Karen Rempel has been a successful technical writing consultant in Vancouver for over 20 years. She’s been an active member of the STC since 1994 and served as President of the CWC chapter from 2008 to 2009.
Question (Q): What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
Answer (A): I absolutely loved a project I did for BC Hydro, converting several lengthy documents from Adobe InDesign to Madcap Flare. The challenge was working on many levels – structuring the content, putting in all the conditional tags, and replicating the beautiful formatting the designers had done. So that was fun, making Madcap Flare, which is not that strong on formatting, do what a design program can do. In the end, we outputted six different role-based manuals at the touch of button.
Q: What aspect has kept you in the field for as long as you have?
A: I`ve been a tech writer for 23 years and a consultant for 21, and it’s the independence, variety, and flexibility that’s kept me in the field, as well as the intellectual challenge and stimulation that come with each new project. Those are things that make me want to be a consultant in this field. I can dive in and learn so much about a new industry or a new software product.
Q: Why did you decide to become a technical communicator?
A: My first career was in accounting. I didn`t enjoy it very much. I was so bored I could hardly make myself go back to the office after lunch! So I decided to do some vocational testing. It confirmed my idea that writing would be a good fit for me. This was in 1990 before technical communication was known as a field. So I took a program at Douglas College, now very well known, called Print Futures. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I liked that the program taught a whole variety of writing skills. And it just so happened my first job after I graduated was at Computer Associates documenting accounting software.
Q: Is there someone in the field who helped you, for example changed how you thought, or altered your career?
A: There have been a few women who have been very influential. The first one was Heather Sommerville, who is still very active in our chapter. She has been a mentor and friend to me throughout my career. She believed in me and trained me at Computer Associates, and supported me when I made the leap to consultant. Sheila Jones and Diane Forsyth were two women who helped me with my first couple of contracts and showed me models of powerful, successful women in the field.
Q: If you could stand on a rooftop with a megaphone and tell the world one thing about the field, what would you say?
A: The world would fall apart without us!
Q: What do you like most about being an STC member?
A: I really appreciated the opportunity to serve as President. It helped me get to know other writers in town and feel part of a community. We have such as diverse group of caring, smart people and it’s very heartwarming for me to be a part of it all.
Q: Other interests outside tech writing?
A: Currently I’m very interested in my art projects. I had an art exhibit in Vancouver last summer which was a series of 14 miniatures, called Shadow Play, and included an image of the original miniature blown up to a huge size. I have published poetry, fiction and nonfiction, mostly creative nonfiction, and I currently have three or four blogs that I write content for.
This article was written by Stephen Gauer
Stephen is a senior technical writer with more than 20 years experience writing for corporate and hi-tech clients in Vancouver and Toronto. He is the president of the STC Canada West Coast chapter.