STC-SM Member Spotlight – Alison Phillips

Alison Phillips, Secretary STC/SM

1 – What is your educational background? How long have you been a member of (volunteer with) STC? In what STC positions have you served? (In what roles have you volunteered?)

I earned my B.A. in English from Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, AZ. During my years as an undergrad, I learned about the Master’s program in Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing offered through the English department at NAU. It sounded like the perfect graduate program for me, so I stayed on to complete my M.A. and also earned a certificate in Professional Writing.

After I graduated from college in 2003, I moved back to Michigan and joined the STC-SM chapter. I then took a hiatus from the STC for several years and rejoined in 2011. I was looking for an opportunity to become more involved with our chapter, and was excited to take on my first position as the STC-SM council secretary in 2014. My experiences with becoming a more engaged chapter member have been positive and rewarding!

2 – Why did you decide to join (volunteer with) STC?

I wanted to connect with a larger community of like-minded professionals, and I saw the STC as a great place to start. I’m happy to say I was right! It is important for me to keep expanding my professional network beyond the people I interact with each day at work. Through the STC, I have met so many interesting people pursuing fascinating careers, and my appreciation for the many facets of the technical communication field only continues to grow.

3 – Why did you decide to pursue technical communication as a career?

I have enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember, but I did not enjoy (nor did I consider myself to have any talent in) what we typically refer to as creative writing, though I think we can agree that all writing requires creativity! When I learned that one could pursue a career path as a technical writer, it seemed like a perfect fit for me.

4 – Where are you currently employed?

I am currently employed by the corporate information management division of arvato, a company based in Gütersloh, Germany. I started at arvato when I relocated to Germany in 2009 and was fortunate enough to stay in my current role when I moved back to the US in 2011. I work both from my home office and from my primary customer’s office in Auburn Hills.

5 – What are your job activities? What do you find most interesting and/or satisfying about your job?

Authoring owner’s literature for a major automotive manufacturer keeps me busy for most of the year, but I also pick up projects for other customers from time to time. To name a few, I have written user manuals for medical devices, have managed translation processes for different customers, and have assisted with the development and testing of an in-house content management system.

What I find most interesting about authoring automotive owner’s literature is that there is no end to what I can learn about the technology in today’s cars. The features we describe in the owner’s manuals are constantly evolving, and I work very hard to not only describe each feature correctly for each vehicle, but to continuously improve how we communicate and present the information. I feel proud that with each edition, I am able to make significant improvements.

As far as my other projects go, I am always up to learn about a new topic and apply different strategies to the various projects that come my way. It is fun working for a company with customers across many different industries, and there is no end to the variety of projects that could come my way at any time. It keeps things interesting, and I always need to stay on my toes!

6 – How has being an STC member (volunteer) helped you with your career?

I continue to expand my understanding about new and different aspects of technical communication through the people I meet, the seminars and events I attend, and the articles I read in STC publications like Intercom that I can apply to my work as a technical writer. I have had the privilege of meeting people who are teaching technical communication, are running their own businesses, and involved in niches that I didn’t know were out there before I joined the STC community. My involvement with STC has helped me expand my professional network and connections across many different industries. Of course, being an active member and attending as many events as I can throughout the year has helped. I didn’t reap nearly as many benefits from the STC when I was a member in name only.

7 – What advice do you have for students as they are entering the field of technical communication?

I think one of the most important things you can do for your career is to grow your network. Professional organizations like the STC not only help you do that, but they also provide opportunities to for you to continue to learn and grow in your field and as a professional. Even if you are lucky enough to work for a company in a position where you enjoy your work and feel relatively secure, you can always stay informed of industry trends, learn about new tools and methodologies, and continue to make valuable professional connections. My experience has been that you need to seek opportunities to learn and network that would not otherwise be available through your current position or employer alone. Of course at certain points in life you can only do so much, but the STC is great because it provides a platform for tech comm students, professionals, and enthusiasts to connect. There is some type of local event about once a month, and you always have the opportunity to participate!