Technical Writer for Space Industries: an Interview with Lori Yost

Although I'm not writing any more blogs for a while, I may interview some folks in the space industry.  My original thought was to save them for a series on careers, I decided to post Lori's since she was so kind to do this, and I'm not sure when I'll be starting this blog up again.

The space industry is growing, and there will be increasing job opportunities.  Of course, most of us think of astronaut and rocket scientists, when in reality, there are thousands of different career opportunities.  I’m starting an irregular series on some of the kind of jobs you can find in the space industry, and the people who are helping expand the role of humankind in space.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Lori Yost, a technical writer for ZIN Technologies’ NASA/Government division (  ZIN Technologies provides integrated products and spaceflight hardware development services to NASA and Fortune 500 companies.  ZIN is located in Ohio, and has won multiple small business awards for its work. 
Lori, welcome!

Tell us a little about yourself:
I’ve been a technical writer with ZIN Technologies for the last five years.  Before that, I spent 9 ½ years as a Software Quality Assurance Specialist with two different companies where I was exposed to writing, editing, and executing various documentation testing purposes.  I have over 20 years experience in Information Technology in various capacities.  

How did you get the job?
Prior to working for ZIN, I was working for a mortgage software company that created software for loan origination and the secondary market.  When there was a downturn in the mortgage industry in 2007, I was laid off.  I was only out of work for a short time.  I saw an ad in the paper for ZIN Technologies for a software developer which I did not think I was qualified for but I applied online anyway.  I wanted to get my resume on file.  I was surprised when I was called for an interview almost immediately.  When I interviewed, they told me that were they were thinking about hiring a technical writer and wanted to see if I was interested and qualified for the position.  I was definitely both.

You write the tech documents for two of the experimental racks on the ISS—what does that entail?  Repair & troubleshooting as well as how to use them, or am I completely off track?
You are off track (somewhat).  When I first started with ZIN, I was writing help files and software user manuals for the two experimental racks.  The racks are part of the Fluids and Combustion Facility.  One experiment rack studies combustion (CIR – Combustion Integrated Rack) and the other experimental rack studies fluids (FIR – Fluids Integrated Rack).  Both racks are installed on the Destiny Laboratory Module on the ISS.  

Currently, most of my time is spent writing verification reports for the both experimental racks.  We send up parts and equipment to maintain the racks along with new equipment that will be need to be installed for any new experiments that are scheduled to be performed by either rack.  The equipment is designed, built, and thoroughly tested by our engineers before it is sent to the International Space Station.  (If something goes wrong, it not likely they can go out to the nearest store and by a replacement.)  The reports can be very detailed at times.  I work closely with the engineers to create and edit these reports.  I also regularly attend Engineering Review Boards and Configuration Review Boards and write the reports from those meetings.  In addition, I write and edit other documentation when needed.

Are you writing for the astronauts to use on the ISS?  I think that’s be a challenge to keep them simple and comprehensive, so that even astronauts for whom English is not their native language or whose expertise is not  in this field are able to use the equipment properly.
No I do not write any crew procedures.  That is done by another team.  However, I do know that the astronauts are trained by the team on both racks before they are allowed to handle anything with the CIR or the FIR.  It must be noted that both racks are designed to run experiments from the ground without crew intervention by a ground support team from the Glenn Research Center.  Crew time is precious and MUST be scheduled.  When a crew member interacts with either rack, it is usually to provide on-orbit maintenance and configuration.

Aside from “study hard,” what would be your advice to someone who would like to get into the space industry as a technical writer?
When I was in school there were no degrees in technical writing.  Now there are including my alma mater, Youngstown State University (YSU calls it Professional Writing and Editing).  I was a communications major in college and I learned most everything about computers the hard way.  

I see that ZIN is also working with the Orion crew capsule.  Will you be doing anything with that?
At this time no.  I’ve worked other projects besides FCF when requested and at this time no one has requested my time.  

Lori, thanks so much for taking time to share a little about your career!

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