyed is working in a team. I always thought I'd be averse to the idea, as I've always been on the reserved side--and far from a fan of group projects in school--however, I've found that working in a team comes with a wealth of benefits, such as being able to receive assistance from people who genuinely want to help you and will take the time to do so.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

One of the most valuable aspects of this experience has been the sheer amount of experience I've gotten with programs that are going to open up new avenues for me as I near the completion of my studies and prepare to embark on my career path. Some of the programs I've either learned or received a greater understanding of in this role are Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Madcap Flare, Creo Illustrate, Git, and Microsoft Teams. I could list all the programs I've been using in this role that, prior to this co-op, I had little or no experience with, but there's a word limit for this post and I'd rather not exceed it by infinitely listing a bunch of software.

Another immensely valuable aspect I'll take away from this experience is knowing how to effectively work in a team setting. Office work is often collaborative work, so knowing how to function in a team is vital to excelling in an office environment. Plus, it's nice to have co-workers that you can build closer relationships with and that make the office environment more collaborative and friendly rather than solitary.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

Time and time again, you'll hear working people tell you that an education by itself isn't enough: that the best way to prepare for life beyond school is to get work experience. Obtaining valuable work experience was my main motivation to enter the co-op program, and with the experience I now have under my belt coupled with the soft and hard skills I've picked up through that experience, I feel confident that come graduation, I will possess all I need to stand out from a sea of fellow graduates pursuing the same line of work I endeavour to. When I started working at Schneider Electric, I sought to learn how to use programs commonly utilized by technical writers as well as how to create technical illustrations using various design programs: two goals that I have now achieved. When I reflect on my experience at Schneider Electric, the value of that experience is unmistakable. I plan to become a technical writer, and Schneider has offered me experience in a technical writer role, in which I've created technical documents using technical writer tools. I suppose that all goes without saying, but it's worth saying just to emphasize the overt benefits of this co-op, and co-op programs in general.

School is, of course, important in its own right, but school and work experience are valuable in different ways. When it comes to mastering a dish (I promise this is relevant), researching the recipe is essential, but actually creating the dish, ideally over and over again, is the key to perfecting it. It's a poor analogy and one that probably doesn't need to be included, but I put some effort into thinking it up, so it's staying.

Advice for Future Students

I think the best piece of advice I could give, as cliche as it is, is to not shy away from stepping outside of your comfort zone. When I began to entertain the thought of becoming a technical writer, I envisioned something along the lines of being the sole technical writer of a business--a rather sizable one, not a startup--that expects nothing of me other than that I keep to myself in my penthouse office; that discourages meetings, collaborating, and socializing of any kind; and that above all, is known for offering incredibly, shockingly generous wages. During my co-op, I've learned that employers don't offer co-op students penthouse offices, but more importantly, I've learned that meetings and collaborating with co-workers aren't such awful things: rather, these aspects make the experience easier! One of the many benefits of the collaborative nature of Schneider Electric's workplace is that you get a good gist of the projects people are working on and just the general going-ons around the office, which is tremendously helpful if you want to know stuff like the expectations of team leaders, the delays certain individuals or teams are facing, ideal people to contact and coordinate with if you require assistance on a project, and so on.

You may have gathered that going into this experience, I was a bit hesitant about the more social aspects of the role--I've always thought that my strengths lie in what I can achieve in solitude--however, my expectations were pleasantly subverted. Even if you don't share the same hesitancies that I do, the point I'd like to stress is that stepping outside of your comfort zone doesn't need to be uncomfortable. It certainly wasn't for me: in fact, I quite jumped at the invitations to dine out for lunch. For the chance to socialize, of course, not because I like to dine out.


Liam Basi

SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication | Arts + Social Sciences › English
visibility  169
May 1, 2024

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A Technical Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy

In the sentences that follow, you will learn five very, very important tips that, if heeded, will prepare you for a career in technical writing. If these tips don’t quite have the effect I’m suggesting, it’s not my fault–you probably did something wrong.