Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Did You Know I'm a Professional Writer?


I've felt guilty--a little guilty, but not much--about not updating or posting here in months. I have been extremely busy with the German certification exam, which I passed (Yay!), the development of my book list, and a recent promotion at work.

It occurs to me that not many people might know what I do for a living. I am a Senior Proposal Lead for iRobot, a company that makes ground and underwater robots. These robotic systems help keep people safer by performing missions in explosive ordnance disposal, urban exploration, visual intelligence, and more.

As a proposal lead, my job is to help our technical teams build--that is, write--proposals for technologically innovative robots. In reference to these proposals, I use the word "build" instead of "write" because government and military proposals are complicated and competitive. These proposals involve more than just writing cool stuff: they require a detailed imagining of a real working program. The programs have to do what they say they will, which often means saving lives, and they have to serve as responsible business. Long-term employment for many people can depend on these proposals. Typically, several companies or teams are proposing for the same business. The competition is serious stuff, so my teams and I work under constant pressures to produce great technical and management solutions written exceptionally well and presented impeccably.

Although I am not on the technical side, as a writer and writing leader I have a role in the technical solution. On a new job, my first priority is to pull out all of the proposal instructions and technical requirements so that our team can figure out how our total program will be measured. At this stage, I have the most impact technically because I can advise on which technologies and capabilities mean the most to the customer. My job, by its nature, gives me a pretty good institutional memory, so I can often put new requirements in the context of other solutions we have done or proposed.

The main part of my job is managing process, and much of this work derives directly from skills I honed in as an English post-graduate. The pre-writing, planning, and argumentation/critical thinking skills I often taught to students and practiced for myself are at a premium in my daily work. Most everything that gets written and comes to me needs to be put into a sales framework that has accounted in detail for goals, readers, main arguments, and presentation conventions (including visual aids).

I also get to do plenty of editing and some writing, but often I am in the role of composition instructor. Now, I don't want to give a false impression of the people I work with. Roboticists are the smartest and most comprehensively educated people in the world. The amount of knowledge and depth of understanding they need to make robots do things is astounding. Also, more often than not, they really care about words and language. Imprecise and ungrammatical writing is exceedingly rare with my colleagues--many of whom, incidentally, have doctorates. However, we often have lots to write in little time. The technical folks need to get sections drafted completely and correctly. That process always involves drafts, reviews, feedback conferences, and re-writes. The technical folks focus on plugging any holes in the technical and management solution while I focus on ensuring we hit the main arguments that had been articulated way back at the beginning of the proposal effort. We're performing complementary functions, in other words.

I have an interesting and exciting job that I enjoy very much. Much of the enjoyment comes from the company and the subject matter of robots, but the work itself is fun. It can be stressful, too. The deadlines are unforgiving and every proposal effort brings out a unique challenge to the process. But I wouldn't change a thing right now.

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