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Interview with Technical Writer & Journalist John Melendez

Interview with Technical Writer & Journalist John Melendez

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Published by John Melendez
The LinkedIn group "Technical Writers in Action" interview with tech writer John Melendez.

Technical Writers (also called "technical communicators") are useful to many industries, as their purpose is to transform complex technical ideas into orderly, easy-to-understand information. For those considering entering the field, or who ask themselves what kind of company may require a tech writer’s services, I have consulted with a veteran in the trade: John Meléndez, Chief Scribbler at Cibola Scribe (www.cibola-scribe.com).

John Meléndez graduated from the University of Arizona with a major in Oriental Studies, and minored in Forestry. John speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and some German. John’s inspiration as a writer originates from his great-grandfather Jesus Maria Meléndrez, publisher of El Mensajero (The Messenger), one of America's first Spanish-English newspapers.

Mr. Meléndez has been extremely helpful in giving me a lot of great advice and personal feedback on technical writing as a career. I am excited to share my interview with him and the information I learned from John.

You may read the interview in the following link:

https://www.box.net/shared/3pn4kqjb1lh8om9z5x24

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Kind Regards,

Angel Candelario
The LinkedIn group "Technical Writers in Action" interview with tech writer John Melendez.

Technical Writers (also called "technical communicators") are useful to many industries, as their purpose is to transform complex technical ideas into orderly, easy-to-understand information. For those considering entering the field, or who ask themselves what kind of company may require a tech writer’s services, I have consulted with a veteran in the trade: John Meléndez, Chief Scribbler at Cibola Scribe (www.cibola-scribe.com).

John Meléndez graduated from the University of Arizona with a major in Oriental Studies, and minored in Forestry. John speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and some German. John’s inspiration as a writer originates from his great-grandfather Jesus Maria Meléndrez, publisher of El Mensajero (The Messenger), one of America's first Spanish-English newspapers.

Mr. Meléndez has been extremely helpful in giving me a lot of great advice and personal feedback on technical writing as a career. I am excited to share my interview with him and the information I learned from John.

You may read the interview in the following link:

https://www.box.net/shared/3pn4kqjb1lh8om9z5x24

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Kind Regards,

Angel Candelario

More info:

Published by: John Melendez on Jan 03, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/26/2013

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Page 1 of 10
 Technical Writer In Action Interview with John Melendez, Chief Scribbler at Cibola Scribe
 Technical Writers (also called "technical communicators") are useful to many industries, as theirpurpose is to transform complex technical ideas into orderly, easy-to-understand information. Forthose considering entering the field, or who ask themselves what kind of company may require a
tech writer’s
services, I have consulted with a veteran in the trade: John Meléndez, Chief Scribblerat Cibola Scribe (www.cibola-scribe.com). John Meléndez graduated from the University of Arizona with amajor in Oriental Studies, and minored in Forestry. John speaksfluent Mandarin Chinese and some German, and makes biodiesel forhis Volkswagen Jetta out of Chinese restaurant grease. John
’s
 inspiration as a writer originates from his great-grandfather JesusMaria Meléndrez, publisher of 
El Mensajero
The Messenger 
 ), one of  America's first Spanish-English newspapers.Mr. Meléndez has been extremely helpful in giving me a lot of greatadvice and personal feedback on technical writing as a career. I amexcited to share my interview with him and the information I learnedfrom John.
 TWIA: John, thank you for this extraordinary opportunity. John Meléndez:
 Thank you, too!
I’
m honored to speak here with you and among the folks in
Technical Writer in Action 
.
 TWIA: What was your professional background before you chose a technical writingcareer? John Meléndez:
Before I settled in as a technical writer, I worked a lot of different jobs.I was a construction worker, a restaurant kitchen helper, a law firm clerk, an apprentice aircraftmechanic, and a warehouse worker
 – 
just to name a few. While doing all this, I literally wanderedacross the world. I even landed a job for several years in China working for a Danish shipping company.
I’ve done and seen many things. So, I feel rather fortunate that I have this “colorful background”
on which to lean. Many of the jobs I took on had a technical element somehow, and thus I wasable to build up a strong background that prepared me for a career in technical writing.
 TWIA: What is your educational background? John Meléndez:
  There are two kinds of education. The first is
“institutional
education
”, the kind
one commonly gets from books and while attending classes around a campus. I got this form of education as a B.A. degree from the University of  Arizona, specializing in Chinese language. Knowing another language has really helped my careeras a tech writer, which prompts me to speak about the second kind of education. This other form of education has to do with having a broad practical knowledge about many things.
Some people would call this “life experience”
or
“The
School of Life
. I encourage
 
aspiring tech writers to expand their education well beyond their book learning, and even beyondthe writing trade. The more you learn about many different things, especially if they involve hands-on experience of a technical nature, the greater your chances are that you will get hired as a tech writer because of knowing a certain skill, or having worked in a certain industry, or even in a different country. While there is merit in being a specialist, I suggest that you spend the first five or more years of your writing career working in various industries. This way, you can develop a broad backgroundthat arms you with the flexibility and confidence to take on any tech writing assignment. All the experience you get from this second form of education is priceless career-wise
 – 
as well asfor your personal development.
 TWIA: Do you recall how your interest in technical writing originated?
 
