Director of Operations, Technical Writer
B.S. English:Technical/Professional Writing Emphasis,
Utah State University
Master of Business Administration (MBA),
Briefly tell us about your academic/professional life:
When I started school at Utah State University, I essentially picked a major out of a hat and was less than thrilled with my choice. My roommate at the time was an English major (in Literary Studies) and told me about the “most boring” emphasis in the English department: Professional and Technical Writing. The more she described it, the more intrigued I became. I switched majors and instantly knew I had found my niche.
After receiving my B.S. degree in English, I landed a job as an entry-level technical writer at McKinnon-Mulherin. My newly acquired business writing and editing skills were immediately put to the test, and while I was grateful for everything I learned in school, I quickly realized I had a long way to go. I took the feedback I received from senior editors very seriously and tried not to take it personally when my documents were sent back covered in red.
As my writing improved, I also started taking the lead on more projects, creating and maintaining scopes, schedules, and project plans. In 2010, I was promoted to Manager of Custom Projects, overseeing an average of fifteen projects at a time and managing 20 to 30 employees.
My experience continued to grow, and I took on more responsibility in the company’s day-to-day operations. While my English degree gave me a good foundation for my work as a writer, I didn’t have the business acumen needed to positively contribute to corporate decisions. I went back to school, attending Westminster College to earn my MBA while continuing to work full time. I graduated in May 2015 and continue to lead the team at McKinnon-Mulherin, now as the Director of Operations.
Briefly tell us about your life outside of School/Work:
I’m a Utah native and currently reside in the Sugarhouse area, raising chickens and sometimes turkeys with my wannabe-farmer husband. I have a rambunctious and witty four-year-old boy and a newborn baby girl. As soon as said baby lets me sleep again, I will be back outside running and maybe even training for another half marathon. In the meantime, I’m indulging in my less physically taxing hobbies of knitting, reading, and watching junky reality TV.
How have your career passions changed over the course of your career, and how have you managed transitions?
I felt so good about my decision to switch to Professional and Technical Writing in college that I was confident that I would happily work as a writer from graduation until I retired. If no other opportunity had presented itself, I probably would have done just that. Luckily, I had two great mentors who pushed and encouraged me to take on management roles on projects. The more I managed projects and people, the more I enjoyed that position over writing and content development. Part of what has made that transition easy is that I still get to edit and quality check team members’ work so I can exercise that original passion while going after my current ambition.
What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
One of the reasons I love working for McKinnon-Mulherin is that we are always working on new projects with diverse clients, which keeps things interesting and satisfies my hankering to learn about new things. Over the years, I’ve done everything from writing million-dollar government proposals to creating multi-day instructor-led training to editing a surrealist self-help book.
If I had to pick a favorite project, it would be a user manual for a lean manufacturing company. The project involved a tremendous amount of data gathering, and part of what made it interesting was the engineers who excitedly talked about what made this machine efficient, economical, environmentally friendly, and ergonomic for the user. While a user guide may not be the most thrilling reading, I was able to capture some of the engineers’ passion to make the final document less bland and absolutely useful.
Are there any books or other resources that have particularly helped you reach this level of awesomeness?
I always default to recommending Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” A guide on proper grammar is essential in our business, but it’s so short and useful, professionals in every industry should read it and refer to it often. If you have time to read more than 85 pages on proper grammar (which I hope you do), I love Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax.” She takes the time to explain grammar rules and also highlights when it might be okay to break those rules.
I firmly believe that you should read for pleasure, too, so I’ll also recommend my current favorite novel: “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn. This book has nothing to do with corporate communication, but instead revolves around a traveling freak show. It explores the strained relationships between the stars of each act and their varying levels of ambition and deception to become the main attraction and take over the circus enterprise. On second thought, maybe it does give some insight into the harsh business world.
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