Alyssa Fox, Director of Information Development and Program Manager at the Houston-based enterprise software company NetIQ, unexpectedly found her calling in technical writing while she was an undergraduate majoring in History at Texas A&M. Contemplating a career in teaching at a time when the Internet and websites were just starting to become popular, she discovered that she “liked computers and learning about new things.” Campus recruiters were looking for potential technical writing candidates, and she found that the work was a good fit for her interests.
Her early experience in the field included stints with the company Reynolds and Reynolds, the A&M Chemistry department, and Zeh Software, a pioneer in the area of computer graphics. The next step was a position as technical writer at PentaSafe, which was eventually bought by NetIQ. There, she worked her way up the ladder from technical writer to lead writer to manager to director, which is her current position.
Alyssa is enthusiastic and passionate about software: “I love software. Software runs everything today,” she says, “and it does so many cool things; for example, think about Google Glass and the Internet of Things.” Software is also an industry that requires a lot of content and user documentation, which explains the increasing relevance of the technical writer. She predicts that the Internet of Things is going to change how technical communication is perceived and practiced.
As director of Information Development, she creates content for all of NetIQ’s products, makesvideos, and does usability testing, with the help of her team—a 30-member team located in the US and Bangalore, India. Working with a team in India has been a very positive experience for her, she says, and she loves visiting them – she has been there six times already. As director, her role also involves “setting strategy, smoothing out obstacles, and collaborating with people working across different functional areas.”
As if this wasn’t enough, she has also been highly active in the STC Houston chapter since 2006, and was President of the Houston chapter for a year in 2011. She has served as a judge for competitions and as a competition chairperson at the local level, and at the society level she has also been a judge for the international newsletter competition. Currently she is the Secretary of the STC, responsible for preparing agendas and slides, taking meeting minutes, and helping the President ensure that discussion in the meetings is effective.
Alyssa has great advice for people who want to get started in technical writing: “Find unique ways of getting experience … look at Open Source projects, volunteer opportunities with nonprofits, and blogging and writing about technical subjects. Show initiative and bring additional value to the table,” she advises. “Technical writers tend to be introverts – they need to get out there and show their stuff,” she adds. “Be assertive and don’t feel that you don’t belong at the table… Show your value. Sometimes technical writers have to push to be treated as equals.”She believes it’s not the content that will further technical communicators’ careers, it’s the knowledge behind the content.
Fun Facts about Alyssa Fox
Years in Tech comm: 19
Favorite food: Mexican
Favorite restaurants: Chuy’s or Pappasitos
Hobbies: Traveling, shopping, reading, and golf
Favorite fiction (currently):Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life; Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns; Stephen King’s 11/22/63
Favorite nonfiction (currently): Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Russ Unger’sSpeaker Camp
Upcoming activities: Keynote speaker at LavaCon 2015, in New Orleans: “Connections that Count: Building Relationships for Career Success”
Tip for aspiring technical writers today: Look for ways to contribute value across the board. Get involved in helping to solve business problems.
The aspect of technical writing I enjoy the most is… helping users solve their problems with our products.
Meenakshi Venkat is a graduate student in technical communication at the University of Houston-Downtown. She has about 10 years’ experience as an editor in the publishing industry and is also a member of the STC.