What’s better than free lunch? How about free lunch AND free breakfast? But wait, there’s more—aspiring technical communicators who attended STC Carolina’s recent Career Day event were treated to free lunch, free breakfast, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of insider information from a distinguished group of Triangle area technical communication experts. Speakers from RTI International, Extreme Networks, Red Hat, Transenterix, and Epic Games joined recent college grads, career-changers, and curious onlookers at Extreme Networks’ offices in Morrisville, NC, to share their experiences in the technical communication field and provide advice about how to find a job, create a stand-out resume, and prepare for an interview.

STC Carolina chapter president Guiseppe Getto kicked off the day’s festivities with a general introduction to the field of technical communication. Guiseppe began by discussing the definition of technical communication, and then reviewed median salary for technical communicators and the tasks they might perform. Guiseppe also talked about the Society for Technical Communication (STC), an international professional organization for technical communicators, and the many benefits to being a member of both STC and the local chapter, STC Carolina.

Speakers from RTI International, Extreme Networks, Red Hat, Transenterix, and Epic Games joined recent college grads, career-changers, and curious onlookers at Extreme Networks’ offices in Morrisville, NC, to share their experiences in the technical communication field and provide advice about how to find a job, create a stand-out resume, and prepare for an interview.

Guest Speakers

After Guiseppe’s introduction, the guest speakers began their presentations. Common themes included the paths they took to their current positions, the role of technical communication, tips on finding a job in the field, and the company culture where they currently work.

Marsha Blackburn and Erin Friday are both Documentation Specialists at RTI International, but while Erin has a degree in technical writing, Marsha has a background in journalism. Erin and Marsha both spoke about RTI’s corporate slogan—Improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice—and how the slogan is reflected in the company culture: RTI is a non-profit organization where employees have a sense that they are “doing good.”

Shikha Jhala, a technical writer at Extreme Networks, has a background in electrical engineering but earned a certificate in technical writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2018. She started as an intern at Extreme Networks and is now a full time technical writer. Shikha works in the InfoDev group, which represents the “voice of the customer” to the Engineering team and develops API and SDK documentation for Extreme Networks’ Developer Center.

Susan Carpenter, Suyog Sainkar, and Steve Bream put an emphasis on the open source culture at Red Hat, where teams are self-organizing and meritocratic, and use RedHat’s Open Decision Framework  to help them make “transparent, inclusive decisions.” The Red Hat team also shared an interesting aspect of their company’s distinct business model, because Red Hat makes much of its software available for free and then charges for access to support, support documentation is a revenue-generating product. This is the opposite of most software companies, where the software costs money, support is free, and tech writers have to regularly justify their existence.

Greg Eller is a Senior Technical Writer at Transenterix. Like RTI’s Marsha Blackburn, Greg has a background in journalism and more than 25 years of experience as a professional writer. Greg shared his belief that much of life is incidental networking, and that it often leads to job opportunities. His latest job, however, was just the opposite – he responded to an online job post and got the job in part because of his familiarity with Framemaker and InDesign, software packages used by the technical documentation group at Transenterix.

The final guest speaker presentation came from a technical writer at Epic Games whose background includes a degree in English/Technical Communication. After working at Dell and a number of other small tech companies she was hired by Epic Games to work on their learning management system (LMS).  Her new co-workers constantly asked her to help the documentation team. Now, she works with both the learning management and documentation teams, and appreciates Epic’s “start-up mentality” where respect and hard work are both highly valued.

A technical writer’s resume acts a work sample, highlighting his or her written communication skills or lack thereof.

Workshops

After lunch there was a resume workshop followed by an interview preparation workshop.

Former STC president Christina Mayr led the afternoon’s first workshop, Escaping the Black Hole: Better Resumes for Technical Communicators. Christina’s presentation focused on making sure your resume gets to the right people and tells the story you want it to tell. The “black hole” mentioned in her presentation title refers to the physical or virtual wastebasket in which your resume might land if it’s not well-written, properly formatted, and specifically targeted to the job for which you are applying. Hiring managers deploy both human and electronic filtering systems to help them channel the deluge of resumes precipitated by new job postings into the proper buckets. A technical writer’s resume acts a work sample, highlighting his or her written communication skills or lack thereof. As with all technical writing, your resume should be clear, concise, and written for your target audience.

Following Christina’s resume workshop, STC president-elect Sree Pattabiraman offered some interview preparation tips in her workshop, Preparing for a Technical Writing Interview. Sree suggested doing a SWOT analysis to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your technical communication portfolio, and then adding new documents, such as documentation plans, API documentation, release notes, or style guides, as necessary to address the weaknesses. Sree also discussed the rounds of interviews an applicant is likely to encounter—phone screening, technical interview, team interview, HR interview—and some good questions to ask during the interview, such as  “What is the best thing about working for your company?” Sree’s final bit of advice for job seekers? Be sure to send a thank-you note within 24 hours!

Book Exchange

But wait, there’s more—did I mention the book exchange? In addition to free breakfast, free lunch, and free (but very valuable) career advice, STC Carolina’s Career Day featured a book exchange table where attendees and guests could leave a book with which they were ready to part or pick up an interesting, new book.

At the end of the day, attendees of STC Carolina’s Career Day headed home with their bellies full of tasty food and their minds full of food for thought about what it’s like to work in the field of technical communication and how to land their first job.

 

Dave is a recent graduate of the Technical Writing program at Duke University and works as a project manager at MetaMetrics, an education technology company in Durham, NC. Dave lives in Durham with his wife and three kids and their dog, Louise.