By Meg Nelson | CPTC Practitioner & Member
Can you tell us about your background and your current role?
Non-traditional – that’s the most accurate description of my background! Before my last semester, I dropped out of college to chase a dream: founding a charity in Uganda. I moved to Kampala and dove into our mission of connecting formerly trafficked women to financial services, particularly burgeoning fintech solutions. This was where I first dipped my toe into technical writing.
The core of my job was technical communication. To fundraise, I had to translate the technical aspects of what we were doing with financial services and fintech to donors halfway around the globe. It was a challenge, and I loved it. And thankfully, while I was getting the charity off the ground, I chose to finish my college degree in absentia (and the University of Tennessee kindly allowed me to do so).
After six years of running the charity, I had an ‘a-ha’ moment. I realized that I truly enjoyed writing about financial services, not running an organization. So, I transitioned to doing just that.
Now, six years on, I’ve had the privilege of writing for financial services and technology companies on five continents. I’ve translated some of the most complex financial and technology concepts into jargon-free content that opens the door to financial inclusion for unbanked individuals and new markets for pioneering companies.
For the last four years, I consulted for the Bermuda Monetary Authority as their Senior Technical Writer, writing speeches, editing regulatory documents, and continuing to soak up what’s next in the industry. In June, I moved back to the US, stepping into my current role with the Federal Reserve Board as a Senior Media Relations Specialist.
Can you talk about your Technical Communicator journey?
When I went to college, I had a very different idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to move to another country, start a charity and dedicate my life to that. I knew a degree in social work would provide me with the foundation I needed to do it – and it did. Unfortunately, as any social worker will tell you, the burnout rate is extremely high. After six years, that’s where I ended up.
So, I had to make important decisions about what I could do next that would rejuvenate and fulfill me. Writing was the obvious choice. I had always used it as an outlet, relishing the use of words to paint pictures, tell stories and help others look at complex topics in a different light.
The trouble with this transition was my degree. A Bachelor of Science degree is invaluable, regardless of the field. But, when you’re trying to land a writing gig, it’s an uphill battle if that BSc isn’t followed by ‘in Communications’ or ‘in Journalism’ or ‘in English’. For two years, I struggled, jumping at every freelance opportunity I could get. I then landed a full-time consulting position.
Nevertheless, three years in, I realized I needed something more than writing experience on my resume. I needed an educational ‘stamp of approval’. I also knew that going back to school to get another degree was too big of a commitment for me to make at that time. The CPTC certification became the clear Goldilocks solution.
I immediately signed up and started studying. A few months later, I passed the Foundation level test. After earning this certification, I started seeing a difference. I started landing interviews and eventually received a job offer for my current role. Nevertheless, I decided not to stop there. I wanted the Practitioner level certification. So, last year, I got back to it, took the Practitioner level exam prep class and just last month, I passed.
Can you explain why you chose the CPTC certifications (e.g. course content, format, learning outcomes, read reviews online, etc)?
When I decided it was time for me to pursue a certification, I did a deep dive into Google to see communications-related options. I read certification descriptions and student reviews. The Society for Technical Communication immediately stood out as the best fit and the most respected certification/professional society.
I also liked that it was a multi-level certification process, where the first level concentrates on the theory, the second on practical application and the third on showing mastery. Across the exams, it uses the same book and concepts. So, as you study for the next level, it further cements the information.
Additionally, when searching for the right certification for me, I saw that most others were dedicated to writing and editing. CPTC is more holistic, having you think about research, planning, organization, design, etc. The more I considered it, the more I realized that these other considerations allow you to develop strong documents, not just strong sentences and paragraphs.
What are your thoughts on the training and exams?
Initially, when I began reading the book on which the exams are based, I thought that the knowledge was too basic and common sense. Then, once I was a few chapters deep, I realized its brilliance. The book takes all of the ‘common sense’ concepts that most people know about writing and structures it – almost mathematically – into a system. It organizes the writing process into steps and changes how you think about writing and the questions you ask yourself.
Regarding the exam, there’s no way around admitting that it’s tough. Nevertheless, when used properly (e.g. to understand the types of questions asked and the objectives covered), the study guide saves you a lot of time studying and how much you spend on each question in the exam.
While I just used the study guide, book and practice exam to prepare for the Foundation level, I wanted an additional resource for the Practitioner level. I took the STC exam prep class and am glad I did. The instructor was very thorough and took the time to explain the reasoning behind the concepts we struggled with. He also offered insight into how we should approach the different types of questions and the different exam strategies we could choose.
