|English and Related Literature|
|English & Related Literature|
|Advanced Software Solutions|
|Digital and IT services|
|Large business (250+ employees)|
More about Samuel
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A day in the life of a Technical Author in the United Kingdom
I went from being told what to do and feeling like I was a drone, to being asked what I thought was best and being consulted for my expertise. That felt really good.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
I work for Advanced Software Solutions, after they acquired my previous company Mitrefinch Ltd. We provide business-to-business software solutions for mission-critical activities, ranging from running payroll, to organising exam timetables at schools, to providing NHS doctors with software to share patient notes with colleagues.
What do you do?
I create help documentation, customer communications and support documents for digital products across a suite of software - mainly focused on the HCM (Human Capital Management) sector. HCM products are products that focus on workforce management, for example: digital clock cards, holiday requests, flexible working, payroll management and HR administration.
The key duties are liasing with stakeholders (developers, product managers, support staff) to get a feel for what various features of the products do and their intention, and then translate the complicated technical information into easily-digestable guides for the end-user. This boils down to making the complex simple through creative and clear application of accessible language! Or, to make the complex simple: I take complicated software and write guides so that someone who has no idea what they're doing can do really complicated stuff and feel confident they did it correctly.
Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?
Prior to graduation, I didn't have much of an idea of what job I wanted to pursue. I toyed with the idea of going into teaching, but after some research decided that my heart wasn't really in it - and the compensation for that career didn't bridge the gap. This decision came at quite a late stage (read: literally the day after I submitted my dissertation). So, after my final term at university, I returned to my hometown in Devon to work behind a bar while searching for a career that fit me.
I worked at that bar for around 6 months, searching for a job in York (to fairly little success). I applied for things like a copywriter, car sale graduate schemes (do not recommend, it was a poor experience and websites like Glassdoor.com provided valuable insight to "trap" graduate schemes like this) and publishing assistant. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to return to York despite not having found a job, as living at home with parents while working 60+ hours a week at a minimum wage and stressful job wasn't exactly the glamorous graduate lifestyle I hoped for. I moved into a small room in a shared apartment with strangers, in the hopes that the pressure of living away from home with no income would crack the whip and "force" me to get a job as quickly as possible.
During this time I scoured job sites like Indeed for any relevant jobs. I found that hyper-focusing on specific sectors wasn't proving very fruitful, and found much more opportunities if I simply put my degree into the search and filtered through myself. Be warned: this will be a lengthy and disappointing process. I think I applied for a couple of dozen jobs over a month or two, and only really heard back from 5 or 6. During this time I also worked on a TEFL course, and researched potential other postgraduate opportunities outside of the university route.
Eventually, I heard back from a few jobs and interviewed for them. I found the interview process to be pretty similar - phone interviews, followed by any 'portfolio' work I had (I submitted examples of my work at Nouse as well as my own blogs), and then in-person interviews with tours around the workplace. Interviews were fairly easy and generic - they knew up-front that I was a graduate, so they weren't partictularly gruelling and were more "getting to know you" type situations. Asking what my skills were, testing my interpersonal skills, getting a feel for work ethic and compatability with co-workers. I was surprised at how understanding companies were that this was my first 'real' job outside of part-time work, and they definitely took that into account and didn't expect a massive amount of expertise in workplace dynamics and expectations.
In terms of documentation, I basically only ever supplied a CV and cover letter. Once I actually secured a job they needed things like a Passport/Driving License and proof of address for the actual admin side of things, but I didn't need to provide a copy of my university transcript or any 'proof' that I actually went to university - which was quite surprising!
I didn't find myself with a wealth of options when looking for a job, truth be told. I found that I couldn't be picky - I cast the net wide, and pursued any opportunities until either they weren't interested or I got the job. I accepted the first job offer I was given, and don't regret it.
Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?
Yes. I didn't consider that a career in Software & IT would be open to an English Literature graduate, but it has a surprising amount of transferable skills.
