New Careers and an Unexpected
By Celia and Honey, documentation
By Celia and Honey, documentation
Celia and Honey (left and right, respectively, above), both technical writers, joined MathWorks in late 2020 amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here they share a bit about their backgrounds and the paths that brought them to the world of software documentation. These journeys unfolded in several unforeseen ways for Celia and Honey but resulted in a happy intersection of their stories.
Before joining MathWorks, I worked as a practicing electrical engineer. Prior to that, I had earned my master’s in electrical engineering from Tufts University. As an engineering student, you are shown job possibilities that lie within the realm of being an engineer; you are not shown job possibilities that require engineering skills but don’t directly relate to engineering. This is what technical writing is. It requires combining technical knowledge and problem-solving skills to explain a complicated topic to users ranging from complete beginners to experts.
I applied to MathWorks with the expectation that I would join a documentation team. The explanation and understanding of the topic were always my favorite parts in school as well as my engineering job and internships.
As a recent graduate with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from SUNY Buffalo, I had experience in technical writing, be it conference papers, journals, or reports. I was happy to learn that a technical writing position existed in the corporate world, and even happier to see it was at MathWorks.
I have been using MATLAB since my undergrad days, giving me almost a decade of experience with the software. I knew that at MathWorks I would have the opportunity to blend my technical knowledge in the field of wireless communications and my writing skills. It sounded like an opportunity that was too good to miss.
My hiring manager at MathWorks decided to start me out in the Engineering Development Group (EDG), the company’s technical and leadership development program. The plan was that I’d spend the first few months building my MathWorks product knowledge and providing technical support to our customers. As an engineer who used MATLAB and Simulink frequently, I was excited to answer customer questions and learn more about the software I had already worked with and grown to appreciate.
What I didn’t expect from this time was for so many of my customer interactions to make an immediate impact on the documentation work I did once I transitioned to technical writing. As part of my EDG responsibilities, I wrote dozens of emails a day to customers, helping them resolve an issue they were having with one of our products. These responses required me to explain a complicated topic in a concise but complete manner. The essence of this process persists in documentation. It’s my job as a technical writer to simplify a highly technical concept for our customers in a way they can follow and understand.
I applied to MathWorks with the hope of joining the documentation team, but my hiring manager also gave me the option to first start as part of EDG. It proved to be a good opportunity to meet a few folks and build up my skills and knowledge. I was also assigned a “buddy” on both the EDG team and the doc team to help me throughout the ramp-up process.
As part of EDG, I was excited to see the many ways the software was being used. And it was intriguing to learn about the new designs and different ways we could help customers achieve their goals. I remember working on one customer issue that really put my cross-team communication skills to the test. The complicated case bounced from one department to another, and in a single week I interacted with more than 10 people across support, development, applications, and marketing. This experience made me appreciate how much effort my colleagues are willing to put in to help each other, creating a positive environment and work vibe.
Another thing I didn’t expect when I joined MathWorks and EDG was to immediately make a close friend in a virtual environment. Staff are working remotely during the pandemic, and so most of my interactions and meetings have been online. Honey, my first friend at MathWorks, started one week before me. She and I were in every single new-hire, product, technical support, and documentation training together. We later learned this was no accident!
Being new can be scary and a little lonely, especially in these current times. The MathWorks plan to train us together made the early days on the job that much more enjoyable. While our managers may have intentionally paired us up, they could not have anticipated that Honey and I would become such good friends. We leaned on each other for support when it was needed through challenging training sessions or a support case that was difficult to resolve. As a result, we developed camaraderie as well as respect and admiration for one another.
We still have not met in person, but there were days I spent at my tiny apartment in Boston talking to Honey more than my roommate. Having a support system in a new job felt incredibly reassuring. To know that it was fostered intentionally by MathWorks made it even more special.
I feel prepared and confident in my technical writing role because of the unexpected takeaways from my time in EDG—learning how to break down and explain a technical concept to customers. In addition, I know I have a network that starts with Honey to reach out to for help whenever I need it.
Celia became my very first friend in the virtual setting at MathWorks. It was great to have someone to partner with for training and projects. We helped each other work through any questions or doubts, and soon turned into each other’s go-to person. (It was mostly me reaching out, as Celia seemed to have most of the answers!)
It’s crazy when I think about how Celia and I haven’t ever met in person. In fact, I work from my home in Pittsburgh, and Celia works from her home in Boston. Despite the physical distance, we still managed to become good friends and close colleagues.
In the end, I found EDG to be a great prep program that provided me with all the components required for my career journey at MathWorks. I got a chance to make friends, educate myself about the products, learn from training and colleagues, interact with customers and across teams, set goals with managers, and just have fun. What makes it extra special is that I experienced it all with Celia. We’ve both settled into our technical writing roles in different departments, but I know I can reach out to her for anything.