What was your experience with virtual training? Did anything pleasantly surprise you (e.g. despite training being online it felt very personal)?
That’s exactly what surprised me about the virtual training – it felt personal. I expected to sit there with my mic on mute, but we were interacting the whole time. It was also a relatively small class size, so each class was personalized to what the students wanted to focus on. The instructor regularly checked if we had any questions and would raise questions for us to answer, too.
Is there a key piece of information or learning outcome that has really resonated with you? Can you give an example of how you might implement this in your role?
In my current role, I can get bogged down with assignments and lose track of documents’ purposes. The CPTC certification was a good reminder to take each document in isolation and ask yourself what the main point is. There have been a few instances where I went back to management and said, “I don’t think we should be drafting this”, or “Maybe we should use a different genre.” They ended up taking my advice.
Can you explain how you have used your skills and knowledge in your role and explain to what extent?
The skills I’ve learnt through the CPTC training have enhanced my outcomes. I ask questions that I never asked before. I have a methodical approach to researching and organizing before drafting documents. I have also developed an eye for design, particularly with graphs and charts and ensuring they are used effectively.
I’ve noticed that these adjustments to my approach have changed my outcomes. Fewer documents are sent back to me with editing requests, or the requested edits are fewer in number.
Is there a discernible difference in your role before the training and after?
Learning and honing technical writing skills is only beneficial to your ability to communicate personally and professionally. Additionally, I think it gives you a boost in confidence. Employers undoubtedly see this (not just on your resume but in the quality of your cover letter and how you answer interview questions). In my experience, this was the most significant discernable difference—in how I present myself and my skills to potential employers. Four months after receiving my Foundation level certification, I was offered a full-time job at the Bermuda Monetary Authority. I earned my Practitioner level certification in December 2022 and, five months later, I received a job offer from my dream employer.
How has certifying in CPTC helped you develop your career and skills?
It gave my resume the legitimacy it lacked. More importantly, though, it transformed how I conceptualize any writing project. It organized the process and made me a much more strategic communicator.
Can you talk about your participation in STC as a member and how you see your activities helping others to understand and appreciate technical communication as a discipline?
For the last few years, I have lived as an ex-pat and, therefore, have been unable to join a local chapter or attend STC’s annual conference. This year, though, I’m thrilled to be able to attend and be more actively involved in STC’s offerings, such as their Slack Workspace and special interest groups, particularly Women in TechComm.
How do you think your organization will benefit as a result of your success with the CPTC training and exam?
The quality of my work and its improvement is the most tangible benefit. Additionally, because of this notable improvement, the rest of my department at my former employer, the Bermuda Monetary Authority, signed up for a membership with STC, and some of them were planning on taking the CPTC exam.
What would you say to individuals considering taking the CPTC training & exams?
Do it! It is a great way to organize your thinking around writing, whether you’re actually in the technical communication field or not. The ability to communicate your purpose and value proposition is invaluable across different industries, professions and positions.
Can you provide a short bio about yourself please?
As a senior media relations specialist for the Federal Reserve Board, I am responsible for supporting the Board’s policy of enhancing public understanding of monetary, regulatory, economic and financial issues regarding the Board and the Federal Reserve System. More specifically, this involves giving accurate and understandable information, both written and spoken, through various means, including everything from press releases and talking points to background conversations and statements to the media.
Prior to this work, I served as the senior technical writer for the Bermuda Monetary Authority, where I was responsible for researching and planning, organizing and drafting, improving the style, designing, and revising and editing documents across genres. My specialization was in speeches, document forewords, talking points and thought leadership.
I began my career as the founder and executive director of a non-profit that connected formerly trafficked Ugandan women to financial services. After six years, I transitioned to writing full-time but remained within the financial services space, crafting thought-leadership, blog posts and newsletters for financial services and technology firms worldwide.
This work has been supported by continuous learning and development. Since earning my Bachelor of Science in Social Work, I have earned the Digital Transformation in Financial Services Specialization online through the Copenhagen Business School and the Foundation and Practitioner levels of the Society for Technical Communication’s CPTC.
Meg Nelson, Meg Nelson is a Senior Media Relations Specialist for the Federal Reserve Board. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) and a CPTC Certified Professional Technical Communicator.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Federal Reserve Board.