STC TC Interview
Janelle Blewett: Solving the Math Problemby Julie Holmquist
When Janelle Blewett started college, she saw herself as a future engineer following in the steps of her father and grandfather. She didn’t know she would graduate with an English degree and find her niche as a technical writer.
Despite her interest in engineering, college math was a struggle. Wondering what to do with several semesters of calculus and chemistry already under her belt, Janelle followed up on a suggestion to pursue technical writing. Writing turned out to be Janelle’s strength, and she used her remaining semesters to graduate with an English degree at Northwestern College (now University of Northwestern – St. Paul).
Twelve years and three positions later, Blewett has written her way back into the engineering field as Technical Writer II / Content Architect at Banner Engineering. She writes instruction manuals, quick start guides, and data sheets for sensors, indicator lights, and machine safety equipment on the list of 30,000-plus products manufactured by Banner.
Janelle took her first professional step in this direction by becoming a technical writer in the computer hardware industry at Rimage Corporation. Several years later, she jumped into the engineering realm at Loram Maintenance of Way, where she studied and wrote documentation about railroad track maintenance equipment—hard hat and steel-toed shoes required. She moved to Banner in 2012 and was promoted to Technical Writer II in early 2015.
Over the years, Janelle has made it a point to increase her technical writing skills by attending STC TC meetings and watching webinars on BrightTALK.com (she especially recommends webinars by Scott Abel, “The Content Wrangler”).
Janelle credits these resources for helping her get her current position. They gave her confidence to converse about DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) and (CMSs) Content Management Systems, two important organizational tools she now uses.
Janelle has also gained wisdom simply from years of experience on the job. For example:
- To help her stay organized while switching from project to project by the hour, Janelle scans any paper files she receives so she can store them in one place on her computer.
- In order to gather sometimes elusive subject matter for writing, she uses multiple strategies for working with SMEs. Her tips include the following:
- Find a secondary expert to interview
- Don’t be afraid to ask for a prototype
of the product
- Investigate how the SMEs at your company communicate best
- Schedule an appointment
- Make friends with the SMEs
- Be politely persist ent
By repeatedly finding ways to adapt and improve her strengths, Janelle has gone from being a discouraged pre-engineering student to becoming a valuable communicator in the field of her original interest. Her ability has been confirmed by earning four STC awards for technical procedures and guides she produced with her teams at Rimage and Loram.
For Janelle, technical writing seems to have solved that math problem.