Software Engineer

Computers & Technology

Speaker 1  0:02 

Would you please state your job title, where you currently work and how long it’s been since you graduated college?

Speaker 2  0:08 

I’m a senior software engineer at a small software company in downtown DC. What was the last one?

Speaker 1  0:17 

How long has it been since you graduated college?

Speaker 2  0:20 

I guess it’s 12 years now.

Speaker 1  0:23 

Okay. And how long have you worked in the current field?

Speaker 2  0:26 

11 and a half years?

Speaker 1  0:29 

Can you provide a very brief description of what your primary job functionsare?

Speaker 2  0:33 

Mostly designing and building web applications. So everything from databases to API’s writing a lot of code. I also have a lot of interaction with clients, I’m often going out and talking to clients providing consulting services, chatting to them getting a good idea of what they need, what they want to build. And then I get to go off, plan it all out and then get to build it. It’s fun.

Speaker 1  1:10 

And you can include coding and all of the stuff that you do that way in this next question, can you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing? Zero to 25%, 25 to 50; 50to 75, or 75 to 100?

Speaker 2  1:26 

Um, I would probably say, either 50 to 75, or 75 to 100. It’s hard to say, I’m definitely writing a lot of the time. Because yes, I’m programming. So most of that is right now words and you no syntax. As I say, I do a lot of requirements gathering. So in that situation, I’m talking to people, I also do a lot of talking to workmates planning things out. And the more I’m saying that I’m talking myself into 50, to 75%, but I do always try to document things I, I write summary emails for maintenance that I do, and I, I create my own tasks before I work on anything as well. So there is quite a bit right.

Speaker 1  2:17 

And when you say requirements gathering, is that simply getting needs out of from your clients? Yep.

Speaker 2  2:24 

Yep, mostly sitting down with clients getting an idea of what it is exactly they’re looking for a lot of the times, they’re not totally sure. So you really have to kind of know what questions to ask pull that information out of them. The most fun part of my job is like when I ask someone a question, and they’re just astounded that they’ve never been asked that question before, but they’re like, Oh, of course, I didn’t even think of that. And then when you have conversations with that, obviously, I have to go away and write all that down. So that anyway, it’s a contract between me and the client that this is what we decided they need.

Speaker 1  3:01 

So this speaks a little bit to that. What forms are types of writing? Or what kinds of documents do you most often complete for your job?

Speaker  3:09 

I would say definitely requirements, documentation is a big part of it. Meeting summaries, as well, creating tasks that people are going to work on whether that’s myself or I do a lot of the back end work. So we also have guys who are doing the mobile apps and the web apps. And I try to go out of my way to really write down exactly what they’re going to be doing so that when they come to build a thing, it’s all clear for them. And it’s it’s easier for them to work on. Apart from that emails back and forth from clients questions that have or questions that I have, again, mostly requirements based or given updates on the stuff I’m working on.

Speaker 1  3:54 

Okay. So would you say that in your primary audiences tend to be clients and colleagues? Or do you have any other additional audiences you write to?

Speaker  4:01 

I guess that’s it. I know, other people in my work tend to… they have been creating blog articles recently, but but I haven’t done any of that myself just yet.

Speaker  4:12 

And so you’ve talked a little bit about the requirements gathering purposes, but a primary purposes for other types of communications, maybe particularly like the emails you’re sending?

Speaker 2  4:20 

Yeah, I would say, addressing client concerns, given status updates on the things that I’m working on. Definitely questions that I have regarding stuff that I’m working on, or stuff that I intend to work on soon. The other emails, yeah, now that’s pretty much it.

Speaker  4:42 

Could you walk us through the process of maybe one specific recent project or type of project that you’ve had, specifically addressing how you get a writing assignment or task given to you what your preparation is, and then then the steps you take from the time it’s assigned to towards completion?

