Columns May/June 2024

From Passion to Profession: One Student’s Journey in Technical Communication


By Kylie M. Jacobsen, Senior Member

Exploring the Evolution of Interests, Skills, and Career Opportunities

As the incoming editor for this column, NextGen TechComm, I am excited to have connected with Ashley Miller, an STC student member from the University of North Texas. In my role as a professor and STC community leader, I am often asked how to provide effective outreach to students and I think Ashley’s story demonstrates how impactful sponsorship and mentorship in the student chapters can be for the future of the profession.

Ashley’s article describes how a passion for writing in high school led her to pursue a career in technical communication. As a senior preparing for graduation, she reflects on her college courses and a career-defining moment at STC Summit in 2022. I hope readers find her article to be a refreshing reminder of why technical writers do what they do and are inspired by the enthusiasm of the next generation of STC members and technical communicators.

Kylie M. Jacobsen, PhD is an assistant professor of writing at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan where she teaches courses in business, professional, UX, and web writing. She has been a member of STC since 2012 and serves as a council member for the STC Michigan Great Lakes (MGL) Chapter. Contact:

How I Found Technical Communication

By Ashley Miller, Student Member

I was lucky enough to discover technical communication in high school. I was enrolled in a specialized, four-year college preparation program for high-achieving students interested in science, technology, or engineering. In my first two years, I developed public speaking and technical writing skills—but I did not know then that what I was doing was called “technical communication.” All I knew was that I enjoyed learning and writing about science and technology, but I did not want to be a biologist, chemist, or engineer. Moreover, I loved editing the papers my peers in this program wrote because I could learn something new about the world while applying my knowledge of English grammar and mechanics.

In my junior year of high school, I had the opportunity to shadow and intern with editors at different publishers to explore copyediting in different contexts. I quickly realized that I enjoyed editing science-based articles more than typical journal publications, as science and math were strengths of mine. With that, my interest in and comprehension of technical subjects meant I could effectively edit technical content beyond just proofreading.

Yet, I worried that “science writing editor” was a job I had made up and that I would need to plan for a life spent editing newspapers. Even then, I did not know what to major in to become an editor. I described my dilemma to one of my internship mentors, and she said that I should look into science writing or technical writing. This changed my life. Suddenly, my college search had direction. I began researching any colleges I could find that promoted a major in technical writing, science writing, or technical communication. After trial-and-error, visiting schools, meeting with advisors, and comparing scholarships, I decided that the University of North Texas (UNT) Technical Communication (Tech Comm) was the program for me.

How My Courses Inspired Me

When I started as a freshman in UNT Tech Comm, I was set on becoming a technical editor. However, the more technical communication courses I took, the more my interests diverged.

UNT Tech Comm’s course topics include the following: technical writing, technical editing, procedure writing, proposal writing, user experience research and design, content strategy, visual technical communication, business communication, information architecture, web design, and content analysis. I knew that I would have fun in the class on editing, but I was surprised by how much I particularly enjoyed my courses on user experience and content strategy.

In the Usability and User Experience (UX) in Technical Communication course, I learned how to execute three methods of usability testing: card sorts, think-aloud protocols, and heuristic evaluations. Later, in a class titled Advanced Information Design for Electronic Media, I engaged in the entire UX design process, from identifying a need to prototyping and testing a solution. I love UX design because I can apply my background in psychology to understand and empathize with users and exercise my creative thinking in designing a solution—both aesthetically and functionally.

In the Content Strategy course, I was given the real-world task of comprehensively evaluating the existing content strategy of the UNT Tech Comm website. To do so, I conducted a content audit, interpreted Google Analytics data, interviewed stakeholders, and conducted a competitor analysis. Then, I consolidated my recommendations into a report and a slide deck and presented them to the technical communication department chair. Content strategy became an intriguing discipline to me because recommending new strategies and approaches to content and design felt like a form of large-scale editing.

I started college with such a vivid career goal, but now, I could see myself enjoying work just as much as a content designer or strategist. I still enjoy editing as much as I always have, but I have realized there are other ways I can apply my eye for detail, understanding of the English language, and interest in science and technology. In exploring different facets of technical communication over the past four years, I have discovered the most exciting technical communication careers for me involve identifying inefficiencies or problems and creating new solutions. These careers include, technical editors, who solve problems within documents; UX professionals, who develop solutions that fulfill audience needs; and content strategists, who recognize ways a message could be better communicated to its audience.

What the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Taught Me

Involvement with STC has provided me with extraordinary opportunities and connections I would not otherwise have as an undergraduate technical communication student.

During my sophomore year at UNT, I was invited to participate in the pioneer mentoring program partnership between UNT Tech Comm and the STC North Texas Lone Star Chapter. I was blessed to be mentored by a technical writer who coached and advised me as I navigated my first in-person semester and began making early career decisions.

Two months into my mentorship, I started volunteering on the STC Lone Star council, assisting with social media and outreach efforts. I was the Social Media Chair for just over a year, designing graphics, writing copy, and revamping the chapter’s social media content strategy. Between my involvement as a council member and mentee, I became acquainted with a diverse network of technical communicators—a privilege not many aspiring professionals receive.

In May 2022, the STC Lone Star Chapter graciously sponsored me to represent them at my first-ever STC Summit. There, I learned about different facets of technical communication and networked with professionals of diverse ages, fields, and experiences. Most remarkably, I connected with a senior content strategist who offered me a remote summer internship at the International Risk Management Institute, Inc. (IRMI) as an Editorial Intern.

What’s After College?

Combined, all these interests, courses, and networking opportunities led me to pursue a second internship in 2023, but this time as a Technical Documentation Intern at Texas Instruments, Inc. (TI). I created a short YouTube video which discusses my experiences and lessons learned in landing an internship, to share with others. It can be viewed at

When I applied my academic education and STC insights, I found these internships rewarding and challenging. For example, I learned how to engage with SMEs in a corporate space, find a sense of purpose in the documentation I wrote, and the value of working a job that makes the jobs of others easier. I hope other solution-focused, user-centered writers leaving high school or newly enrolled in college find their way into a technical communication program like I did.

Ashley Miller is a senior at the University of North Texas and will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Professional and Technical Communication and Psychology. She has interned at Texas Instruments, Inc. (TI) and at the International Risk Management Institute, Inc. (IRMI). She has been a student member of the STC North Texas Lone Star Chapter since 2021. Contact: ,