Saturday, February 14, 2009

A bright idea

So... I agreed to try to come up with something bright - a helpful tip (click on the title of this posting to find out why). [To skip to the tip, scroll almost to the bottom. I got completely carried away writing this post.]

In my last post, I wrote about some of the things I do, but I didn't write how I got into user interface design or human computer interaction or whatever you want to call it when someone helps make the interaction between people and technology more usable...

Almost exactly 10 years ago (Feb 1, 1999) I started working for a company that did technical writing and GUI (graphical user interface) and graphic design. I had very little experience with Microsoft Office (which was still fairly new then), but I'd worked with computers for several years - doing word processing (with practically every word processing software that came out before Word) and building databases (with dBase 3+) and what they really wanted was someone who'd learn quickly. I asked for a nothing salary (so nothing that it barely covered my transportation to and from work, really) because I had no idea what to ask for - and they hired me. I wasn't really looking for a job at the time, but it sounded interesting... I started out doing whatever was needed - editing, proofreading, and a bit of technical writing. It was a fabulous time for hi-tech and the company had tons of work. More than they could handle. My boss really believed in giving people a chance, so she threw me (with backup) into projects that could have been way beyond my capabilities. I started to get some experience and one of the women I was working with suggested that instead of technical writing, the company might be better off with me doing user interface design.

I don't think anyone had ever moved to a different group in the company before and I was both flattered and excited to have the opportunity to try. Something about the dynamics in the company (mostly within the groups) worked really well - there was a lot of cooperation and sharing of ideas. We always worked in teams of at least 2 and then we'd split up, each working on our own for a while, and then present our ideas to everyone from the group that was available (6 or 7 people) and sometimes to people from other groups too. That way, we'd get input from a several people before we got too far - and we'd go back and make changes and present them again.

The projects were from a variety of fields - I did many that had to do with printed circuit boards, so I actually went to a factory that produced them (they forgot to tell me to bring a clothespin for my nose) and flew to Germany for a week to a company that built camera-based inspection machines, to learn exactly how they worked. I did a huge project for WAP (when people still thought it was going to be the next big thing), medical products, security systems and all sorts of web applications - some of which are still around in various forms. Looking back, it was an incredible time - I worked a lot and I really enjoyed what I was doing and knew to appreciate the opportunity to work with such talented people (most of whom I'm still in touch with).

I got a lot of things out of working there. First of all, a career. More important were the things I got on a personal level - I remember being amazed by my boss so many times - when I reminded her of something she had said, she never denied it. When I said I was having trouble with something, she didn't say I was a lousy person - she found ways to help me... And then I saw the same things happening with the other people I was working with... As time went on, I began to realize that it wasn't me who was crazy or unworthy - it was just my (now ex) husband who was trying to convince me that I was. He had cut off all of my communication with my pre-marriage friends and detested when I talked to anyone from my family on the phone, but he couldn't keep me from talking to my co-workers... I took advantage of the conversations to do reality checks. It took me a long time to open up, but as I did, I found that what I was living was what they considered a nightmare. I stuck around with him (nicknamed Oscar, for his unbelievable grouchiness) for what I thought was my last chance to ever have another baby. I was 32 (which seemed old at the time) and already had 3 kids. It never crossed my mind that after a divorce I might get remarried. And certainly not in time to still be able to have a baby.

Around this time, 7 years ago, I miscarried at 13 weeks*. It wasn't a pregnancy with a lot of hope because even though the fetus was healthy, there was a large hematoma (blood clot) that bled on and off. I was on strict bed rest for the two weeks before the miscarriage. Oscar couldn't be bothered to offer me a glass of water or arrange a tv for me, even though I was only allowed to get up to go to the bathroom. When I came home from the hospital (my mom took me) after the miscarriage, he was angry that my crying woke him up and told me to just 'shut up and let him sleep'. A few weeks later I told him I wanted a divorce.

You're probably wondering how offering to give a tip for technical writers wound up with this crazy-long story. Well, I didn't mean for it to... I really just wanted to write how I started doing technical writing and then, when I wrote about the company I worked for, I couldn't help but mention the huge impact it had on my life (not to mention the fact that I ended up marrying Ohad who was one of my co-workers there, and, um, having three children with him). So.... if you've stuck around this long, here's the tip:

Got a blank page you can't get rid of at the end of a document?
  1. Turn on 'show all' (Ctrl+Shift+8) and find the last paragraph mark.
  2. Highlight it.
  3. In the font size box, type 2 and hit Enter.
Gone? It usually works :-)

* Although I had what is considered a late miscarriage, I was not left with a sense of loss. Since it was inevitable, I think of it as G-d giving me that last, much-needed push to get out of a bad situation and I am very thankful for that.


Sara said...

Wow, that's an amazing story! I'm so glad that things worked out the way that they did.

Sarah said...

i just knew there was a missing piece in your life i was dying to know about!

and thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a story! I'm so glad you found that job and that it gave you a path out of your first marriage. How blessed you are now!