Learning new software: A personal retrospective
When I was in college, I took an on-campus job in my college’s computer lab that I still consider to this day to be a very formative experience. The director of the computer lab helped me discover the technology chops that I still carry me to this day. He had a penchant for scouting student employees from non-technical and liberal arts areas of study like English, Education, and Psychology. He is one of the only people in my academic and professional past I call a mentor. When I found a home working with technology, I gave up my goal of becoming a journalist for becoming a technical writer. College was tough because of my dyslexia, but my job in the computer lab charted a new course for me that I am still following today.
Some people don’t have the knack for expediently learning new software even in today’s wired age which is a shame since trial versions are often just a download away from your computer if you have a broadband connection. Here are some things I learned in that job about how to learn new technologies:
Learning new software is made easier in today’s Internet age. My boss in college taught all of us lab assistants to be very hands-on when it came to learning new software which inspired a lot of confidence in me to learn new software on my own. Even today, I can count my formal computer training in hours not days, weeks, or months. Whenever we wanted to learn a new software package, he would give us access to the software, let us bang through the software on our own and get as far as we could and then ask him questions and finally get access to the product documentation. This was the method of learning new software I brought with me into the working world and still use today.
Look for Interrelationships
If you understand one piece of software, it is that much easier to learn another similar software package. Interrelationships sound simple, but I can’t count the times I worked with other people who needed training for every piece of software they touched in the course of a project. Finding the interrelationship(s) between the new software I am tasked to write about and a previous project is one of the first things that goes through my mind in the interviewing phase. Having extensive technology experience to draw upon has been a confidence builder for me time and time again.
Have a passion for technology
You should have a passion for technology. It is always a buzz kill for me to work alongside technical writers who don’t have a passion for technology. My first boss back in college was the first to stoke my passion for technology that has gotten me through some real personal and professional ups and downs since graduation.
As a technical writer, how do you learn new software?