How many engineers have day jobs that let them sit in the press box at the Indy 500? Or, get to take a personal tour of the Fender guitar company after having lunch with the mayor of a California town?
I got to experience those things and other really cool opportunities because I am an engineer who can write.
It started for me after I graduated from college with a degree in mechanical engineering. As my friends got jobs with automotive companies and in government nuclear programs, I watched with a sinking heart. I didn’t want a job like that, but what else was there for an engineer?
Then I saw a job post looking for a recent engineering grad with an interest in writing. On the first interview for associate editor at an engineering trade magazine, I knew I could never settle for a job designing widgets. Writing about engineering was the opportunity I didn’t know existed until that moment, but felt compelled to do.
I got the job and quickly learned about Strunk and White, decks, ledes, and sidebars, and how to write snappy headlines and photo captions, although they are still my least favorite to create. I learned how to research, get a source on the phone, ask questions, and attribute quotes. I also won awards for my writing, including a $1000 cash prize. Organizations who wanted me to write about their regions or products sponsored press tours to places like Switzerland, England, California, and Puerto Rico. I got to attend the Indy 500 with an all-access pass in exchange for writing about the technology of the cars.
Engineers can spot marketing a mile away so, as a peer who can write to other engineers, I’m able to take information from companies, weed out the marketing fluff, ask pertinent questions, and get to the meat of the technology or process.
And, I’ve written about some fascinating topics. 3-D printing, sports wheelchairs, thought-controlled medical devices, cutting-edge robotics, and friction stir welding (okay, maybe the last one is only exciting to us engineers.)
I’ve since moved on from that first magazine job to other magazines and different positions, and I’ve been able to brand myself as a writer and editor of engineering-related content. I work on eBooks, blog posts, whitepapers, and more as a freelancer, and I can command $1/word because of my specialty.
It’s been over 15 years since I left college and I couldn’t have imagined I’d get to meet such interesting people, learn about cutting- edge technology up close, and travel across the world for a creative job I love. I’ll take that over designing widgets any day.
- Curious About Becoming a Technical Writer? – James Rada, Jr.
- Finding Freelance Jobs in Technical Writing By Debbie Swanson
- TECHNICAL WRITING CAN BE REWARDING By Susan Bilheimer
- WRITING JOKES FOR STAND-UP COMICS By Peter J. Fogel
- How I Leapt from Academics to Freelance Journalism in a Single Bound! By P. Comeau
- How I Became a Go-to Gambling Writer By George Hunt
Vicki Burt has worked in publishing for over 15 years with a focus on writing for engineers. Her byline has been in over a dozen trade magazines and reference books. She works full time in addition to freelancing, has been married for almost 10 years and has two active boys. Find her on Twitter @vickiburt and at www.vickiburt.com
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