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Woo, been awhile.

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Oct. 1st, 2013 | 11:40 am

It's been a year of change. Hell, it's been a summer of change.

I'll speak first about career changes.

All my life, from my father onward, people have been trying to get me interested in programming. Despite a lifelong and tremendous interest in computers and technology, and despite some early exposure to the process of coding (being taught BASIC by my Dad at a single-digit age), I could not actually drum up the drive to code every day. My drive for prose writing and music performance always prevailed instead. But being practical-minded, I first tried becoming a music journalist (as this was the perfect marriage of my two passions) until the actual experience disillusioned me to the business, and in my last year of college I found a financially comfortable and in-demand living as a technical writer.

Obviously it wasn't always comfortable. As a strong extrovert, it's strange being something as solitary as a writer, particularly one as egoless, thankless, and dispassionate as a technical author. Material was often dry, especially in my very first job out of college writing manuals for city government command-line software. The decision to move to Silicon Valley and getting to write for companies whose software and services I used in real life (Yahoo!, Apple, Kindle, exciting startups) was far more gratifying than anything Florida corporations appeared to offer. Plus, California is just better, a multidimensional upgrade.

Ach, this is too much background -- you likely knew all this about me already. :)

Anyway, maybe to fast-forward... my current company, where I've been nearly two years, was also trying to push and encourage some programming on my part, despite my reservations. The fact is, knowing a little PHP (fluent in writing and not just reading code) would probably help me with all the internal developer documentation I create, so I couldn't just say "No thanks, not interested" knowing that it could boost what I do and make me more efficient. I tried teaching myself a little PHP but I would lose interest quickly.

Oddly, however, it took some looking back to some of my past jobs where certain subject matters, beyond internal API docs or end-user helpdocs, held the most fascination that I would find myself reading about it off-hours and having long discussions with people in these domains, signaling an obvious interest of mine. The first of these was web/network security, a field that I find incredibly sexy and compelling as an ever-changing set of sophisticated problems to solve. The second, while not particularly sexy but just fairly interesting for me to get hands-on about, was IT/operations/sysadmining.

Ops and admin documentation, it turned out, was always one of my favorite genres of tech writing. I also tended to get along really well and connect fairly easily with people of that temperament (not to say they're all cookie-cutter) and felt some draw to the work that they do.

There have also been a few times in which I've had to deep-dive into installing, maintaining, and configuring a system myself, using command-line Linux (which I only have a basic sense of) and experienced tremendous personal payoff and a sense of accomplishment that a "Hello, World!" program couldn't quite deliver to me.

After verbally expressing a preference to get more into the ops side of things than programming to my boss, she actually went and changed my position, from 100% tech writing to 50/50 writing and "junior IT", if you will.

This seemed like a very strong reaction to my expressed interest, so rather than being instantly excited, I got cold feet, felt stressed about it, dragged my feet in making the transition. A few weeks ago I finally decided to just let it happen, and so far it's been great!

They're giving me simple tasks at first. I'm not yet in the realm of solving significant problems (in the sense of puzzling out a solution to a crisis). I am working on a personal project in getting to know Jira and Confluence, two services that I will, eventually, be managing for the company.

But this week I'm learning that they intend to cross-train me in some aspects of office/network security and data center stuff as well.

I'm struggling to figure out how to express these developments in a way that conveys my actual excitement about the broadening of my value at work, and about being able to use my brain in a new problem-solving way as part of my job. Tech writing has never felt like problem-solving per se, even if you can frame it as such. But with ops, it's all about response, service, helping the business succeed by enabling people to work and communicate. It dovetails nicely with technical authoring but it is actually far more interactive, more interrupt-driven than my usual routine -- perhaps that's part of the appeal. There seem to be fewer ruts to fall into, and more fascinating daily/weekly challenges.

I also like that IT/ops has me more on the move, rather than being tied to a desk non-stop. I'm looking at data center visits in my future, and there's a potential trip to New York sometime in November to help with a tech/telepresence refresh in our sales office there. Tech writers never get to travel for work!

