I had so much fun over the past few weeks reading and publishing the journeys of some talented D.C. technical writers. As a bonus, I’m publishing my story this week. Enjoy!
Anything but Engineering
When you grow up in a family of engineers, the last thing you want to be is an engineer. Or at least, that was my case. My family owned an engineering firm. My uncles, my cousins, and my sister were all engineers, and I wanted nothing to do with it. Looking back, I’m sure it was more bias than anything. I wanted to forge my own path, and joining a family of engineers was no way to do it. No siree, Bob! Cue a string of random career aspirations including lawyer, woodworker, and interior designer.
I’m Going to Be an Engineer
Somewhere along the line, I had to actually pick a career path. My love of puzzle-solving with my natural talent for math had everyone chanting “engineer!” and soon, I was chanting along. I interned at the family firm and went to engineering camp at University of Maryland. I set my sights on engineering schools like MIT, VT, and UMD.
I ultimately started my collegiate career as a civil engineering major at UMD. I loved my professors and my classmates, but soon discovered the inevitable; I hate engineering. The material was what I expected, the classes were as advertised, but all I could think about was how bored I was. Day in and day out using the same formulas with different numbers. And the science classes. Who needed chemistry? I was stuck. What do I do now?
Rediscovering Old Passions
Being someone who prides themselves on always having a plan, I dove head first into “Find a New Career!” mode. Switching schools was not an option (Fear the Turtle!). So, I opened a list of majors and read it through from accounting to world language education. In that entire list, there was only one major that spoke to me: English.
I always enjoyed my English classes. Growing up, I stowed a box away filled with short stories, poems, and songs I wrote over the years. I loved to write, but that wasn’t a career. Was it?
Finding a Dream Career
I spent the next few weeks officially changing majors and searching for my dream job. After a little research, I decided to look into publishing. As an editor, I could read the next great novel and put my grammar-perfecting skills to use. It sounded fun enough, so I interned with a publishing company to get feel for the business. I liked it, but there was still something missing.
Meanwhile, I did just about everything I could related to English and publishing. I joined on-campus publications and worked at the school’s writing center. The more I surrounded myself with English, the more I loved it and the more I heard about technical writing.
What Is Technical Writing?
The first time I heard about technical writing as a profession, I was in my last year of college. Someone called it “basically an editor.” Another said it was “the only way to make money with an English degree.” Opinions were mixed and real resources were scarce. I did some research online, but had no idea what I was getting into. Still, I posted my resume on UMD’s careers page and included technical writing as one of my interests.
A few months before graduation, a I got a call about a technical writing internship. I interviewed and before I knew it, I was working twice a week for a Government contractor. I loved it.
I sat with different IT professionals every week and absorbed what they did. I wrote and edited and learned something new every day. That was what I missed. As much as I distanced myself from engineering, I still loved technologies and puzzle-solving. Things that traditional editing could never replace. I learned about technologies and spent my day wordsmithing the complex into the consumable. Every day was a new lesson, a new puzzle, with new people.
A Career in TechComm
By the time graduation rolled around, I had an offer letter in hand and I started my career as a technical writer. I learned as I went through mentors, trial and error, and a little bit of luck. As time went on, I wanted to engage the community more. I started a blog and attended technical writer meetups. I really started to get a feel for the profession outside of myself.
My road to becoming a technical writer was nowhere near perfect and is nowhere near complete. I’m still learning new things every day, and I’m loving every second of it. If you think you might be interested in technical writing, don’t hesitate to give it a try. It might be the career you didn’t know you wanted.
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.