In September’s Spotlight, we feature Mark Matsuno. Mark was the treasurer of STC Canada West Coast until June 2016 and had a pivotal role in organizing the chapter’s finances. He discusses his transition from translation to technical writing, and offers advice for new technical writers.
Question: How did you get started in technical writing?
Several years ago, a neighbour told me about his experiences taking technical writing courses at BCIT. At the time, I was working as a technical translator, and was interested in the idea of writing content instead of translating it. I started taking technical writing courses soon after. Eventually, I found a contract position as a technical writer. A colleague at STC Canada West Coast then invited me to apply for my current position.
Question: What is your current work as a technical writer?
Here’s a quick breakdown:
Documentation: I write and update software documentation including online help, user guides, and installation guides. I build the final outputs: Webhelp, PDF, and CHM.
Translation: I process content files and GUI strings and send them out for translation. I check the quality of the translations and incorporate them into the content.
Process improvement: I tweak these processes to minimize the steps that need to be done manually. I troubleshoot our translation and documentation tools. And I document the processes above.
Question: What is the most unique project you’ve worked on?
Before entering this field, I didn’t expect that I would be thinking so much about the process of documentation and translation. The most unique work I’ve done in this area was moving content out of one authoring tool (Help and Manual) into another authoring tool (Flare).
Question: How was your experience as treasurer of STC Canada West Coast?
I enjoyed working with the people in the chapter, and it was great to work under several presidents and see different leadership styles. It was rewarding to regularly provide an accurate financial picture to help the chapter council make informed spending decisions.
Question: What is your writing philosophy?
I’m still trying to develop one. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:
Question: What keeps you busy outside of writing?
I like learning languages. I learned Mandarin for several years, and I’m currently learning Korean.
Question: What advice do you have for new technical writers?
Put together a portfolio—it demonstrates your ability to create and organize content.
Pick an authoring tool—or a drawing tool, or data visualization tool—and learn about it in more detail. Lynda.com is a paid site with a lot of instructional videos for learning software. It’s free if you have a Vancouver Public Library card.
Also consider open-source alternatives to learn the basics. For instance, if you want to learn Adobe Illustrator, consider learning Inkscape. Also, interact with the technical communications community, and contribute your time and knowledge. It will open up more opportunities to learn and grow.