Monday, January 22, 2007

My Niche

I have a theory that my career path is based on doing things that other people would rather not do themselves. Now, I don’t mean jobs that would qualify for Dirty Jobs. It’s more that I doubt that the majority of professionals would choose to:

  • Check if periods have one or two spaces after them
  • Beat uncooperative headers, footers, and page numbers into submission
  • Ensure that every copyright sign is superscripted
  • Create graph and table templates in Excel that can be inserted into Word and still maintain legibility
  • Format an existing document so that it can populate a table of contents gracefully
  • Make sure that compound adjectives are properly hyphenated

See, my technical writing background has exposed me to a whole spectrum of tasks that are generally unsavory for the general population but I happen to relish. Boring to some, my workload caters to perfectionist tendencies and allows me to build and flex my Office muscles. I enjoy surpassing people’s expectations of Excel formulas and the challenge of a recalcitrant file that will not behave. Because Microsoft insists on making its applications think too much (die, Clippy!), my job is often a battle between how I want files to function and how Microsoft thinks I want them to function. You’re not the boss of me! I shout in my head, shaking my mental fist.

Today I was at home, hunkered down on my couch, for a day consisting of all of the above. Nothing says par-tay like software documentation! Pages of rough tech content had to be polished into a user-friendly, non-technical reference for project managers of all different learning styles. I’d already spent at least a full day on it, but I still had a long way to go before my end-of-day deadline. I spent hours making screen shots, reproducing examples, and creating hyperlinks. The sections had to be reordered for usage’s sake and I had to switch around the orientation of pages (fun with section breaks!) to maintain some white space for notes that should be scribbled down during an upcoming training session.

When I finally sent off my final (hopefully) twenty-four pages of hard labor, I realized that I was roasting. Having my computer on my lap, typing steadily for hours, and concentrating fiercely had made a physical effect on me. As I took off my hoodie, I felt a settling sense of satisfaction in my day’s work. Normally, I don’t feel a significant degree of accomplishment because my role essentially boils down to making other people’s jobs easier. Even though my work today had the same result of making processes run, this time was different; this morning, these twenty-four pages did not exist, but I made them! I created what would be helpful for the largest team at my company by finessing the output from the tech team and thinking through how the users would interact with it. I produced a clear, supportive piece of communication and I’m sure that I’m more excited about this than others might be. I am positive that when I have that documentation in my hands, I’ll know that it would not have come together if not for me. It really means something to me.

The question is, how do I get paid more for this odd skill set?

1 comment:

janet said...

I know I am so late here, sorry!

I loved this post, because I know just what you mean! I feel like I also spend a lot of my day making Word do what I want it to do (sometimes it wins though....grrrr).

I can just very much relate to your document-perfectionism at the workplace. As for the salary part....I have no idea!