An Engineer Who Writes
I’m Robert Plamondon. I’m a computer engineer by training, but I’ve always loved writing. I published a lot of magazine articles and my first book while I was still in college at Oregon State University (Through Dungeons Deep : A Fantasy Gamers’ Handbook.) My first job out of college was as Technical Editor at Activision, where my job was to learn the game-design secrets of our own designers and write them up so all our other designers could use them with a minimum of fuss. Later I moved on to WEITEK, one of the first fabless semiconductor companies, which designed bleeding-edge, high-performance chips. My job was to explain their operation so clearly that any idiot could use them and succeed. I was a technical writer and later a technical writing manager.
After WEITEK, I moved back to Oregon, buying a 37-acre farm about half an hour outside of Corvallis (home of Oregon State University). From this new location, I’ve done contract technical writing and related work for companies like 3dfx, Cadence, Arithmos, Hifn, Sharp Microelectronics, Orbital Data, and Citrix Systems.
But high-tech or low-tech, technical writing is just a fancy name for “nonfiction writing,” and to a first approximation it’s all the same. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me when my small-farm experiences led me to write Success With Baby Chicks, which covers the fascinating and crucial first few weeks of a chicken’s life, where the chicks are entirely dependent on your not screwing up. Most books about chickens are not written by technical writers, so they spend a lot of time telling you how wonderful it all is, without ever getting around to imparting the knowledge you need if things are going to be wonderful.
Which is sort of the point. Like most things, the fundamental concept of technical writing is a lot easier to state than to execute:
“What does the reader need to know in order to succeed? Tell him that.”
Depending on the topic, success might have very different definitions, but the goal is always the same: enable the reader’s success. If you can do that, you’re a technical writer.