...of a Senior Technical Writer.

Name:Lynda Sereno
Occupation:Senior Technical Writer
Interview Date:November 30, 2000

Personal Note: I've found it very helpful to be involved with lots of technical communities. I'm a member of BayChi, the WebGuild, and Silicon Valley Webgrrls, which I led for nearly two years. I also attend events sponsored by the Software Development Forum.

Are you self-employed?

No. I prefer to work as a full-time employee at pre-IPO startups.

What is your background?

I had done some freelance journalism and I love to learn new things. In 1994-95, I attended De Anza College under the Nova program and trained to be a Network Admin.

What types of degrees, skills, experiences are necessary for this field?

Any technical experience helps, because once you have a little, it's easy to get more. For example, if you understand the basics of programming, it's easier to learn about additional languages. Once you know the basic terminology, it's easier to learn more and you have the words to ask the right questions. I've found that degrees are not required if you can perform, but a technical or writing degree is always welcomed. Skills are outlined in the section describing 5-7 skills needed for my job.

How did you get started in this field?

I had done some freelance journalism and I love to learn new things. In 1994-95, I attended De Anza College under the Nova program. I trained to be

What college (if any) courses have been most helpful for your career?

All my technical courses have been very helpful. I studied to become an NT Admin, and that helps me write for Administrators.

What are your specific responsibilities?

I produce all technical documentation for our firm. I plan the documentation set, scope the deliverables, research and gather content, create technical drawings, select a review team and gather review comments, and prepare the documents for delivery with the CD and on the web.

Describe a typical workday and workweek.

I work 40-45 every week. In crunch mode, I work 60-80 hours per week. Crunch mode generally lasts a couple of weeks, and occurs every couple of months. I arrive about 10 and leave about 7:30 on most days. I work a bit from home most weeks, maybe just two or four hours on a good week, all day Saturday and Sunday and a couple of hours each weekday in crunch mode.

What do you do during a typical day?

I gather info or I write. In the info gathering stage, I review the engineering documentation and the marketing documentation. I interview the engineers and marketing team. In writing mode, I churn content, edit content, create drawings, index content, and do final production editing.

Name 5-7 job skills that are needed for your job.

1. Enjoyment of learning new things
2. Preferring deadline-driven tasks
3. Ability to learn quickly
4. Gather and verify information
5. Ability to write clearly and consistantly
6. Prioritize tasks
7. Work independently and as a team member

Are you in a team oriented position?

Yes. Although I write independently, I am part of the software development team. I work very closely with engineers, QA, and marketing.

Do you have flextime? Vacation time? Work at home? Telecommute?

I do have flextime. I either come in late (around 10) or early (around 7:30). I've got two weeks of vacation a year, and I generally squeeze in another week without pay. I occasionaly work from home. When I do, I telecommute by leaving my email client open and forwarding my office calls to my home number.

How many hours per week are expected or warranted for peak performance?

In my current position, 40-45 per week on slow weeks, 60-80 in crunch mode.

Are many evenings or weekends required for your job?

When extra hours are required (average of a week a month), I work extra hours in the morning and on weekends.

How much travel is involved with a job in your field?


Could you give me examples of projects that you are working on?

Currently, I am developing a Programming Guide, a Network Operation Guide, and an Admin Guide. When I have these whipped into shape a bit, I'll be developing online help for the Admin Console, the sample Client, and the Network Admin Console.

Could you describe your work settings? Offices, machinery, resources etc.

At work, I sit in a cubie in the engineering area. I've got a great machine with all the software I need to do my job. We have all the standard office stuff and we have two office staff members-- a real luxury in an early startup. It means we have someone to order office supplies and pizza.

What personal qualities do you think are necessary for someone to be successful in this occupation?

I think to succeed you must enjoy your work. It can be very demanding, but I find that sometimes, I am so into it that I don't even notice the time passing. For example, I like to write, I like to learn new things, I like a challenge, and I think technology will save the world.

What is the major challenge you face at work?

Getting the technical details right. Sometimes, the documentation I work from is very incomplete. Some needed details may not become obvious until I've already begun to develop the documentation.

What aspects of your job do you find most rewarding (pros) ?

I love working with bright, interesting people and making cool, new things.

Least rewarding? (cons)

I hate the pressure when it falls at an inconvenient times. I've worked with a throbbing broken ankle, dreadful colds, and when out of town family was visiting. The deadline is my friend and my enemy.

Are you confronted with difficult decisions or situations in your position?

Do you have a lot of interaction with a certain occupation? I.E. media, engineers, etc.

What is the Female to Male Ratio in your position/field?


Has the field changed since you first started your career?

Yes. When I started, the web was text-based. It was very exciting to use a <H1tag.

Describe the changes taking place in your field. Project future trends?

Web applications are continuing to grow, and are mimicing tradional desktop applications. I think the field will continue to grow at a rapid pace. I expect that sometime in the next two years we'll see a more standard look and feel for web applications.

Turnover rate?

It's high. Part of that is dot.coms being aquired, which changes the workplace and makes startup stock worth cash, and part is the lure of new challenges and higher wages.

Do you think women avoid technical careers?

Yes. I think the perception is that it's a man's world, and that things are being built that only interest guys. And, I think many women find technology daunting because they haven't made the initial investment in learning the lingo and a few basics.

What do you think can be done to encourage girls to get more involved in the technology field?

I think it's very helpful for girls to meet women who are involved in technology, so that they can understand how they can fit into a techncial career. Girls should be encouraged at an early age, and that encouragement should be continued and followed with career mentoring as they enter the field.

Do you believe that women will be in more technical jobs in the future?

Yes. I think we are only at the beginning of the bell curve.

Do you have any advice for women and girls that are interested in going into the field?

Don't dawdle! Look at all aspects of technology and find the ones that interest you. Look for jobs that will use some of your existing skills or things that you enjoy doing (I always enjoyed writing). Be confident and do your best.