Speaker  4:58 

As an example client that we’re currently working with and using him here in DC, they have an old legacy system that has been kind of holding them back for a long time. And I’ve been doing a lot of work for them over the past three years, getting some of that data out of their old Oracle database and putting it up to the cloud. Most recently, they’ve been asking me to come back and and and finish that up, we did the the main bulk of it from stuff that someone else had already got rid of. So recently, because I haven’t been working on it in a while, it’s a case of me needing to refresh everyone’s memories, what it is exactly that we’re going to be doing. And the steps that I intend to take when I come to the office, what I need from them, you know, the access to the network, credentials for the systems that I’m going to be using, and then basically the steps that I intend to take when I’m actually doing the work for them.

Speaker  6:03 

So during the process in any of the writing that you’re doing, how to you or your colleague/ clients, whatever it is, you’re writing to, or with, make the writing go more smoothly improve the writing kind of stuff?

Speaker  6:15 

And for me, it’s always a case of targeting the right into your audience, knowing the limitations of you know, people’s knowledge that particularly technically, lots of people don’t understand the software side of things. So always try to keep it as simple as possible. I love bullet points, every email in my field should have bullet points, there is no need for power house. So do try and keep things clear and concise, avoid technical terms, and I would never use abbreviations. Definitely try to use words that people are actually going to understand.

Speaker 1  6:58 

how did you know how to do these kinds of writing?

Speaker  7:02 

It’s really funny, I was speaking about this, just at the weekend, a friend, a friend’s friend, who’s a professor as well. And she was talking about the importance of communications, she worked in medicine, and she was a professor of medicine, and trying to impart on the kids that she’s tutoring, like how important written communication is. And as I say, I always go back to the fact that when I was 11, just getting into high school, this was in Ireland, that I found it so funny that we had English literature and English comprehension is two different classes. And I remember we were doing English comprehension, practice, or whatever. And it was reading a newspaper article. And then there was a list of questions. And it was like, you know, how did someone feel about this? And how do you know that? And I was like, it says, it says right there, and I started writing the answer, and I’m like, this gotta be wrong. It can’t be the actual answer. And I guess in in that way, it’s always been a natural thing for me that that I read information, and then I write it down for myself or for whoever I think I need to pass it on to. And that side of the comprehension and rewriting in your own words has always been natural to me in some way. But definitely, it helped that I went to a good high school where this was a specific class.

Speaker  8:40 

And as far as the the coding program and stuff goes, did you have formal education that?

Speaker  8:44 

I had done one programming class in my first year in college, which I always explained to people was on a Friday afternoon. And so it was not in attendance most of the time. But I basically learned how to program on the job. I was recruited by my brother, who, you know, has also put me that he thought I would be good at this. And I’m glad I came across the Atlantic to learn it with them. Yeah, I basically learned it all on the job.

Speaker 1  9:18 

Can you describe a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer at work? For instance, is there a writing task or a skill that your current job asks of you? That you’d not be asked to do before?

Speaker  9:28 

Um, I would say, possibly, the first time I assisted with a, an RFP, like creating a proposal for an RFP, think RFP is is a request for proposal from I think it was National Jewish Health in Colorado, and having never done one before, and my colleagues who had certainly put together sales proposals before but but wouldn’t have been familiar with the technical side of things, that was definitely a bit of a challenge. But then I tried to approach it with the same skills and the same way of going about it that I write things anyway. And you know that that worked out for the best.

Speaker  10:16 

So in overcoming those kind of challenges, can you think of specific steps that you took perhaps looking at previous documents by other writers in your workplace? Asking questions, more senior writers, collaboration, professional training, anything like that?

Speaker 2  10:30 

Yeah, absolutely.Asking questions of the people who had created proposals before. Say, yeah, doing a bit of research, googling how to how to structure proposal and what companies are expecting. Similarly, I guess another example, would be writing a cover letter recently. And you know, I’d never written a cover letter before last week. And so I was mostly doing online research of, of how to structure it and some ideas of what to include what not to include how to phrase things, and so on.

Speaker 1  11:09 

Does anyone oversee your writing?

Speaker  11:12 

Actually, yeah, it’s funny. So the company that I work for, as I say, I’m directly in contact with a few companies, afew nonprofits, and although I do communicate directly with them, I do often run things past my boss, just in case have them, take a little look at it, make sure everything’s okay. And it usually is, but it never hurts to have another set of eyes that look for sure.

