For all the times that people say English majors can’t—and won’t—get jobs after graduation, Christine Leggett is proof that this clearly isn’t the case. She’s had not just one, but many successful careers. In her newest endeavor, Christine finds herself working as a technical writer at GlobalNet Services, Inc. in Rockville, Maryland, with clients including the FAA, FDA, Google, and HP.
2010 SU Graduate Christine Leggett now works as a technical writer
Of course, her success may come in part due to her years of study as a Stevenson English major. She explains that SU has taught her you can always improve your writing and skills in general, as well as emphasizing the importance of attending writing workshops and peer reviews. Christine graduated from Stevenson with a B.A. in English in 2010 and went on to receive her M.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College Graduate Institute in 2012, demonstrating that prospective employees can never have too much experience in their chosen field.
For more information about Christine and her career path, involvement in writing, and advice for fellow writers, check out my full Q&A below.
Ricky: What made you get into technical writing in the first place? Was it always something you had always wanted/planned to do after graduation, or did you more or less “stumble” upon it?
Christine: I always wanted to be an editor, although I originally thought I would edit books. I was concerned that the competitiveness of the field would leave me editing straight-to-Kindle horrible books for pennies.
What is the most interesting aspect of technical writing, in your experiences?
The thing I like most about technical writing is getting to edit and write the most random things. Technical writers are often given any document that a company has to present to the client or the public, which can make for some interesting reading. When I worked in aviation, I worked on everything from documents about airplane toilets, to rules about how close a helicopter can fly to an airplane. The second most interesting aspect of technical writing is the people that you get to meet. Technical writers often get to attend exclusive meetings and events, either to take meeting minutes, or to meet the subject matter experts in order to build good working relationships.
The most mundane?
The most mundane aspect of being a technical writer is data entry/forms. When I worked in aviation, any given document that left our office could have 6-12 forms for a technical writer to fill out. The forms would need dates and names and departments and routing codes and on and on.
Do you find your job to be challenging?
Depending on the field, technical writing can be extremely challenging. Aviation was not particularly challenging because it mostly dealt in regulations and instructions for pilots and aviation personnel. The text was written by someone else and I only edited lightly. Most of the work I did for that company was formatting and forms. Now, working in IT, I am constantly challenged. I am working both in the proposal department and for any project manager who needs content for the client. The project managers’ content is often about complex computer systems and programs and is very jargon based, while the proposals are extremely persuasive and research-based.
Because of your past experiences with writing, do you find that you are able to adapt to any type of writing? Or was there a bit of a learning curve when you first got into technical writing?
The hardest thing to adjust to in technical writing is working with people who insist that they want the passive voice in their writing, even when it was clearer to identify the actor of the sentence. Another difficult aspect of technical writing is how slow the client can be. When I worked for the FAA, it was grueling how slow they responded to the documents I sent to them.
Do you think of yourself as a creative writer in addition to a “professional” writer? Does tech. writing offer many (if any at all) opportunities for creativity?
I don’t think of myself as a creative writer, although technical writing does offer opportunities to be semi-creative. The proposals are made from original content with phrases mapped from the Request for Proposal. Additionally, technical writers work on the newsletters for some of our projects. We also have the opportunity to work with the marketing department/social media for our company because we are a small business.
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t in your current career?
I probably would have tried my hand at corporate blogging/social media if I didn’t become a technical writer. I filled out a few job applications in that field a few years back, but it is extremely competitive. Companies are looking for bloggers with 3-5 years’ experience running national campaigns as entry level.
Where do you possibly see yourself in ten years from now career-wise?
In ten years, I see myself managing a group of technical writers. The work keeps me on my toes with the variety of work that crosses my desk. I’m working in IT now, which is booming for technical writers as the demand for cyber securities and advanced systems continues. The job pays very well and the people in the IT industry love having a good technical writer because writing can be very stressful to engineers and IT professionals.
Though you’ve been lucky in securing a career, do you find that it’s difficult for English majors (writers in particular) to find and secure jobs after graduation?
It can be difficult for English majors to secure jobs after graduation if they have no work experience. The jobs I applied for were more interested in what I had done professionally than my GPA. I think many English majors are unrealistic about the competitiveness of English-related jobs and end up working secretarial positions.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers (either creative or professional)?
Take as many non-creative writing classes as you can. Even if you end up in a creative writing field, having a solid background in professional writing will be beneficial. Take classes that you can put on your resume, like History and Structure of the English Language and Business Writing. Also, get a job while you’re in college so that, upon graduation, you’re not falling short of the standard “Entry Level” job, which nowadays requires 3-5 years of experience. If you are interested in working in marketing or communications, it can be beneficial to create a blog and work on a web presence with work-appropriate posts that you can later use as writing samples.
What’s the most important lesson/piece of advice that you learned during your time at SU that has helped you the most in your career?
You can always improve your writing. Always work to improve your skills and ask questions when you’re not sure what someone wants from you. If you can, attend seminars and peer reviews. Also, network, network, network!