Working mom finds work-life balance

Starting a family can mean big changes—and sometimes even the need for a new career. For Ontario’s Heather Smirle, having children meant swapping a heavy travel schedule for a flexible career that would allow her to stay home. Thanks to SFU’s Technical Communication program, she’s now working as a freelance technical writer. 

When Heather first left her job in Ajax as a strategic planning manager at DuPont, she’d found herself casting about for something new to do. She opened and operated an online store for a time, and also tried out a few online courses.

“I was very active on technical forums and helping people out, so I was sort of technical writing without even realizing I was doing it—but I loved it,” says Heather. “Until I came across the SFU description for Technical Communication, I hadn’t even thought about it as a discipline. But I thought it would be a perfect way for me to get into the workforce again.”

Even while she was at DuPont, Heather recalls she had a knack for communication and enjoyed explaining technical details to her colleagues. But to gain entry into the technical writing field, Heather realized she would need to add formal training and accreditation to her résumé—which was where the Technical Communication Certificate fit in.

“It gives me that credibility for people who don’t know me, and helps get my foot in the door,” she says. “I think having the certification also gives you more opportunities, whether you want to be a freelancer or are prepared to commit to a corporate role.”

According to Heather, the training allowed her to build her portfolio while improving her writing. “What would have once taken me three paragraphs, I can now distill into a bullet point,” she says. “If you can make your language clearer and easier for people to read and understand quickly, then you’re just so far ahead in your job already.”

If the program brought her one surprise, it was that she’d never understood Microsoft Word’s full functionality: “I thought I was a complete MS Word power user before the course. Then I realized I was a bit of a hack with the manual formatting I was doing. Now clients think I’m a wizard when I apply styles and make changes quickly—they just can’t believe it!”

Although she’d originally expected technical writing would mean a focus on software, Heather has now worked in a variety of sectors, on jobs ranging from operations manuals to requests for proposals.

“It’s setting me on a path where I hadn’t thought to go,” she reflects. “Every job I’m taking so far has been very different. It keeps things interesting, and I love that I’m constantly learning.”

Read more about Heather’s experience in the program on her blog. 

By Kim Mah