Speaker  11:42 

And the title/role of your boss that would oversee your writing?

Speaker 2  11:47 

Is the president and founder of the company.

Speaker  11:51 

How would you say that they judge the quality or success of your work?

Speaker 2  11:55 

I would say one of the things I’m always complimented on most in my work, is my written written communication. Definitely the it’s, it’s highly regarded, I’m glad to say.

Speaker 1  12:10 

how long typically do you have to complete a writing project?

Speaker  12:13 

Um, I would definitely hope the absolute maximum of two hours for any document that I would be putting together, whether that is like detail heavy requirements, stuff, or just like, obviously, shorter emails should take 10 or 15 minutes. Yeah, I can’t think of anything that I’ve worked on recently that has taken more than a couple of hours absolute maximum.

Speaker 1  12:40 

What kind of writing Do you remember being asked to write as a student? In what ways do you think your college writing experience did or did not prepare you to do the kind of writing you’re doing now?

Speaker 2  12:53 

I guess, because I did electronics and electrical engineering, I didn’t really have to do that many writing assignments. Most things were, you know, mathematics based, or maybe formula based. I do remember in first year, having a couple of having a couple of essay, assignments and Innovation in Engineering, I think class was called. And it was really a bit of a mix of everything. You were able to throw in references to anything if you felt like they were relevant. I remember having a few jokes thrown in.

Speaker 1  13:35 

Can you think of any specific kinds of assignments in class?

Speaker  13:40 

Um, there was a title of one that was a <…> for years. And now of course, I can’t think of it. What was it? Oh, no, it’s escaped me.

Speaker  13:55 

What do you think would have been useful for you to learn as a student that would prepare you for the kind of workplace writing you do?

Speaker  14:01 

Um, that is a good question. As for me that the thing that’s always missing, throughout, like my applications for college, and then college time, and then since college has been a lack of career guidance, how to put together resumes and cover letters that I would say that would have been very useful. And certainly coming out of college, especially I ended up falling into a position in Edinburgh where I was living at the time that really didn’t suit me at all. And if I received a little bit of career advice, maybe might have done a little better, but then of course, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up in the US. So yeah.

Speaker  14:50 

What would you say is at stake in your writing projects, for example, what positive outcomes look like versus negative outcomes for unsuccessful writing?

Speaker  14:59 

I’d say the big ones are client relations, client relationships. And I’d say, efficiency of our internal team as well. I think how well I can write things, how well I can communicate things, definitely has a bearing on how smoothly things run in terms of the stuff that we’re building and making sure there’s not bugs arising because something wasn’t properly properly explained, you know, and that I would be doing through writing.

Speaker  15:34 

So coding is a very specific kind of writing skill. What do you think are important skills in being successful in coding versus the other kinds of writing you do, maybe the more, you know, email kind of stuff?

Speaker 2  15:47 

I would the most obvious one is attention to detail. Also, being concise, you know, you can always write 10 lines of code to do something that you could potentially do in three lines. And in that way, as well, learning haven’t been motivated by doing things more efficient than next time than you did them and this time out. And that’s definitely something that I always try to take into my my newer projects, I will remember that I did something a nice way in a past project, and I’ll go find it out, I’ll go take it from there, as opposed to just writing it freehand. Because I know that’s going to be more efficient.

Speaker  16:29 

And interesting, to follow up on the sort of efficiency in in your code and writing, what’s at stake there?

Speaker 2  16:36 

How how well something runs whether you run into transaction failures, whether bugs arise. Yeah, all of that definitely does does come into it, depending on how you write things.

What would you say the most difficult thing about writing in your field is?

Speaker  16:56 

Well, the most difficult thing about writing code is having to know what you’re writing, it’s having to know, languages having to know frameworks happen to know the the tool sets that are available in the frameworks that you’ve chosen, having to learn different third party tools. And it’s usually a lack of knowledge of how a thing works. But But luckily, in my field, there are endless amounts of resources to find those answers. If I just go looking for an answer, I’m always going to find it.

Speaker 2  17:37 

Has anyone helped you with your writing formally, or informally since college?

