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Publications > Dateline Houston > October 2002 > Feature Article

Volume 42, Issue 2

October 2002

Technical Writing as a Second Career
Life Begins at 60

by Cathy Bettoney, Technical Writer, Millar Instruments, Inc.

What kept me in the public school classroom (teaching geometry) for so long was not love of education but lack of a viable alternative.† So my career change had to await my retirement from public education at the earliest moment I could do so without financial penalties.

I canít remember now how I happened to read Peter Kentís Making Money in Technical Writing, but that was the catalyst. This was something I felt I could do. Other than what information I could glean from this book, I knew nothing about the field. I did know how to change jobs.

First, I did some networking. My older daughter was at the time an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley and fairly high up in her company. I asked her to give me an e-mail introduction to her technical writing department, which she did. I then corresponded with one of the writers, who told me that it would be a good idea to have a technical writing certificate, since many more writers were beginning to enter the field and this would give me instant credentials.

Second, I joined STC and began attending the local chapter meetings in Houston. Being an experienced employee, I knew the value of belonging to a professional organization. STC was very helpful in getting me oriented to what technical writers do and what skills are needed.

Third, I investigated technical writing certificate courses. Houston Community College had a two-year program that seemed just what I needed. As I told my teaching colleagues, I didnít need degreesóI had degreesówhat I needed was knowledge! Secure in my choice and my minuscule pension, I enrolled.

Then came the revelation: technical writing nowadays requires computer skills! Heavy-duty computer skills! I felt as though I were drinking not from the fountain of learning but from the fire hose. Four semesters later, mentally bruised but still standing, certificate in hand, I applied for jobs.

I was advised that finding a job would take at least three months. It was nearly that long before Kitba Consulting hired me. I enjoyed the job and then had that priceless treasure: experience! Six weeks later, when the project I was working on ended, came a call from an employment agency asking if I knew someone who needed a job. Yes, I did; I was available. Great, they replied, because you were the one we wanted anyway.

So, last June I began work at Millar Instruments, Inc. to write government grants for their research and development efforts. The job has expanded to include a number of typical technical writing tasks, such as research and proofreading, and many non-typical ones, drawing on my lifetime of experience in the workforce and breadth of knowledge. Itís great. Itís so much better than teaching.

Thank you, my colleagues in STC Houston, Kitba Consulting, and Millar Instruments! And to those who hesitate to start over at an advanced age, I say go for it!

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P.O. Box 42051, Houston, TX 77242-2051 | 713-706-3434