This month’s spotlight features Misty Kadwell, who has worked in technical communication since 1990, in industries ranging from high tech to heath care. Her many professional awards include the 1991/1992 STC Award of Excellence for the production of technical manuals. In this spotlight article, Misty discusses her career, her love of cooking, and the advice she’d give herself now if she was just starting out.
Can you briefly describe your current job?
I’m a contract technical writer and document management consultant for Mobile Workforce in Port Orchard, Washington. Mobile Workforce uses RFID tracking technology to keep track of surgical instruments, hospital supplies, and occasionally people. For example, they can tag hospital wristbands to make sure newborn babies stay matched with their mothers, and dementia patients don’t wander out of hospitals.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a nurse or a forest ranger (that’s what it says under my picture in my Grade 12 yearbook!). I was born in Ontario, and when we moved to BC we lived on Burnaby Mountain near SFU, and then on Vancouver Island. I loved to hike in the woods and became very interested in conservation. I did go to nursing school, but there was a surplus of nurses at the time that I graduated. However, I’ve used my medical education every day of my life, especially as a parent.
Why did you decide to become a technical communicator?
It was a gradual entry! After nursing school, I worked for the Continuing Education department at UBC, where I typed a lot of manuals and books. I moved on to MDI, where I worked in the Word Processing department. Shortly after Motorola acquired MDI, they shut the department down and instituted a hiring freeze, but two women from the technical writing department, Diane Forsyth and Mimi Brownlee, managed to transfer me to their department just before the hiring freeze took effect. These women were wonderful mentors and took me under their wings as I learned on the job.
What has been the biggest challenge (so far) in your career?
While I was working for Neoteric Technology, our lead developer merged the software from our four main products, creating an extremely complex piece of software. The specs were not yet available, so I had to just dive into the software on my own and figure it out well enough to document it for others. It was intimidating, but in the end I knew it very well, and eventually managed a project translating my documentation into German, French, Dutch, and Italian.
What do you like to do outside of your career?
Cooking! I love to develop new recipes, and make appetizers, and cook for parties. I used to do catering, but now I just cater for close friends and family. I also bake dog treats for my German Shepherd, who has pancreatitis and is on a very low-fat diet.
What advice would you give yourself now if you were just starting out?
Be very careful when taking on contract work. Research the company and read reviews from former employees before you sign the contract. And protect yourself – don’t keep all your work on a shared company server. Keep some where only you can access it, so you have a bargaining chip and they don’t already have all your work if they decide not to pay you.
Jenny Riecken is a technical writer with a past as a QA analyst. She specializes in freelance contracts, writing everything from software documentation to policy manuals.