By Kelly Thompson
When Jim Thompson graduated from high school, becoming a technical communicator was one of the last things he thought he’d be doing now. Jim took a long journey before winding up where he is today.
When people graduate from high school, they have the big question of going to school or finding a job. Jim attended automobile classes at the local community college in Jackson, Michigan, in hopes of someday becoming a mechanic. After a couple years at Jackson Community College, Jim decided he would use his new skills and found a job working at a Sunoco body shop.
After a few years working at the Sunoco and starting a family, Jim decided he needed something to do with a little more structure and support, so he joined the United States Air Force. Throughout his Air Force experience, he lived in many places, such as Edwards Air Force Base, California; Oscoda, Michigan; and Little Rock, Arkansas. While in the service, he took the initiative to earn a bachelor’s degree in Vocational Education.
After a 10-year career in the Air Force, Jim thought he would try his luck in the business world because his family was tired of moving from base to base. So, he wound up finding a job for a company called EDS answering customer service phone calls. After several angry customer calls, Jim soon became frustrated with his job and tried finding something new.
Two years following his customer service job, he finally found a job as a technical writer working for a company called MSX International, which specialized in automobiles and tractors. Technical writing is the area he finally found, as he said, “what I want to do when I grow up.” He spent a couple of years at MSX before he realized technical writing was something he could do within his own home. Jim started his own business, JTech Training and Technical Writing.
Now he’s developing training courses for Caterpillar but has also done jobs for such companies as Audi and Oldsmobile. His hometown is Jackson, Michigan, where he does most of his writing and training developing, but has to take frequent trips to Peoria, Illinois, the headquarters of Caterpillar, where he will meet with subject matter experts to learn more about the current project. He has also had to travel to Spain, Australia, and Canada for Caterpillar projects.
His advice for future technical communicators is to use the new technology. He said that a lot of the documentation that used to be paper-based is now electronic.
On most mornings, Jim wakes up around 5 am, and makes a fresh pot of decaffeinated coffee before heading to his basement office. After checking some emails and making a to-do list for the day, he heads back upstairs to make a small breakfast. Then he will spend a majority of his day talking with customers, writing, or, as he said, “Whatever it takes to meet that next deadline.” He usually ends his day around 5 pm, and spends the rest of the night with his wife and kids.