Sam

Group Manager
Systems R&D Documentation
Joined NI on August 13, 2012

Education

St. Edward’s University – B.A. in English Writing and Rhetoric


How did you join NI?

As a student at SEU, I really didn’t know what technical writing was until my senior year. My concentration was creative writing, and I was struggling with the thought that teaching may be my only option after graduation. Nothing against teaching, but it wasn’t very high on my preferred occupation scale. Luckily, a couple of recruiters came and visited one of my classes to talk about technical writing at NI. My initial reaction was, “That seems interesting. Too bad I’m a creative writer.” As my senior year went on, however, I couldn’t help considering technical writing as a viable option for my future. I had the technical interest and writing skills, so why not? During my final semester, another recruiter came to speak in another of my writing classes, and I made it a point to make a good impression on the recruiter. Later, at the encouragement of a professor, I submitted my application and was invited for an interview soon after. I must have made a good impression because they offered me a follow-up, full-day interview. After a couple weeks of hopeful anticipation, I received an email informing me that I got the job. And now I’m here!

What are the typical activities you do each week as a Technical Writer at NI?

I definitely spend a fair amount of time meeting with each of my direct reports one-on-one to make sure they have everything that they need to be successful and deliver on their projects. I also have career development conversations where we talk through their goals and what they want to accomplish so I can line them up with the correct opportunities and coach them to get to where they want to be.

Outside of that I spend a lot of time in various meetings. Some meetings will involve planning and coming up with a schedule for a project. Other meetings might focus on defining things like processes, guidelines, or frameworks. I also go to project sync-up meetings with R&D stakeholders and Business Unit stakeholders where I might give status updates about my team’s projects or get information about project timelines, features that are getting cut or added, or generally things that could affect documentation that I need to relay to my team.

I also maintain our team roadmap and track any staffing or headcount changes so our roadmap accounts for the resources that are actually available. When there are attritions or new writers are added to my team, I have conversations about onboarding, offboarding, and working on those transitions.

Can you tell me a little more about one of the tasks you listed above?

For maintaining a roadmap and figuring out what projects my team will actually work on, there’s a cascade of information. It starts when our stakeholders make requests. Those requests come through our content manager, whose job is to understand the breadth of requests we are getting and gauge the impact to the customer that those requests will have. The content manager uses that knowledge and understanding of customer impact to prioritize the requests that we get.

I’ll work closely with the content manager to talk through the priorities that she recommends and allocate project staffing. If we’re getting more requests than we can handle, we have a conversation about the tradeoffs we need to make if we can only do the top few requests. If all the top priorities are large undertakings, maybe our team will take on a couple of those along with some smaller requests farther down the priority list. There’s a negotiation process to really nail down what we can do and how we can make the things we do the most impactful to the customer.

What do you like best about NI?

There are a lot of things I like about NI. I think if I had to choose one, it would be the career opportunities that I’ve experienced. NI, in general, is very receptive to people who have a drive to improve the frameworks they work within, the processes they follow, or the structures that they operate within. That enables a fair amount of innovation and career growth opportunities because you can look for those places where things aren’t operating as efficiently as they could be. I’ve found that a lot of my career growth has come from looking for those opportunities and then coming up with proposals to take to management and drive to completion.

On top of those organic opportunities, NI offers training. There are internal courses that anyone can sign up for, whether it’s learning some basic programming or project management. People can browse through the catalog of courses and sign up for what they want to take.

How has your career grown since you started at NI?

My career started as an entry-level technical writer. I came straight out of college, so I didn’t have much formal technical writing experience at all. I started out writing for a product called LabVIEW, which is essentially a graphical programming language. I started by learning basic technical writing principles. I took to it pretty quickly and got a couple projects under my belt. I eventually worked my way into a leadership role on the team even before becoming a manager. I was doing lead reviews for some of the less experienced writers on the team, handling a little more of the project management responsibilities, and introducing SCRUM methodologies into how we did our planning and operations for documentation.

After being in that role for a little while, I found that I really liked the coaching aspect of the role and serving as a mentor to some of the newer writers. I found a lot of fulfillment from helping other writers improve, so I started looking at the management track.  I found that it was a really good fit for what I wanted to do. I like to teach, and management involves a lot of teaching, guiding, coaching, and helping others to grow in their careers. I found that to be really rewarding, so after a brief period serving in a supervisory role I transitioned into a formal management role on the LabVIEW team.

Then, an opportunity opened up on the systems side of things. I took that opportunity to have my own team, because before that point I was working with a group of managers and didn’t have as much ownership over the team as I do now as the sole manager for the systems writing team. I have more ownership of what the roadmap looks like, what the processes are that we follow, and the overall goals and vision for the team.

If you could add one event to the Olympics. what would it be?

Definitely kite fighting. That, or synchronized underwater basket weaving.