Describe your most memorable day at work
When first starting at my new job, I suffered quite badly from imposter syndrome. I was quite passive in my approach, and simply did what I was told. If I was asked for a particular piece of work, I'd meticulously ask exactly what was expected and what the stakeholder wanted out of it, and I'd deliver just that. I didn't have much autonomy in deciding how the documents I produced should look and feel - I simply took direction.
Until the day in question, most of my work had been on improving already existing documents and sticking to the framework set out by the previous Technical Author. I tried to mimic their style and the solutions they provided, and generally people were happy with this approach. Then, a new project was handed to me. It was for a totally new product with no existing help documentation, and was the first time one of the company's products would be 100% documented by me, rather than me editing and adding to an already existing document.
My first meeting with the person I would be reporting to on the project was amazing. I went into the meeting, expecting I would get the usual "I want this, this and this. Could you deliver it by this date, please.". I opened with this tactic, asking what the requirements where, and the product manager simply replied: "Sam, you're the expert here. I want you to tell ME what we need, and I'll support you as much as I can in delivering that. You take the lead on this."
This was a total game-changer. Nobody had ever really asked my opinion on the documentation I produced, they simply said "normally we have XYZ documents, can you write them please." The project manager gave me the confidence to actually say: "You know what? I think this document is pointless. I actually really think something like this would work loads better." and I had their total support. And, I was right! Customer feedback was better, the documents made more sense, I got commended for my ideas and input, and my days at work have felt totally different since then. I went from being told what to do and feeling like I was a drone, to being asked what I thought was best and being consulted for my expertise. That felt really good.
Are there any challenges associated with your job?
The initial company I worked for was a small company in York that had maybe 100 employees, and it was a small little family. I knew everyone, knew who to go to, and everything felt really friendly.
When the company was acquired, we were bought by a rather gigantic tech company with loads of offices and thousands of staff. In the transition, I have lost that 'family' feeling and now work for what sometimes feels like a faceless monolith, and a lot of the people I interact with I know little more than their name and job title. That's pretty tough - the corporate vs independant structures are radically different and the transition was quite hard.
What’s your work environment and culture like?
Initially I worked in a small office, where we would wear whatever we wanted (within reason - a bikini probably wouldn't have been appreciated!) and sat at a desk with mugs of warm tea and chatting with my desk neighbours happily (while working, of course).
Then: pandemic. Like most of the country, I now work from home in my living room. I roll out of bed, don't change out of my pyjamas, and interact with colleagues through Microsoft Teams. The work:life balance is 100x better, as I can do small jobs around the house between work commitments, I don't need to spend an hour commuting every day, and the working day feels far shorter. It's quite nice - once you get used to disciplining yourself that you're 'at work' while at home with all the distractions that brings - but it can get pretty lonely. My colleagues are quite good at checking up on each other and we make sure to have weekly calls where we ban work-related chat and get in those 'coffee breaks' you would normally have at the office. But, living and working within the same four walls can feel pretty bleak at times. Self-care has definitely become easier and I don't feel like I'm in a horrible cycle of travel-work-travel-find an hour or two to watch netflix- sleep-repeat, and the freedom home-working brings is invaluable - but it does come with a price of lack of atmosphere. I have to spend more time seeking out social interaction on my own time than I normally would have.
What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?
I was a part of Nouse, the student paper. I developed key skills in writing for an audience and collaborating with others to deliver a finished product. It was also a good microcosm of the experience of deadlines and collaboration with colleagues to deliver a finished product with deliverables and milestones.
Similarly, I was a part of URY which gave me critical project planning and self-confidence experience.
What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?
One piece of advice I would give is don't sell yourself short - at interview I was asked what my salary expectations were and I undersold myself in an attempt to just finally get a job. I researched after the fact what a typical salary is for a Technical Author, and in all honestly I was furious at myself when I saw the disparity (almost double...). Granted, I'd imagine that my salary expectations went a long way to securing the job, but asking for something more realistic would have been a smarter move. It has taken me 3 years since then to get onto a salary that I think actually reflects my worth (but keep in mind that there was a global pandemic in two of those years, which obviously affected profits and promotion opportunities for companies).
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