Keep Me Writing! Thanks, Keith

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bartending and Tech Writing: Five Similarities

Dear Friends and Visitors:

After college, I worked in Boston as a bartender at the back bay Marriott Hotel for about three years. It was a great experience. I learned much about people, product, and process from this job. I also was able to save up enough money to take an expensive IBM computer programming class that would then launch me into a long-standing career in IT (Information Technology). You might think that bartending is different than my current path of Tech Writing. Well, perhaps a bit. But, still, there are some common points that  - when understood - will take you far in your career as well.

Here they are.

1. People matter. Whether you are preparing a drink or writing a user guide, you are helping others. You are focusing your time and energy and helping your customer or client to a better life experience, whether it be through a great drink or a great guide.

2. You develop great listening skills. Bartenders MUST listen closely to the drink requests of patrons. That is key. Otherwise, you will make a drink that he or she will reject. The same holds true for Tech Writers. You MUST listen closely to the specs for the document you are about to write. In this way, you will deliver a user guide or training manual that rocks and impresses your reader.

3. Practice makes perfect. It takes time to learn the many drinks that patrons request at the bar. Also, you need to make it fast, with style, and sometimes right there in front of your patron. Practice, especially through a sense of mindfulness, will take you far and help you to really become a great server. This is the path to great tips. Tech Writing is the same. The more you write, the more you will become proficient at your trade and skill. You will soon be able to see documents in - say - one of ten general document categories; then you can deliver per that expectation.

4. Cleanliness is godliness. Unless you work at a dive, your manager will demand that you keep your bar clean. Why? This is to attract patrons. Similarly, in technology, with all of its complications, you will want to deliver clean and presentable documents. Why? This is so that people will actually read (e.g. consume) the document.

5. Patience is a virtue. Sometimes, a simple six hour shift behind the bar can seem like a long time. You might get buried with customers and you might be the only bartender on duty. So, it is time to rock and roll, as they say. You will have to persevere with a sense of patience and perseverance. This will get you through the yells and screams of patrons. Yet, you will meet your mark and deliver and hopefully do well in tips. Tech Writing is the same here. Sometimes you will have a tough document to write. Sometimes you will have several deliverables on your plate at the same time. Your SMEs might fail you. Your document server might be down. Your ability to really deliver the essence of the information might be a struggle. But, again, through patience, you can refine your work until it meets a great standard and becomes one that your boss will embrace.


Keith Charles Johnson, MBA, MS Education
Senior Tech Writer and Software Trainer
Author, The Google Productivity Guide
Author, The Affirmations Productivity Guide
Author, Musings of a Technical Writer

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