Computer Software/Hardware, Manufacturing/Industry
By Natasha Berryman
Ginger Schmidt didn’t know what she wanted to be when she was a kid. In her words, she’s “never really known what [she has wanted] to be,” and as a child entertained thoughts of becoming a teacher or a farmer.
With a frame of reference based on experiences that occurred before the success of her current career as a technical communicator, to her, “the life of a writer seemed like a lonely existence”—a reality in her mind that did not originally include the opportunity to learn about new technologies and software, to write training programs, or to understand how, and then explain the way in which a particular robot worked.
Her journey as a successful and talented technical writer has changed this perspective–and now, doesn’t seem so bad. “In reality,” she explained, “technical writing is not really lonely or painful.”
Education and Career
Ginger attended Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, where she initially wanted to study to become an engineer. However, after deciding that she wanted to explore her interests in the humanities, Schmidt switched her major from Engineering to Scientific and Professional Writing—a field where she would later apply a variety of her skill sets.
She noted, “The humanities department encouraged us to develop critical thinking skills. When I was writing more, that background was really useful.”
Ginger enjoyed her undergraduate studies and explained that, specifically, she enjoyed the wide variety of courses she was able to take in addition to the connections she was able to make between disparate subjects.
Taking her entire experience into consideration, she commented, “The undergrad education did prepare us pretty well for the field. The program I went through touched on a lot of different areas of the profession—usability, graphic design, publication management, online help, technical editing, and etcetera. Taking courses in a variety of areas of the profession gave me a base of knowledge and the tools to become a consultant.”
Post-graduation, Ginger landed her first job with Dow Chemical as a contract technical writer developing user documentation for a customized system for the Dow work environment. The one-month contract she took was extended, and Ginger stayed on to act as a consultant for other projects for the company.
At this job, Ginger explained that two of her female managers played a significant role in her life as a woman in a field that primarily consisted of men.
She explained, “I had two female managers who were very successful in a male dominated department and field. Both of them gave me chances to try new things and also served as role models for me for how to stay myself and be comfortable in a field where I wasn’t comfortable at first.”
After these contracts, Ginger stayed true to the metallic gold and silver colors of Michigan Tech and returned to the university to obtain her master’s degree. The Rhetoric and Scientific Writing program’s main goal was to shape and develop PhD students, preparing them to teach at universities and colleges.
While Ginger’s experience in graduate school was not one that she had envisioned or had necessarily expected, the program itself is one that she believes is well-suited for those interested in making a career in academia. While working towards obtaining this degree, Ginger taught Technical Communication and other courses at the university.
Currently a Software Development Manager at COWWW Software of Sparta, Michigan, Ginger manages a development team that “works on a set of products for financial institutions.” Here, she produces reports for management and senior management, root-cause analysis (documentation of problem resolutions), and project plans.
However, prior to holding this position, Ginger explained that she had a contract with Amway where she documented an internal IT system and learned about developing training.
From there, she moved on to a position with her first software company, Cardiff Software, also of Michigan, for whom she developed printed manuals and online help for from the “ground up.”
After Cardiff closed and she moved on to a three-month contract with Siemens Dematic in Grand Rapids, Michigan, putting together custom manuals, and writing about a software system they were developing to choreograph how “automated guided vehicles,” a type of robot, moved around a factory floor.
She commented, “All together, those various projects gave me a sense of confidence to tackle any sort of documentation deliverable. When I started as a writer at COWWW Software, I was prepared to identify the types of documentation that needed to be delivered with each software product, and to learn tools and develop processes to create that documentation.”
While Ginger enjoys being a technical writer, she’s not entirely sure how she ended up there. She takes pleasure in the discovery of new things, the ways in which they work, and the ways in which they don’t work; her path to those discoveries and the position she holds today is one that she portrays as being difficult to pin down, even if it can be mapped out in a resume or in a profile.
She explained, “Where I am today seems accidental to me. The transition [from job to job] was actually more like several successive positions. I’m not sure that I would do anything differently, though—I had the luxury of taking chances, not hesitating to try new things, and not spending too much time doing things that I didn’t enjoy or feel were really benefiting my skills.”
A field that utilizes a skill set far from that of a farmer’s and asks her to communicate as effectively as a teacher, Ginger has found herself in the midst of a career that will continue to change and challenge her—and hopefully—continue to be a source of contentment.