Personal challenges I'm trying to overcome:

* I have terrible memorization skills it seems, so remembering infrequently-used Linux commands is hard! Constantly looking stuff up and wishing it would just be reinforced and rote. But I'm impatient.

* After 12 years honing my professionalism in one strong skill, I'm back to being entry-level at something in a work environment, and all the (largely internal) pressures and self-consciousness that goes with that. Despite this I'm getting more than enough encouragement and praise, so it balances out. But it's easy for me to fall back into my professional anxieties, which has the self-fulfilling prophecy of sabotaging the productivity I'm trying to have in this new role.

* I'm so excited by these challenges that I have a hard time remembering the other 50% of my job, the usual stuff I've been doing. It's probably just work-NRE, and trying to navigate having two completely different types of roles in one job. The workload for tech writing is way down right now, which leaves me more idle time to think about Linux, bash, firewalls than doing things like writing a data dictionary. (The latter is a nice-to-have project that sounds tedious to me.)

So we'll see. It's possible I'm caught up in a honeymoon period, and it could be totally wrong for me. I haven't been externally stress-tested by this kind of cross-training yet. It just feels both good to me, and good for me, to be involved this way, so I'm willing to see how things end up. If nothing else, shake-ups are good for the soul. :)

(More life changes to be detailed in later posts, some of which'll be friends-locked or filtered.)

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Comments {9}


(no subject)

from: funcrunch
date: Oct. 1st, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)

Congrats on getting into programming. I see a lot of parallels with my excitement and frustrations when I first transitioned from doing tech support to doing programming.

I'd like to pick your brain about tech writing at some point if you'd be up for it, as I was strongly considering entering that field just before I got my first full-time web developer job back in '98. Now that I've been out of the regular workforce for nearly five years I'm reconsidering my career options. (I took some tech writing classes at UC Extension back in the late 90s and wrote in-house documentation frequently at my tech support and web dev jobs, but never had a formal tech writer position.)

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(no subject)

from: auros
date: Oct. 1st, 2013 08:28 pm (UTC)

Yay for developing new skills! (Though with my firm being as small as it is, I feel like I have to pick up something new every few months... We really need to get to the point where we can start expanding our workforce and letting people specialize more...) Anyways, glad you're feeling fulfilled at work, and I look forward to hearing more of the updates, if I'm on the appropriate filters... :-)

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Geek of Weird Shit

(no subject)

from: gows
date: Oct. 1st, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)

Good to see you! Was thinking about you recently. :)

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Life Is Change, Princess

(no subject)

from: dangerpudding
date: Oct. 1st, 2013 10:32 pm (UTC)

Welcome to the ops side. :)

Memorization and muscle memory are useful (I often have to be typing to remember commands) but can be overrated - knowing how to find things is the more important skill, really.

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(no subject)

from: istar
date: Oct. 2nd, 2013 02:25 am (UTC)

Rad! Even if you end up hating coding with the passion of a thousand camels (and even we who love programming have a lot of things we enjoy hating on/ranting about), how could it possibly hurt your ambitions to learn and branch out into a relevant new skillset? You are enacting power over The Machine! And as dangerpudding pointed out, rote memorization is not a big deal. The zen of programming is having a beginner's mind, always open to learning and figuring out better ways of doing. Learning how to distinguish good example code (on stackoverflow, github, etc) from not-so-good example code is a pretty key skill that I exercise constantly.

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(no subject)

from: inflectionpoint
date: Oct. 2nd, 2013 04:58 am (UTC)

I'm glad to hear you are doing well. Sounds like an excellent place to explore and grow.

Good luck!

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:: regarder of the cries of the world ::

(no subject)

from: xaotica
date: Oct. 2nd, 2013 09:36 am (UTC)

php is a hella annoying programming language in my opinion, and not enjoying it is normal even among people who love to code :)

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(no subject)

from: cholula
date: Oct. 2nd, 2013 04:30 pm (UTC)

It's good to see you here again! Congrats on all the new professional opportunities in your immediate future. Hope to hear more about other developments in your life. I always enjoy your writing and insight.

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(no subject)

from: plantgirl
date: Dec. 14th, 2013 01:40 am (UTC)

How exciting, that they are giving you room to expand toward your interests, and training you! :)

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