Communication by Design

Graduate Amber Fischer takes editing, technical communication skills to build a career path

Professional Sequence in Editing and Professional Sequence in Technical Communication graduate Amber Fischer grew up in Boulder, Colo., attended Colorado State University and earned a degree in psychology.

“I thought I wanted to be a marriage and family therapist,” Amber tells me, “but realized just before graduation that I hate it when people fight, and the career I chose for myself would just leave me stressed and anxious.”

One of the many things a person can learn while in pursuit of a psychology degree is the importance of communication—especially for understanding clients’ needs and explaining next steps. A career in technical writing, editing and communication requires a person to have a similar skill set.

Amber may not have been sure what career lay ahead after she graduated, but her destined path wasn’t as far-fetched as she thought.

Making Ends Meet

Amber’s first post-graduation job was as a senior administrative assistant for Natural Resources Consulting Engineers, Inc. (NRCE), a water resources engineering company in Fort Collins, Colo.

“NRCE was looking for someone who could file and answer phones,” she says. “I took the job so I could make some money while figuring out my next step but I loved it there. I stayed for eight years.”

Although her role originally provided executive assistance to the company’s president in the form of calendar management and schedules, email responses and more, Amber quickly proved herself in other business writing skills.

“Early in my first year at NRCE, the office manager asked me to review a cover letter,” Amber recalls. “I fixed the grammar issues and made it flow better by moving sentences around and changing the wording to better reflect what she wanted to communicate. She was so impressed that she asked the company president to have me edit their reports for clients.

“Soon after that, the vice president asked me to write the rough drafts for proposals to save him time. It was fun—all the reading I do for fun ended up giving me a strong understanding of English even though I didn’t know any of the grammatical or punctuation rules.”

Amber ended up editing, formatting and producing reports, presentations, memos and promotional marketing materials, as well as drafting proposals and implementing a companywide proposal writing system.

Needless to say, this technical communicator was on her way.

“After all the writing and editing at NRCE, I wanted to have the title of editor,” she divulges. “My husband and I moved from Fort Collins to nearby Westminster for his job, so I took the time to search for such a role.”

The move landed her at Pie Consulting & Engineering—a forensic investigation and analysis engineering company that is now part of Lerch Bates—as an editor with executive assistant duties.

In addition to honing her editing and formatting skills on business reports and correspondence, Amber communicated with clients about project requests and legal contracts, streamlining the report writing process.

“I edited nearly full time at Pie and loved it,” she enthuses.

This may also have been her first peek into the technical communication field.

Stepping Up Her Game

In 2010, Amber got her break as a technical editor with The Cadmus Group, Inc.—a strategic and technical consultancy—editing reports, proposals, technical reference manuals and white papers for its Energy Services Division. Working with the end reader in mind, she clarifies technical content and ensures consistency across these documents.

During the course of the past 12 years, Amber has also established writing and formatting standards that support the company’s branding efforts and expectations. As an expert in Microsoft Word, she has provided formatting training and technical support to co-workers throughout the country.

But where her skills have really evolved is in grammatical editing and formatting to ensure the organization’s technical content is accurate, logical and easy to understand.

“I went from not knowing basic grammar principles to being the go-to person for my division of more than 200 staff.”

“Working for Cadmus as a full-time technical editor was a step-up from my previous editing role,” Amber says.

“The expectations are high and the deadlines are tight and nonstop. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I was getting by with little knowledge of punctuation and grammar, based on my love for the written word and intuition about ‘what makes sense.’ However, I knew that I could be better and wanted to learn more.”

That’s where we come in.

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

It wasn’t until about six years into working at The Cadmus Group as an editor that Amber enrolled in our Editing sequence “in order to really understand what is correct, why and how to talk about those edits with my coworkers,” she explains.

All of the courses and instructors made an impact on her career goals, but there was one teacher in particular that continues to make a difference.

Anne Hill really stands out,” Amber lauds. “She created a classroom culture of sharing, asking questions and helping each other out. Years later, I still write to her when I have a grammar question because she’ll know the answer.”

Amber was also able to put what she was learning to immediate use.

“Based on what I learned in the Editing classes, I created a 130-page document of all the grammar and punctuation rules, which I still reference almost daily,” she tells me.

“I went from not knowing basic grammar principles to being the go-to person for my division of more than 200 staff. Now I create and send out writing tips every month, create and update the company’s writing resources, and train all the new staff on best writing practices.”

Two years after completing the Editing program, she returned to us to up her skills in yet another field—technical communication.

“Once I was an expert in grammar and punctuation, I started to wonder where else I can provide value,” she says. “I noticed that the figures we create leave a lot to be desired; I knew they could communicate more, but wasn’t sure how to conceptualize something better. That led me to take the Technical Communication classes.”

As with her Editing program instructors, one stands out in her memory.

Arun Nevader was fascinating,” Amber commends. “He took time every week to talk about visual-design concepts and spent a lot of time looking over each assignment to provide deep individual feedback. He was super patient with my learning process.”

And she is still building on lessons learned for her work and career goals.

“I am still getting up to speed with using my skills from the Professional Sequence in Technical Communication classes, but I have created all the figures for a portfolio project of 12 reports,” she recounts.

“I also created figure guidelines for the company and a figure design best-practices manual, and am working on updates to the Excel template. Later this year, I will be taking a follow-up workshop and working individually with each project manager to help them determine the best types of figures to use based on what they want to communicate.”

With all of this steady upward mobility, what future goals does Amber have?

“I want to become an expert in visual design and be seen as the go-to person, much like I am for grammar and punctuation,” she replies. “Eventually, I would like to spend at least half of my time at work providing trainings and creating documentation to share everything I’ve learned.”

And as for advice she has for others looking to pursue editing and/or technical communication?

“It takes a lot of time to go back to school, and to be thorough about making sure you read and learn everything. But it’s time you are investing in yourself. If it’s something you love and want to know more about, nobody else can learn it for you. It’s well worth the effort.”