Interview with Judy Nollet
Name: Judith (Judy) Nollet
Major, minor, graduation date: Master of Arts; Visual Arts (Photography emphasis), 1982
Job Title: Technical Writer / Instructional Designer
Organization/Place of work: self-employed, doing business as White Plume Communications
You're a Technical Writer / Instructional Designer, what does that entail? What are your duties or responsibilities?
- I'm a freelancer, so my specific assignments change. Generally, my job is to turn a pile of information into a coherent piece of instruction, such as an eLearning course or a job aid.
What are the highlights of your job that you enjoy most?
- I appreciate that I'm always learning new things, because my assignments cover a wide range of topics. I've written about medical devices, social studies, electrical systems, software applications, and even barbeque meats.
What are the challenges that you face with your job that are not enjoyable?
- In regards to writing, it's a challenge to say how long it will take me to complete a given job. There are just so many variables to consider, with many unknowns at the start. The biggest challenge to being self-employed is living with an uneven income stream. I've done contracts where I work for a month before I get to send an invoice-and then I have to wait another 30 days or so to get paid. (Money-management skills are a must for anyone who wants to start their own business!)
How do you spend your work days? Do you spend a lot of time office/lab/meetings/outside/___?
- The vast majority of my time is spent in front of a computer, writing and developing eLearning courses and other instructional materials. I do have to attend some meetings. For example, there's usually some kind of "kick-off" meeting where the team responsible for the project gets together to brainstorm ideas and discuss requirements. Also, I may have to meet with subject matter experts. I also spend time every month attending presentations put on by professional organizations. In addition to keeping current with what's happening in my industry, these events are great for networking.
How did this type of job/field interest you and how did you get started?
- I've always been interested in theatre and the arts. I was lucky to have professors who explained the need to balance the desire for personal creativity with "real world" business requirements.
My first job out of college was producing simple slide shows for training. Because it was a very small company, I got to write, take photos, and mix soundtracks-a little bit of everything, which made it more fun. My skill set had to evolve with the media. However, having a liberal arts background meant I knew how to learn and how to transfer knowledge from one area to another, which is a tremendous benefit.
What qualifications did you need to obtain this job?
- Obviously, I need to write clearly and concisely. Also, I have to devise interactivity and know ways to present content visually. Backing up all that, are the basic skills to provide the "deliverables," i.e., knowing how to use the software needed to properly format scripts, to adjust images, and to develop the final materials.
What personal qualities or abilities do you believe contribute most to success in this job/field?
- It definitely helps to be open minded and to see things from another's perspective. There's simply no room for a "my way or the highway" approach.
What organizations were you involved in College that helped you towards your career?
- My extra-curricular activities didn't directly influence my career, but involvement in school organizations is always worthwhile for connecting with interesting people and for broadening your knowledge base.
What degree/s is appropriate for this line of work?
- There are multiple paths one could take to become a writer/instructional designer. As for formal education, I studied communication arts, visual arts, and interactive media development. Aspects of all those disciplines apply to what I do today. Obviously, one could also launch this career with an instructional-design degree.
Where and/or what do you hope to be in 2-5 years? 5-10 years? What are the keys to this career advancement?
- I'm already pretty far along my career path, and I'm "still" a writer. Although the underlying technology will change, I imagine my future work will be quite similar. That's because I truly enjoy what I do. I have no desire to "advance" my career if that means less time doing what I enjoy.
What was the best piece of advice you received and from who that helped you towards your career?
- I distinctly remember one of my video professors referring to the rule of 7 P's: proper prior planning prevents poor production. Organizational skills, including time management, are vital.
I also recall a film professor pointing out that if you've threaded one projector; you can thread any projector-as long as you understand the reasons behind the process. In other words, you've got to take knowledge and skills from one area and figure out how they apply somewhere else.
Do you have any advice or "words from experience" for a college student interested in this job/field?
- Get involved in professional organizations. The people you meet there are the ones who will help you land jobs. And keep in mind that you have to make time to stay involved throughout your career. You can't just show up whenever you're unemployed and expect that people who don't really know you will help you.
If you knew all this back in college, what would you say were the most important classes? Is there anything you would have paid more attention to? Any additional classes you would have taken?
- One of the most important things to study in college is yourself. There are many personality tests available nowadays that can help one investigate what kinds of career paths might be the most suitable.
As for classes to take, it's a matter of finding the right balance between classes that directly apply to the job you hope to pursue and classes that broaden your view of the world.
In college, people claim that a bachelor's degree isn't enough anymore and that you need a master's or doctorate degree to get your foot in the door. What's your opinion?
- In one of my early full-time jobs, one of my managers only had an associate's degree. That's not likely to happen today, when a bachelor's degree is considered a minimal requirement.
Certainly, an advanced degree can be advantageous, but hard work and adaptability are always essential. In many cases, you don't have to pursue an advanced degree right away. In fact, if you wait a while, you might be able to get your employer to pay for it.