 John Meléndez: 
My interest came about in baby steps over many years.In college, I took joy in writing my term papers
 – 
all too often at the last minute! I saw themarketability of knowing how to write early on: I helped my roommates or school acquaintances write their papers in exchange for that one commodity that a starving student always needs: food!Back then, my interest in
 writing was more on the whimsical side. I didn’t really get into tech
 writing as something marketable, as a career, until later.
 TWIA: How did you start your career as technical writer?
 
 John Meléndez:
For years, I worked many different jobs to gain practical experience. I washungry to learn many things. If at all, I was writing in my personal journal.
I didn’t get into
 writing as a career until some years after college. By then I had worked with many people frommany cultures. Thus I had developed a broad base of communication skills
 – 
such as how tolisten well to my audience, and how to turn information I learned into something useful for otherbusiness tasks. After living overseas for several years, I came back home to America in the late 1990s. Within afew weeks of my return, I took on a job as a document formatter for a tech education firm. Uponshowing my bosses that I could do this well, I started editing the content I was working with. Afterwards, I learned the subject matter I was editing well enough to begin authoring originalcontent. By then I had become a fledgling technical writer. Luckily, I had a manager whonurtured and encouraged me, and taught me the ropes. Eventually I replaced him as the technicalpublications manager when he left the firm.
I’ve been enjoying the ride ever since.
 TWIA: Could you tell me a bit about the first technical writing project you ever workedon? What were a few of the challenges
 – 
or successes
 – 
you faced when first starting out John Meléndez:
 As I mentioned before, I started off as a lowly document formatter.I was really lucky in my first job, because my 
bosses’
expectations of me were rather narrow.Success came when I showed that I met not only their stated expectations, but also was able to domy work in such a way that it helped the company in more ways than one. For example, I would write and format my projects in a manner that benefitted not only the technical publication
 
process, but also allowed my content to be repurposed by the folks in the marketing and training departments. The greatest difficulty I faced when first starting out was being able to break out of the mold as a
“mere writer”. What I mean by this is not
to break 
out of one’s job as a tech writer altogether
,but
to break up other people’s
limited perception of who a tech writer is, and what a tech writercan do.By the time I became a tech writer, I was also fairly adept at business in general. I struggled withgetting upper management to include me in key meetings so that I could contribute not only as a writer, but as a solid business voice within the company.My fellow writers have argued with me on this point, saying that this is beyond the general scopeof what a technical writer does. Perhaps technically their argument is valid. However, if you can
 walk through the front door of a company offering more than what they expected, they’re more
likely to take your skills as a pleasant surprise
 – 
 
and thus they’re more likely to hang on to you
 when the going gets rough. T
here have been few companies I’ve worked for that didn’t welcome
an intelligently honestinsider perspective, from someone who could put ideas into a well-written plan that could beimplemented and measured. What kind of person can do this well? A tech writer.
 TWIA: What software programs or other technology do you use on a regular basis?
 
 John Meléndez:
Depending on what company you work for, and how mature their contentdevelopment systems are, you will see variety in the tools being used.Surprisingly I am still using Microsoft Word, which only costs a couple hundred dollars. A few projects back while working for a different company, I used a component content managementsystem (CCMS) that cost tens of thousands of dollars to develop, implement, and maintain.For companies that like to take the middle road on tech writing authoring tools, I find myself using Adobe FrameMaker for docs, and Captivate or similar tools for training content delivery.
 TWIA: Could you please mention some of your most important work/publications? John Meléndez:
I believe the most important work I have done for myself as a technical writer was not done while being a technical writer. Does this s
ound strange? I’ll explain.
 As time goes on, you will find yourself developing confidence not only as a technical writer, butperhaps as another kind of writer, too. I know a few tech writers who started off as hard-coretech geeks devoted to scribbling out their trade. However, as they grew and matured, I saw themdoing other cool things. Some of them have gone on to becoming creative writers
 – 
novelists andpoets
 – 
writers of that kind. By developing themselves off-hours, they showed up on the clock at work much happier than ever, and they were able to contribute more energetically and creatively than they ever had before.
Here’s an example of a tech writer who ha
s turned herself into one of the most creatively abstract writers in our time: Amy Tan, the writer of 
 The Joy Luck Club.
She started off as a tech writer! While I am not yet a book writer, I make a point to self-publish using whatever platforms are outthere. I retain a portfolio on Scribd.com so that I can show off my tech work to prospective

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