Technical Writing Contract
Rule number one for a contractor is to never panic about what happens your first day. First days are naturally chaotic, and often companies are not fully prepared for you. Because contractors are usually brought in to solve a particular problem, the people are anxious to get you started, but companies, especially large ones, are not geared for quick action.
My first day starts at 5:45 in the morning. This is when I arrive to begin NCO (New Contractor Orientation). Most companies I’ve worked for don’t have anything like this, but this company is obsessed with safety. Every contractor who starts with the company must sit through at least the first part of the safety lectures and videos. Because I am working in an office and I do not work with hazardous chemicals (Except white-out and toner) I only have to attend until 10:00. Factory workers and clean room workers attend afternoon sessions as well.
The instructor for these safety lessons is a former naval officer who taught helicopter pilots how to survive a dunking, which is when a helicopter flips over upside-down into the ocean or other deep water. He speaks in the loud, staccato bursts you would associate with a drill sergeant, but is a nice guy who keeps the class moving. Because the company I’m working for does use many dangerous chemicals in its manufacturing process, there are many things even an office worker should know. Also, there is a lecture about harassment, sexual and otherwise. Over the course of the orientation, they process my paperwork and by the time I leave there I have a shiny new badge that will give me all the building access I need to do my job.
Technical Writing Orientation
After orientation I drive to the corporation’s other campus, where my daily job will be. It’s a huge campus with about ten big buildings. The building I work in has its own convenience store and cafeteria. One of the people I interviewed with comes down to meet me and gives me a short tour before heading to my cubicle. We go by the supply room and I pick up a notepad and a couple pens. After that, I write down the name and job function of everyone I meet. I have never been good with remembering names off the top of my head, and this gives me a reference that I can look back on later.
The first problem to emerge is the most typical. My computer is not ready yet and neither is my cubicle. They set me up at a temporary computer, but it doesn’t have the required software and nobody seems to have administration rights to the computer so we can’t install any new software either. There are about four key pieces of software I need to do my job, and the computer only has one of them. The problem is compounded because one of my bosses will be out of town all next week, and the other will only be in town on Monday and Friday.
While they scramble to solve the computer problem, I spend several hours looking over printouts of what I should be accessing online. I also read the company technical authoring guide; it goes over document formats, common product technical terms and includes a brief style guide. Many companies/departments don’t have one of these, so I consider is a good sign that this one does.
As the day progresses, I get moved to a small computer lab, where I can at least access the documents I need to read. My bosses also manage to procure for me the glossy marketing guides that have been produced for the products. One of the bosses immediately finds a technical flaw in their documents and brings it back to them.
Technical Writing Glitches
As the day winds down, my bosses figure out a basic solution to my computer problems that will, they hope, be put into place on Monday. Towards the end of the day I have one of my bosses sign my time sheet (Even though it was my first day, it was still a Friday) and I faxed it in to my contracting agency. Ten hours after I walked into the safety meeting I got to go home.
Overall it was a pretty typical first day. There will always be initial confusion, both for you and the company, and it is a good idea to take everything in stride. Just make sure you know four things by the end of the day: who your boss is, how to get in and out of the building, where the bathrooms are, and what the dress code is. If another week passes before they can get most of your problems fixed, then you can start to panic.