By: Tavia Record
Editor, On the Record
Orlando Central Florida Chapter, STC
I’m grinning as I type these words to you because I’m grateful for the opportunity to feature tech comm guru, Mike Murray for this session of the On the Record Spotlight. When I met Mike, I could sense the spirit of a fighter. Regal like a lion, he said to me, “you are definitely in the right place.” Mike Murray holds the honor of STC Associate Fellow, is a past three-time chapter president of the Orlando Central Florida STC chapter, and is also a 30-year member of the organization.
T: Dispel three myths about technical communications.
M: My main focus since joining STC has been on the young people who will be the technical communicators of the future. I have been the “Teacher of the Day” in area high schools at various times, where I was the English teacher for all of the classes all day. I have gotten various insights from these visits. In addition, as chapter president, one of my key focus areas was strengthening the relationship between our chapter and UCF. One result of these efforts has been former students who have gone on to take leadership positions in our chapter. The main three technical communications myths that I have picked up from these young people are:
- Technical writing is boring.
- You can’t make a living writing.
- You have to be technical to be a technical writer.
Technical writing is boring.
That might be true if all you did was write. That’s when I pull out my portfolio and show them posters, newsletters, presentations, illustrated user guides, flyers, brochures, and other things you may be asked to do as a technical communicator. In the real world, this career field involves much more than writing. I never knew what to expect when I came to work every day. That’s what makes it so interesting – no, make that exciting!
You can’t make a living writing.
The students who thought this were more familiar with novel writers who had many rejections and had to take on one or two more jobs just to survive. I could literally see their eyes open wider when I explained that you can make a good living as a technical communicator.
You have to be technical to be a technical writer.
A really good writer doesn’t need to know anything about the subject matter prior to starting a project. Whoever hired you is the industry expert. A great technical writer knows not only what to ask, but also where to find the right information. Anyway, it’s not such a bad thing if you’re technically challenged. So are most of your users! You’ll be on a level playing field and will probably write a help manual that actually speaks their language.
T: How did you come into the technical communication profession?
M: I’ve always had what I can only call a natural writing ability. I believe it comes from my mother who regularly read to me and introduced me to various authors and genres. During my time in the Air Force, people came to me for help writing policies and procedures, resumes, presentations, etc. When I left the Air Force and signed on with Martin Marietta Data Systems (now Lockheed Martin), the same thing started happening. It took awhile, but I finally said to myself, “Self, if you are so good at writing and you like it so much, why not get paid for doing it?” At the time, there was a small writing group in the data center, so I proceeded to get to know them, volunteered to do some writing, and kept bugging them until they finally took me on full time. Persistence is important.
I joined STC 30 years ago in 1984. With partner in crime W.C. Wiese leading the way in 2001 as chapter president and myself as vice president, we were able to revitalize the Orlando Chapter. I was able to build on W.C.’s leadership with a three-year term as chapter president, during which time we won our first three Chapter of Distinction awards. I attribute that success to having great people on the Administration Council. That tradition lingers today.
After being hired by Martin Marietta Data Systems (now Lockheed Martin) as a computer operator (aka, tape hanger), I retired from Lockheed Martin on December 31, 2009, after 31 years as a computer operator, customer service representative, marketing support specialist, and technical communicator.
T: Who is DA VOICE of Orlando?
M: “DA VOICE” began life as “THE VOICE.” Before I was clinically diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I had an awesome announcing voice. I have been the public address announcer for many events at all levels that include Little League Baseball, high school football, collegiate volleyball, collegiate basketball, professional football and professional basketball games.
I also made voice-overs and emceed many events for Lockheed Martin special events, corporate conferences, and employee video training.
I got my start when I began announcing at the youth football games I attended with my sons to help make the games more enjoyable for everyone. Before long, I realized that I was having a lot fun. Some of my most enjoyable moments have been with the Southside Steelers football team, Youth Basketball of America, Dr. Phillips High School football and basketball teams and the Rollins College women’s volleyball team.
DA VOICE came into being when I went to get a vanity license plate and was told that seven was the highest number of letters that a license plate could feature. DA VOICE fit perfectly!
T: Talk about an experience outside of the common technical fields of engineering, software development, and information technology that helped you in your work as a technical communicator.
M: The great majority of that experience came from my extensive work with non-profit organizations. Because volunteers come from such a wide variety of occupations and skill levels, it is especially important to make sure they understand the purpose of the organization, values, goals, etc. You have to work harder to “keep their eyes on the prize.” This increased focus has served me well as a technical communicator. I know what it takes up front to achieve the desired results.
T: Describe an experience you had as a voice-over that helped bridge the gap between users and content. How can someone interested in working in this role get started?
M: I remember a data security breach at Martin Marietta Data Systems that required me to work on creating an up-to-date security briefing. I was involved in the procedural writing and voice recording for a presentation that took seven or eight sessions to complete. The task ended successfully, and on time.
As for breaking into voice-over work, a simple Google of “voice-overs Orlando” gets you literally dozens and dozens of links leading to job opportunities, training, etc. One link literally says “How Do I Become a Voice-over Artist?” Additionally, I would create a few demo tapes to personally hand to the “right” people – the ones you have identified via your research who have the power to consider you for a job. Be creative in your approach, but most of all, BE PERSISTENT! Remember the story of Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken? When trying to promote his chicken recipe, he got 1009 no’s before he got his first yes. With that one single yes, Colonel Harland Sanders changed the eating habits of the whole world with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Never, never, never give up!
T: What is an area in technical communication where improvements in accessibility are needed?
M: In the area of software accessibility, the wonderful thing is that accessibility helps more than just people with disabilities. My point is that there is a case for always thinking in terms of accessibility regardless of what you are writing or designing for. I advocate for the promotion and use of accessibility techniques as the norm for all technical communications products.
T: How can the points discussed in your article, “An Elephant in the Room,” apply to best practices regarding accessibility in the technical communication industry?
M: When designing software or engineering products, remove barriers to physical access, remove barriers to information, remove barriers in attitudes, and remove barriers to connect with one another.
Always use language that puts the person first when communicating with and about people with disabilities and avoid language that denotes that things or people don’t work. For example, “Person with Parkinson’s” instead of “Person who suffers from Parkinson’s,” or even accessible parking versus handicapped parking.
A disability is only one part of who a person is. See the whole person, not only the disability. Check out my personal blog: talesfromdavoice.wordpress.com, to read more on this topic, and other aspects about me. There are no elephants in the technical communication industry, or anywhere else for that matter, unless we create them!
T: Describe a quality you’ve embodied that has proven to be beneficial during your career.
M: Regardless of your occupation, a sense of humor is important. It keeps things interesting and minimizes your stress. When I was chapter vice president, I gave a “creativity” presentation that included Silly String, animal balloons, and magic tricks at a chapter meeting, which gave the feel of a show rather than a normal meeting. I choose to live my life to the fullest with a can of Silly String in each hand! It’s good advice, if I do say so myself.