Interview with Celia Lewis – Tech Writer
This summer I decided that students don’t know about the field of tech writing so I would do a blog to highlight this field. I realized that I could do so by talking to someone doing Technical Writing as a job so I called upon Celia Lewis , Tufts MSEE 2019, BSEE 2018, to hear more about her job.
Celia had a great deal to say about more than just the job of Tech Writer. If you are reading this blog only to understand more about being a Tech Writer, skip to What is Tech Writing, but for a wide-ranging set of interesting pieces of advice from an optimistic, planful, hardworking, insightful engineer on her way to Law School keep reading from the top!
A little Background:
Celia was an Electrical Engineer who played Field Hockey while at Tufts. She stayed for a 5th year Master’s and during that extra year got to coach the Field Hockey team as well.
After graduating, Celia went to work as an Electrical Engineer at Boston Engineering. She did this for two years and found that “Direct” engineering was not for her. She explained that engineering is all about “failing over and over again” and she found that stressful but loved other parts of the job including meeting with clients, writing up complicated processes, and explaining tough technical concepts in an easy-to-understand way so she wanted to find a job that used those skills.
Celia decided to look for a new position and interestingly determined that she wanted to work for MathWorks (She enjoyed working with MATLAB and Simulink and their documentation was the “BEST”) and focused on finding the right position there (using all the skills she had found she was both good at and liked doing) to move to. In other words, her search this time was about working for a specific title, not about the role. She found the Technical Writing position which was “Engineering Adjacent”. MathWorks only hires engineers to do this job. Celia loved being a Technical Writer.
At the time of the interview, Celia had just left MathWorks and was on her way to the Tech Edge JD program at Santa Clara University a Fast Track law school program, to become a Patent Lawyer – which she has been assured is similar to Technical Writing but with the language being more legalese.
Time at Tufts
Celia said that her decision to be an Electrical Engineer at Tufts was the best decision. She credited Prof. Ron Lasser for much of this. She said that the practicality of both Junior and Senior Design classes made Tufts special. She knows that the skills she learned -problem solving, teamwork, delivering proper presentations, being succinct and the importance of being able to explain complicated things to those not versed in that subject have been important in her career. She did admit that she didn’t always know that what she was doing was really important at the time but now looking back at her time at Tufts she knows it prepared her for where she wanted to go.
As noted, Celia got her Master’s at Tufts in Electrical Engineering as well. Her first job out of school was at Boston Engineering. There she was working on “very hard core electrical engineering” as a Control Systems Engineer. She was able to apply all the theory learned at Tufts and received great mentoring from the company’s President, Bob Treiber. Part of the job was to meet with clients and do “lots of write-ups of complicated processes”. She liked this part of things which eventually led her to Technical Writing.
Transition to Technical Writing
Celia decided to leave hard-core engineering after two years. Her reason was that “Engineering is failing over and over again” and she didn’t love this aspect. She realized that what she really liked was learning tech and explaining it to others.
Celia went about looking for her next job in an interesting way. She decided that MathWorks did the best job of documentation, so she decided just to target finding a way to work for that specific company, MathWorks. She was able to get exactly what she wanted, a role as a Tech Writer at MathWorks. She said part of her reasoning was that she had used Simulink, one of the MathWorks’ products while at Boston Engineering and she really understood and had come to appreciate the software.
When networking with a fellow Jumbo, Brett Cooper, an Electrical Engineer who had gone to law school to become a Patent Lawyer, Celia realized that this could be a logical next step for her career. She would be using similar skills, the ability to learn new technology, understand the product, do the research and write in a way to explain complicated things more simply (although in legalese). Celia will start at Santa Clara University in their prestigious Tech Edge JD Program this fall!!!!
What is Technical Writing? Do you need to be an engineer to do it?
Celia explained that the background for a Technical Writer can be different based on the type of company, but many technical companies (including MathWorks) only hire engineers or hard scientists for the role.
What is the job of a Technical Writer?
Basically, it is the very first user of a product. You learn how it works, understand the backend, find the bugs, compile all that knowledge and then document what you found so others can use it. A typical day might be watching a presentation of the technology, taking notes, working with a feature and figuring out how to document.
“Know engineering – Tell Engineers” “Software is essentially useless unless the people who are working with it know how to use it”. It is not UI/UX, not about the usability of the product but the how to use the product.
Why do you like the job?
In a Tech Writer role, you work with so many different groups, Software Design, other Tech Writers, Editors, Marketing. You make great connections throughout the company.
It is both creative and structured. Many rules for how to document and many steps in the process.
What makes a good technical writer?
Each document is like a puzzle. How do you put disparate pieces together to make it all understandable? You need to be able to think creatively, ask questions, have a desire to learn, be able to learn to write proficiently and with guidance. You need to be good at explaining a complicated process, simply. You must be able to sit and write alone but within style guidelines.
- There is no “supposed to do” – you need not be afraid that you are not doing what you went to school for.
- Engineering teaches you so much more than engineering.
- Use your mentors.
- Keep growing
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, people want to help you.
Reminder you can Take Udemy Courses (free through Tufts tufts.udemy.com)
- Technical Writing: How to Write Software Documentation
- Tech Writers Master Class
- Technical Writing: Master Your Writing Career