An Interview with Mary Jo David, STC Associate Fellow

On May 7, 2019, Mary Jo David was awarded the STC Associate Fellow award at the 2019 STC Summit in Denver, Colorado. Mary Jo David is a member of the STC Southeastern Michigan Chapter, and we couldn’t be more happy for her! The STC Associate Fellow is a prestigious award within the technical communication community; it honors long-standing STC members who have contributed their time and dedication to the field of technical communication.

Featured, left to right: Jane Wilson (STC immediate past president), Mary Jo David, and Ben Woelk (current STC president).

After the Summit, we interviewed Mary Jo, and we would like to share some of her insight with you. Keep reading to learn more about Mary Jo and her journey as a technical communicator.

What is your current role?

I am currently a senior technical writer for Michigan Medicine, which is the University of Michigan’s health system.

How long have you been a member of STC and STC-SM? What motivated you to join?

I have been a member of STC and STC-SM since 1986. Wow! Hard to believe! That was the year Detroit hosted the STC Conference, so the company I worked for at the time paid for us writers to attend the conference. I don’t recall if the conference was called Summit back then. If I remember right, it was held at the Renaissance Center. Membership in STC was automatic with our conference registration that year, so it really didn’t take any extra motivation to join! Years later, when I started my own business, I began having to pay my own STC dues, and I have ever since.

What is your favorite part of being a technical communicator?

The job of technical communicator just “fits.” I happened into the field accidentally many years ago, but I’ve never regretted it. I love the combination of interviewing people and writing, not to mention the challenge of learning new technology and writing instructions and descriptions that are clear and concise.

What is the most challenging part of being a technical communicator for you?

The biggest challenge of being a technical communicator is convincing people of the value it brings to the table. Years back, I used to have the sense that people often thought, “I could write it, I just don’t have time.” The reality is, yes, most everyone learns to write at a young age. But not everyone learns to write well, and even fewer are up to the challenge of writing clearly, succinctly, and from a user perspective. I had my own business for many years, and somewhere along the line I figured out that people weren’t just calling me because they didn’t have the time to write it themselves. They were calling because, once I had a chance to work with them, they did see the value of what this technical communicator could bring to the table.

Do you consider yourself as a technical writer, technical communicator, or both?

When someone poses the “technical writer vs. technical communicator” question, I generally lean toward “technical communicator” because it seems broader to me. On the other hand, “technical writer” is a term more people seem to understand. But if you think about what we do every day—interviewing people, drafting communications, designing layouts, scripting presentations, editing, providing user feedback as documentation testers, and so much more—it just seems to me that “technical writer” is a bit too limiting.

How do you feel about being a newly inducted Associate Fellow?

Being inducted as an associate fellow of the STC is such an honor. Just getting through the application process was quite an undertaking. When you’re busy pursuing your career, volunteering with the local chapter, and helping out, on occasion, at the Society level, you don’t think about the big picture and how it all adds up. It really surprised me when I pulled it all together to see how—over time—I’ve focused a lot of time and energy on my career and my STC affiliation. I love what I do, and I love the opportunities my career and STC have afforded me. I also love helping others advance in their careers as technical communicators. To be recognized and honored as an associate fellow for things I love doing and to be in the company of so many other accomplished technical communicators—well, that’s just the icing on the cake!

Do you have any advice for technical communicators (whether they are young, new, or seasoned professionals)?

My advice for people who are new to the field, young or old, is to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. It’s a stereotype, but kind of an accurate one, that most technical communicators are introverts. That’s nothing to apologize for, of course, but it does mean you sometimes have to give yourself an extra push to get involved, on both a personal and professional level. Another bit of advice: be open to growing as a writer. Twenty years ago, I thought of myself as a pretty good writer. Looking back, I’ve learned so much since then. There is always room to get better at what you do and to grow in your career. Lastly, be open to suggestions, whether those come in the form of edits or career advice. Don’t shut down when someone approaches you with a different way of doing something. Stand firm for what you believe if you know it to be correct, but recognize there are times when someone else knows more than you or has a better idea. Always be approachable.

Huge congratulations to you, Mary Jo! You’ve earned it!

Want to know more about the STC Associate Fellow Award?