Speaker  17:54 

Not really, I remember, perhaps, the year out of college while I was in Edinburgh, I was doing an office job in a major financial services company, basically, running a report on the hour and then emailing clients. And I think at one point, maybe I had started an email, hey, as opposed to hi, or whatever. And that’s the only time I can remember anyone pointing out that you need to be a bit more professional.

Speaker  18:29 

How do you think that you’ve evolved or improved as a writer, if you have over your career so far?

Speaker  18:34 

Um, I would definitely say, I’d become more professional. I feel like I have the confidence to know where the balance falls between being familiar and professional with clients. Also, I, I hope that I’ve become a bit more concise and clear with things that I write. And I think that’s something that you just get with practice. It’s something that because of the amount of times I’ve had to do it, I’m a little better at it now.

Speaker  19:06 

And that sort of learning curve for being professional and that kind of how did you how’d you figure that out?

Speaker 2  19:13 

I would say, it was mostly left to myself in fairness, I’ve always worked for small companies. While I’d been in the US, I’ve worked for a couple of startups. I’ve worked for larger company, but of which I was part of a very small team, the software team was just starting. So I have mostly been left to my own advice devices. But then I’ve always just had a manager who I’ve been communicating with directly who, if ever, they thought I phrased something badly, they would, you know, pick me up on it and, you know, give me some advice on it.

Speaker  19:52 

To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization and in your field as a whole?

Speaker  19:59 

As I say, I would say that it’s, it’s very much valued in my current company right now. They’re really trying to build the blog to, you know, put out articles, it’s good for, you know, a company recognition, it’s, it’s good for showing off the talent that you have there. And basically, that your developers know what that are a range of fields, you know, even some of them, they might not be working on day to day, but they’re in the know, you know, they’re keeping, they’re hooked into technology and the news things. And so certainly when the writing about those things that’s valued, and as well, for me personally, the stuff that I do, as I say, hadn’t been, I’ve been complimented, I’d been, you know, given credit for it. So it’s definitely something that people that people care about,

Speaker 1  20:54 

And you think that’s, that’s true across the the field as well,

Speaker  20:57 

I would say so. But it’s also something that’s not expected. And not often. It’s, it’s something that yeah, a lot of people who work in the kind of field that I do are programmers first, and you know, communicators second. So, I would say it’s definitely something that’s valued. And it’s something that when, you know, when people see that on a on a resume, when they see that you’re capable of doing that, or even if you’re emailing back and forth with a potential hire, if they’re good communicators, it’s something that you can tell, potentially, they could be good communicators verbally as well. And both of those things could go a long way to helping them in any job.

Speaker 1  21:46 

Do you think that’s something that like you could get away with, maybe in a larger company, but not so much in a smaller company, if you’re sort of programmer first and not having those sort of maybe client facing skills,

Speaker 2  21:56 

I certainly do think that and as I say, I’ve never worked in a larger company myself. And one of the reasons that it doesn’t appeal to me so much is that I don’t want to just be a worker bee who’s just writing code all day, and doesn’t get to interact with people doesn’t get to suggest ideas or doesn’t get to talk to clients and, and get the information out of them and then get to offer them newer solutions and different things. Because, you know, you’re just one of thousands.

Speaker  22:27 

And final question. How would you define successful writing now, versus how you maybe define successful writing as a student? And would you say that you’re a successful workplace writer now?

Speaker 2  22:40 

I would say, I would say, I’m a successful workplace writer. Now, definitely, I’m happy with emails and requirements, documents and client communication that I put together. How to say it has changed, or how would it?

Speaker 1  23:00 

How would you define your concept of successful writing as a student versus maybe how you look at it now?

Speaker  23:05 

Um, I wonder whether I was ever one of those people who thought that flowery writing was necessarily a good thing. Or, or maybe I realized that, that you know, before that, but that’s not necessarily what people are looking at looking for. As I said, I feel like most of what I learned about writing I learned in high school, so maybe just knowing that you scored higher on the test when you actually answered exactly what they were asking, taught me something about just putting in the information that you need and like cutting back on the nonsense.

Speaker 1  23:41 

Great. All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thanks.

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