We sat down with Jo Collier, a Technical Author who's recently joined the business, about how she's settling in, what she's working on at the moment, and why she's only ever been to London twice in her life.
Hello Jo, we’ll get right to it. What’s your job and what does that involve?
I’m a technical author – basically I document everything. In previous roles it’s mainly been software applications, and part of my role here will eventually be to do that, but at the moment I’m part of the ‘Hit Squad’ that is currently concentrating on the PCC Dagenham site, looking at existing hardware and what needs to change with our documentation. That involves going in and sorting servers and operating systems out, making sure they’re up to date, working reliably, and secure.
Very cool! And what’s your background?
I’ve done this job for a while now. Straight out of uni I got a job at Leeds city council – they used to have a shop front that was their Energy and Environment Centre. I helped writing the newsletters, “How To” guides, and leaflets. A guy I worked with there went to a retail company and started as a technical author. He said I’d be really good at the job and I went for an interview, and I got it! I was then a technical author, even though I didn’t really know what one was. I really enjoyed it though, starting off in retail software, but the majority of my technical authoring has been healthcare software.
What qualities do you think make a good technical author?
I think you need to be quite a picky person. You’ve got to be a bit of a pedant. I like things being right, clear, and understandable. I think it boils down to creating clarity and cutting out the fluff. I can also spot a typo or an incorrect double space at a hundred yards!
I also think pedantry is an underrated quality, putting it mildly. What are your first impressions since joining us?
Well, I’ve been here six weeks now. I’ve worked from home a lot before, but this is the first time I’ve started at a place remotely. It’s going well though – everyone’s been really welcoming and helpful. With my job I’ve got to forge relationships so I can get information out of people’s heads. It’s easier when you can bump into them in the kitchen. We have a daily standup meeting in our team, so that helps to hear the chatter of what’s going on. I’ll be going down to Dagenham to meet the team soon though, and I’m looking forward to it. I think I shocked Abdullahi my Team Leader the other day when I said I’ve only been to London twice. Ever. Why would I need to go?!
Totally understandable when you live in God’s Own County of Yorkshire. What were the two times you’ve been to London for?
The first time was while I was at uni when I went on an Anti-Nazi League march. We went on a coach down from Huddersfield for it, then afterwards went to a gig in a park. I think it was someone like Chumbawumba. The second time was for a Lord of the Rings exhibition at the Natural History Museum.
You mentioned The Hit Squad earlier. What is that exactly?
It’s a PCC-wide initiative. When there’s been so much growth so quicky, you end up with a lot of different software, hardware and IT systems. The idea of the Hit Squad is to make everything the same. There’s existing documentation that needs looking at, things that were started but are now irrelevant, or things that just haven’t ever been documented.
What’s changed with your job over the years?
The software moves on really quickly, and the software you use to create your documentation moves on. When I first started, I used a help authoring tool called Robohelp. Where I was previously, I used media wiki, CSS and HTML. At the moment I’m just using Word. That’s changed a lot over the years too, and the more you get to use it, the more you find the quirks squirrelled away that they don’t make obvious.
What’s your favourite quirk that’s squirreled away in Word?
Well. In the Tables menu, you can add spacing at the top or bottom of a table, so if you’re writing text it doesn’t squash what you’ve written close to the table. So you can say “for every table, I want a 2px space top and bottom.” And hey presto! Why didn’t I know this before?! You can also write macros, or create building blocks that automatically add pre-determined content. Stuff like this makes your life so much easier.
It certainly seems like you’re in the right job! Anyway that’s enough about work. What did you have for tea last night?
We had – this is really bad – leftovers from Sunday night. Slow-cooked braised steak, onions and dumplings, with roast potatoes and broccoli. And some tiger bread.
That’s an excellent tea! Nothing at all to be ashamed of. What’s your favourite biscuit and why?
Dark chocolate digestives. They have to be dark, not milk. I only like dark chocolate in biscuits. I also like an orange club. I like custard creams and bourbons. Fig rolls too. I like biscuits. Rich tea as well, if you spread them with Nutella and make a sandwich.
It might have been easier to ask if there are any biscuits you don’t like.
Well, milk chocolate digestives are just wrong.
Interesting choice. What’s something outside work you’re really good at?
I don’t know whether I’m really good at it, but I’m a Morris Dancer. I do North West Morris – none of your hanky-waving nonsense. No bells, no hankies - we have clogs. I’m in a ‘side’ called Slubbing Billy’s. I’m currently the Squire – the boss – so when we go and dance I decide what dance we’re dancing, what order, that sort of thing. It’s like herding cats. There’s usually a lot of beer involved. It’s great, we have a laugh, but it’s bloody hard work.
What’s something you’re really bad at?
Hmmm. I used to love playing squash, but I wasn’t particularly good at it. Then once I had a game of racquetball and I really laughed. It’s a bit like squash, on the same court, but with a bigger racquet and a much bigger, REALLY bouncy ball. You expect it to be like squash but it’s SO bouncy. Hilarious!
Do you have a favourite word?
Saippuakivikauppais. It’s the longest single word palindrome in the world. It’s Finnish, and means ‘a person who sells caustic soda to the soap industry’.
Fantastic choice. Who’s your hero?
If I only had one it’d be someone like David Attenborough. He’s amazing.
What’s the best place you’ve ever been?
I don’t know whether there’s one, but we go to Marazion in Cornwall every year – just up the coast from Penzance. It’s beautiful. We went a couple of weeks ago.
Which celebrity would you not like to get stuck in a lift with?
Piers Morgan. He’s just horrible, and slimy.