Engineers Who Write? (For a Living)

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Don Tuite looks for people like himself who got a Tech Writing graduate degree after their BSEE. How did that turn out?

Do we have any readers who practice “technical communications” who have an engineering degree and also studied the art in grad school?  I did, but except for three people from my own class and two who were a year behind me and went to work for the same company, I have never, to my knowledge, met any.

Yet, when I Google the subject, there must be 50 real universities, plus any number of diploma mills that have Masters/Ph.D. programs.  Where do all the grads wind up?

Here’s some personal history.  When I was a Junior, working my BSEE, it occurred to me that, if being an engineer depended on solving differential equations, I was in the wrong place.  I knew the theory, but if I got the right answer, it was a fluke. I was getting past by arguing for “partial credit,” based on my methodology. This did not sound like a good way to earn a living.

On the other hand, I was the only guy in my English class who could argue that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was more about contemplating suicide than the responsibilities of postal carriers.

So I asked the chair of the English Department, found out about the Tech Writing program at RPI, took the GRE early and got conditionally accepted (I had to graduate.) before the start of my Senior year.

RPI was a great experience. I had more trouble parsing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129: "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame" than I had with the Frost, but I got to write up a bunch of physics demonstration experiments for Prof. Harry Meiners’’ big book project.

I got out in time to get in on the aerospace boom, and, except for the gigs as cabdriver and top-40 air personality (Unemployment compensation eventually runs out.), I’ve spent the ensuing 48 years writing stuff or producing videos. (Want to know how to troubleshoot the switching supplies in a Tek 7000-series mainframe? Well, it makes a noise like this, when this supply is malfunctioning, and when this neon bulb is blinking, the problem is probably here.)  I spent 20 of the last 30 years ghostwriting articles for technical publications, and the last 10, (come May 1), getting to see my name on them in Electronic Design.

And in all that time, aside from folks who were with me at RPI, if I’ve ever met another person with a graduate degree in Technical Communications, it hasn’t come to my attention.

So, how about it?  Been there; done that? If you have something to say, write it in the comments below – or if you’d rather keep it personal, shoot me an email at dtuite@penton.com. (Or don.tuite@gmail, if you really want to go off the record.)

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Mar 7, 2014

I'm not sure if anyone did it in grad school but I had the usual courses in undergrad along with some interesting ones like public speaking that helped. Grad school tends to be more focused and I did computer science. On the other hand, I was working at RCA and they had a couple tech writing courses along these lines that I took while also working on my Masters degree. Does that count?

on Mar 16, 2014

Ah, we had a literature course handled by a summa cum laude in lit. Ms. Mae Sevilla and her classes were lovely. We had Sonnet 29 also by William Shakespeare about isolation. Stopping by woods on a snowy evening is certainly more than a lost postal carrier(you had me laugh there, haha..). Though the words "to watch his woods fill up with snow" and "the darkest evening of the year" could mean suicide, we only attributed it to an ambivalence between the forces of life and death. Robert Frost used am iombic tetrameter and he did say he had promises to keep. And miles to go before he would sleep.(Beautiful!)Perhaps the most romantic piece we had was by Pablo Neruda, Tonight I can write the saddest lines, or at least the most romantic for me. Loving is so short, forgetting is so long... *sigh* <3 Sadly, technical writing restricts us to the 3rd person and it wouldn't sound right if we used metaphors. Queer enough, we have some poetic terminologies like " split horizon with poison reverse" and means something very simple.

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Don Tuite

Don Tuite covers Analog and Power issues for Electronic Design’s magazine and website. He has a BSEE and an M.S in Technical Communication, and has worked for companies in aerospace,...
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