Departments May/June 2024

How Professional Certification Helped Fast-Track My Career

By Taliesin Utz, Member

I am a 20-year-old college student with no publications, no internships under my belt, and no experience working at all beyond freelance construction. Impressed yet? I think not.

You see, that is who I was two years ago. Today, I am an integral part of a technical writing team documenting the flagship product of a leading financial technology company. I am an undergraduate English major at the University of Georgia with three internships under my belt and a full-time technical writing position. And one of the main reasons for my success: the Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) program.

How I discovered technical writing

My background is that of a typical university student. With a hundred ideas for my future and none truly holding my attention, I spent the first two years of my college life bouncing between possible areas of interest. I started in biology, then changed to political science, and finally settled on English. While many may approve of trying my hand at different fields, I felt that I was losing precious time. It was this realization that I was running out of time that pushed me to find a way to not only regain the time I lost, but also jump ahead of the game.

The answer was certifying myself. Specifically, my search for vocational salvation led me to uncover a technical writing certification program offered by the University of Georgia. With a reasonable investment of time and money, I could acquire a valuable skill set and industry-specific credential not offered in a general undergraduate program.

Why the CPTC Foundation certification?

After completing my certification, I received my first internship as a content editor for an aromatherapy company. While ecstatic at finally being on the right track, it was unpaid and I realized I would need to solidify my foundation in technical writing in order to both become a better writer and competitive hire.

That is why, for my second certification, I chose the CPTC Foundation exam. I chose this certification because of its content and the STC’s reputation and networking opportunities.

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is an internationally recognized certifying body. In my job search, I found companies with technical writing teams that require their technical writers to have an STC certification. In terms of professional development, the STC has a huge community of technical writers willing to teach you through STC workshops and seminars and connect you to job opportunities. Lastly, content. When I first began reading the textbook for the foundation certification, I kept pausing and thinking, “hey, I know all of this already… why am I even reading this?”. Well, the answer is simple. Many of us operate with an intrinsic understanding of communication. The foundation certification helps make us aware of that knowledge, transforming each act of researching and writing into a deliberate process. This knowledge means that whenever we face a situation in the technical writing workspace, we already have the requisite knowledge to tackle our work items.

The moment I first realized the usefulness of this certification was when I was in my “Writing for the World Wide Web” course and we were asked to revise online document organization.

Normally, like any self-respecting college student, I would fabricate some elaborate explanations that were only half correct because I honestly could not rationalize the choices I made for the document organization. That changed after several weeks of studying for the foundation certification. I now had a conscious understanding of document guidelines. I could base my choices on an understanding of the five principles of design and also refer back to typical genre organization templates.

It is this ability to consciously apply knowledge that makes the foundation certification so valuable and a key element to progressing toward the advanced practitioner certification.

Why should I certify myself at the Practitioner level?

Whereas the foundation certification is about creating conscious understanding, the practitioner certification is all about applying that comprehension to complex technical writing workplace projects and situations.

This also means an increase in difficulty. In fact, the practitioner certification was very hard to pass, as it tested me on every aspect of the technical writing workplace and process. While I only recently received my practitioner certification, it is clear to me that what I have learned has transformed my writing thought process.

For any member of a technical writing team, the ability to coordinate with others is crucial to both personal and company success. This is something that the practitioner certification focuses on. However, it also prepares you to operate independently. It does this by presenting you with an exhaustive selection of technical writing situations that you must solve as a writer to achieve the best project outcomes.

As a student, I can say that learning through applying knowledge to various situations is better than the rote memorization required by the majority of my university exams.

Combined, these two certifications challenged and validated my skills, demonstrating that I have the experience necessary to write my way out of any situation.

How CPTC certification supports professional development

My professional certification was an important part of the career development goals I set up with my manager at the start of my current position. Since achieving that goal, I have not only demonstrated commitment to my chosen field and job, but I have also become a more efficient and skilled writer.

In fact, I have expanded my role from solely writing documentation for two products to doing so for four. My role in my position as technical writer continues to grow, and I can see more opportunities are on the horizon as I leverage my new skills and confidence to achieve ever more professional growth.

Should you do it?

In short, yes. Whether you have recently discovered technical writing or are a mid-level writer with years of experience, gaining a certification through the STC is essential to both establishing and solidifying your technical writing knowledge.

I can honestly say that I never expected to come so far so quickly on my self-given quest to achieve the moniker of “best technical writer”. While my own drive and consistency formed the basis for my success, the CPTC certification program played a major role in my reaching my professional goals in record time.

Taliesin Utz is a fourth-year undergraduate English student and CPTC Practitioner at the University of Georgia. With two years of technical writing under his belt, Taliesin began his writing career as a college sophomore, working as a content editor for an aromatherapy company and technical writer for a software as a service company before settling into the financial technology sector. There, he researches, organizes, edits, revises, and produces user guides and release information for financial service applications. His future plans are to study AI and pursue a graduate degree in digital communication.