Closing One Chapter, Opening a New One

chapters of my lifeI know the title of this post sounds cliche, but it’s how I feel. In 4 days, I’ll be driving a 17 ft. U-haul towing a trailer minivan with 3 small children 2500 miles from Florida to Utah, moving into a little town, starting a new job, beginning so many things over. But during our three years in Florida, a lot happened in my life. I want to list them here so I remember.

I arrived in Florida from Egypt after having spent 2 yrs teaching writing at the American University in Cairo. Re-entry into the U.S. was a bit harsh — arriving without job, car, apartment, and my wife being pregnant. Pressure was on to get settled, and we did.

I quickly found a job as a copywriter for a health and nutrition company. It was interesting in part because everyone was a scientologist there except me. Clearwater is the capital of scientology, and that’s where we were living. I learned that L. Ron Hubbard even has instructions for writing press releases and marketing copy.

I wrote copiously at that job, but the pay was too little to sustain my family, so I turned to a more lucrative field: technical writing. Because I had done some bio-technical writing describing protein synthesis and other nutrition/health topics, a PhD at Raymond James (my future supervisor) saw clarity and talent in my writing and hired me as a technical writer. I joined a group of about 10 technical writers and learned a lot about technical writing — online help, how-to guides, RoboHelp, software engineering methodology, large IT departments, style guides, committees, tools, single sourcing, styles, templates, and so much more.

My supervisor introduced me to the STC and encouraged us to attend. I accepted a volunteer position as a webmaster and reworked the Suncoast chapter site into a WordPress blog. Many members loved this and it made me more visible in the chapter because I posted a lot of content. When the old president left (to teach in Arkansas) she invited me to be president, and I served as president for the next year. As president, I learned a lot about competitions, recruiting, befriending people, planning, budgeting, and other STC things.

The same month I become STC president, I was also called to be a counselor in the branch presidency at my church. This was a surprising calling for me, since I’m young (31) and inexperienced in these kinds of things. I initially feared taking two large leadership roles at the same time, but they were opportunities I couldn’t pass up. I learned a great deal about leadership serving as counselor — how to call people, evaluate needs, fill positions. I watched in close view the branch president make decisions and strategically plan to grow the branch.

I’m not sure why, but during this time I also jumped in head over feet into blogging and podcasting. I started this blog separate from the Suncoast blog, and learned as much as I could about WordPress. I became an expert on WordPress and later presented on blog usability and WordPress at the Vancouver Documentation and Training Conference.

My readers grew and grew, from 50 to 500. My podcast audience also grew. I interviewed experts literally from around the world, publishing audio content more frequently than I had time. I reworked the site several times, experimenting and playing with different WordPress designs. I also wrote three Intercom articles on blogging and podcasting, one of which was the feature story for a month.

I can’t forget (and I shouldn’t have listed it last here) that we had another baby: Lucy. Our third girl, Lucy looks very much like our first — redish hair, beautiful eyes, soft complexion. Just last month she learned to crawl and has been going crazy with the newfound mobility. When I pick her up (from a bath or high chair) she makes frog-kicks with her legs trying to find ground — it’s quite funny. Having three young girls has been a lot of fun — and challenging, of course. But family is central to me.

Florida is where my wife Shannon started blogging. She took off with blogging and has shown me a side of her that reminded me of when we first met and exchanged emails daily. She’s so witty and quick — I wish I were as good a writer as she is. I love reading her blog. Blogging also opened up a new world for her, giving her opportunity to interact with others in a new way, providing a space to express her intellect.

I also developed family relationships, living so closely to my father and sister. I hadn’t lived in the same city as my dad for 15 years, and here we practically lived next door. I lived close to my sister as well. We spent quality time together. My sister got married and had a baby (Rachel), who now walks and rides rocking horses like she’s trying to win rodeo contests.

A lot has happened in these three years. I’ve now transferred the chapter presidency reigns to the next guy, I’ve been released from my calling, the final days of my job are winding down, and we’re packing up boxes. I’ve learned so much, changed so much. The next place I live, I want to stay forever, but I know that I can’t predict how everything will happen, what new events will take place in my life. What we learn in one place we use to build up to another level.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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  • Michelle

    Best of luck with your move….

  • John Daigle

    Congratulations to you and your wife. What an adventure! I live in Colorado and it’s a beautiful drive to Utah. If you travel by way of I-70, wave as you go past my little cabin in Colorado . It’s at the Evergreen exit about a half hour west of Denver.

    I really enjoyed your blog posts and bet there will be many more. I also enjoyed being part of your podcast lineup at STC in Minneapolis. Hopefully, you’ll feel the new Adobe RoboHelp 7 will be worth and upgrade this time around. It won’t be long now. Two versions in one year. A far cry from the Macromedia days.

    Safe travels.

  • avi

    Best of luck :-)
    I would never guess that you are only three years in the profession.

  • Tom

    I’ve been in writing-related fields for 8+ years and a lover of technology for 5. Tech writing was a perfect fit.

  • Andrew

    Hey!!! The guy who got you that first job in Florida (that set off the entire chain of events and future jobs) wasn’t a Scientologist.

    Where is the love? Where is the gratitude? Where are the residuals? – HEHE

    Just playing. You were great to work with and fun guy to goof off with. You should be hearing from me mid winter…. looking for a place to stay for some skiing, Kidding (maybe)….

    Take care, and dont forget us little people when you hit the lotto!!!

  • Paul


    We don’t have the lotto in Utah, so it will be hard for Tom to win it… :)

  • Tom

    Hi Andrew, I know this is a super-late reply, but I wanted to thank you for your comment. For a while I didn’t receive any blog comments at all because I had mismatched email addresses in the admin panel. I’m just going back through old comments here to see what passed me by. I sure miss your fun work attitude. I hope everything is still going well in Florida. Keep my sister and brother-in-law in line.

  • http://n/a Marlene Johnson

    Hi Tom, How are things? Just thought I’d pop in on your site and see what’s up. Are you enjoying your new job? How is your family? Have you settled in?

    I’ve just been surfing and looking around for some pointers on simple non-robo-help usable html help pages. Something simple and yet expandable. Just wondering if you came accross any examples for an external facing site with multi-browser possibilities. :)

    RJ misses you! :)

  • Tom

    Hi Marlene, nice to hear from you. Things are going well here. I absolutely love Utah and the job market here is stronger than I thought.

    Non-robo-help html pages? I’m not entirely sure what you mean. Do you mean html pages that provide help material, but which aren’t produced by RoboHelp? I did see some online help material from Microsoft on Visio that I thought was absolutely perfect. I wrote about it here, A Perfect Model for Online Tutorials. There’s a link to it from my post.

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    What do you think about this comic? Its funny! Cheers! Tim

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