Project Management Careers: Technical Communications
Combining a Saint Leo degree in project management with years of experience as a technical communicator positioned a Navy veteran for a big step up in his career.
Saint Leo University alumnus Dan Foster may be a seasoned technical communicator, but the world of project management surrounds him on a daily basis.
In fact, as he found out, the skills he has refined over time in technical communications – leadership, team building, conflict management and negotiation, to name just a few – are the same skills project managers put into practice every day.
“Project management is what we, as technical communicators, do all day long,” he says.
So it’s no surprise that completing his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a dual specialization in technology management and project management helped him advance his career, earning both a promotion and a significant pay raise.
Sailor turned technical editor
Foster served in the U.S. Navy as an electronics warfare technician for more than 20 years and retired from his position writing Navy combat systems publications in 2005. He continued his technical writing and editing career in the civilian workplace, working on various projects throughout the years for several military branches.
Currently, Foster works for P3I Inc., and is part of a 30-member team that installs and upgrades information technology systems, as well as command and control systems, for the U.S. Air Force. His team plans and executes projects, tracks their progress, procures software and hardware to complete projects, works with vendors, and writes reports to document their work.
Foster is the principal technical editor for his team. He manages multiple documentation projects and edits reports written by numerous authors that document the work his team performs for various customers. Used for technical reference, the documents provide detailed, complex, engineering specifications.
In 2010, Foster, who already had an associate degree in applied science, decided it was time to complete his bachelor’s degree. Using the Veterans Administration's Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, he enrolled in Saint Leo University’s bachelor’s in business administration program, with a specialization in technology management, taking courses at several Saint Leo Education Centers in Virginia. He later added a second specialization – project management – which is also offered as an online degree specialization – and graduated in May 2014.
“Every bit you learn is another tool in your toolbox that you can use as a skill or information source to carry on successfully in your career,” Foster says.
Applying project management to technical writing
Foster says a lot of what he learned in his project management courses reinforced the training he had in the Navy, particularly in the areas of teamwork and leadership. He especially enjoyed Introduction to Project Management, as well as a course in risk management and was impressed with professors who brought real-world experience and examples into the classroom.
Applying what he learned in the classroom, Foster developed a change management process for his employer for correcting documentation that his team members use in the field. Previously, there was no process for updating errors found in installation manuals and documents when the team was outside the office. Having access to the most current documentation ensures a more efficient process when his team performs an installation at an end-user’s site.
Hard work and education pays off
While earning his degree, Foster kept his supervisor aware of what he was learning in class and his academic progress. Shortly before he graduated, his company’s corporate office called him and told him to look in his e-mail inbox.
“I looked at the e-mail they sent, and to my surprise it was a very considerable advance in my pay,” Foster says. With the advance in pay, also came a new job title.
Foster attributes this success not only to Saint Leo’s degree program, but also to his intentional communication with management about his education and accomplishments, as well as his focus on working hard and making himself available for projects.
Foster recommends all project management degree program students join the Project Management Institute (PMI) at the student rate while available, and take advantage of the organization’s valuable resources. For himself, Foster plans to earn a PMI Project Management Professional certification, as well as a CompTIA Project+ certification, which is a project management certification for professionals in IT-related careers.
After acquiring various certifications, he is considering starting a master’s degree program.
For the technical communicator turned project manager, “The learning bug is still there.”
The bachelor’s degree program in business administration with a specialization in project management is also offered online through Saint Leo’s Center for Online Learning. An online MBA in project management, which can be completed in as little as one year, is available, as well. Saint Leo is a Registered Education Provider with the Project Management Institute.
Image Credits: jurgenfr on Shutterstock and courtesy Dan Foster
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