Secondary Emissions

Engineers Who Write? (For a Living)

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 [email protected]. (Or [email protected], if you really want to go off the record.)

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