Education/Training, Business/Publishing, Manufacturing/Industry
By Alyssa Martuch
Her Job Today
Melissa Chiaramonti is a Performance Improvement Developer for Meijer, Inc. “I specifically support a group within the Merchandising area—supply chain—that works to develop processes and procedures to improve the flow of products. I help this group, made up of Subject Matter Experts, refine their training and documentation skills with a strong emphasis on moving them toward leveraging technology to perform these tasks better.”
Melissa’s office job means that she goes to work at a reasonable time in the morning, answers emails, and works on projects. She performs about 25% team support, 50% projects, 15% internal client support, and 10% innovation tasks daily.
Mondays and Fridays she blocks off time to do pre- and post-work week activities. She also blocks off time for personal development, about 1 hour per week, as well as lunch—which is a must because “you’ll never have time to eat and decompress if you don’t,” she said.
All other things fall in line, Melissa mentioned. Meeting requests are made, she fleshes out projects for herself and her team, and she produces documentation or tools that her boss didn’t know he needed. “My team desperately needs a document control system. You can write documents, but if no one can find them, or are not cross-compatible for other systems or delivery methods, then they are useless,” she said.
Melissa also develops elearning modules for vendor information systems, corporate wide SharePoint training sessions, video training, and whatever else crosses her desk.
Education and Career Path
Before Melissa became a Performance Improvement Developer, she had a lot of different jobs:
Food Technologist for Dow Chemical
Network and Operations Support for XO Communications (formerly Concentric Network)
Applications Trainer for:
- Follett College Stores – bookstore Point Of Sales (POS)
- Experian – database mining application for direct marketing
- Talpax – a lumber exchange firm
POS Installation and Training for Infinity POS
Third Level help desk support for Custom Profile, Inc.
Melissa went to college at Saginaw Valley State University and majored in Biology, Art, and Chemistry. She later went on to get her master of arts in Training and Development from Roosevelt University. She graduated from SVSU in 1996 and Roosevelt University in 2008.
After the market crash of 2001, Melissa was laid off from her position at Talpax, where she trained executives how to use a proprietary web-based system to trade lumber online. At that time, she was working 80 hours per week at a start-up dot com company, and she felt she needed a break. After being laid off, she moved to Paris, France, for a year.
Melissa said, “It allowed me to learn another language and experience another culture both professionally and personally. I feel that in future as I work to become a home-based employee, I will eventually move to another country to continue to work.”
As Melissa gained experience working in other fields, she found she enjoyed some of those learning experiences. She has worked at Dow Chemical for a time as a Food Technologist where she enjoyed the research aspect of her job. She has taken courses over the years for very specialized skills, such as Flash and Authorware. She did say, however, that more often she is expected to teach herself than to be given training on new programs or skills.
As for promotions from any of those careers, “as a true Gen X’er,” she said, “I do not wait for promotions, I typically move on to different companies to expand my experience level.”
On a Technical Level
Melissa has had a lot of experience with technical communication.
“I love creating documents that people want to read or view in order to learn what they need to improve their productivity on the job,” she said. “While I am working on creating a document control system and developing standard practices at the moment, I also create elearning modules on a variety of different subjects—which is the best and most fun part of my job.”
“I also love using new technology to communicate, so I’m currently working a lot with SharePoint and social networking tools like discussion boards and wikis,” she also said.
The only thing Melissa would change over the course of her career is her lack of skills in technical writing in the beginning. She fell into technical writing out of necessity. In the beginning, she had to use materials to train people that she didn’t like herself, but what she wrote to replace it was not much better due to her lack of skills at the time. “The industry as well was not consistent and not many resources were there to lean on to discover better practices,” she added.
Like some people, Melissa wishes she attended graduate school earlier. She also would have liked to learn more about programming but does keep her head up by saying time is still available for it to happen.
Melissa is very comprehensive and logical about her learning experiences. She explains that she learned an important lesson in every job. “The fact that I cannot rely on my employer to advance or ensure my career path has probably been the biggest epiphany. You may be fortunate at times that an employer will want to send you to training or give you the latest tools to work with, but these positions are few and far between. The investment really needs to come from you and for you,” Melissa states.
She added, “I’ve strived to have a clear line of what I will do for myself—attend certain conferences, belong to certain groups with the expenses out of my pocket and what I expect my employers to provide. This way, the investment that I make for myself has a degree of portability to the next position. Better stated, your present employer will probably not give you training to make you attractive on the job market; it’s an insurance policy you will need to buy yourself.”
As a reminder for all students and technical writers, she said, “Do not pigeon-hole yourself to one industry, skill set, or type of job. Technical writing comes in many different forms and every market has fluctuations in what it will support. If you are cross-functional in skill sets, you will be better positioned to stay employed throughout your career.”