Tell us what you do

Before Soniya Shah even had the chance to graduate, she was offered a technical writing position at technology giant, Hewlett-Packard’s HP Vertica.

HP Vertica is a Boston-based startup and rapidly growing Big Data analytics company with notable clients like Facebook and Zynga. Shah, who majored in technical writing and communication (TWC) in the Department of English at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), will start as an information developer, or technical writer, in August. She will assist in the development process of building content, which includes authoring it and documenting the process in simple and understandable manners for both web and print content.

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It is a process Shah is all too familiar with. She was a documentation intern at HP Vertica last summer and was offered a full-time position right after she finished her internship.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

“I loved my summer internship experience and was lucky that I received a full-time offer at the end of last summer,” said Shah. “The environment and people really made me want to return – and it’s been a less stressful year knowing that I’m going to work for a company I already have experience with.”

She will also be tasked with writing the material in a style that matches HP’s standards, providing feedback for other writers and working on longer-term projects to build guides and procedures for new features of the updated versions of Vertica, the software manufactured at HP.

How was the experience at CMU ?

“Carnegie Mellon prepared Soniya for her internship and job,” said Sarah Lemaire, an HP Vertica information developer who was Soniya’s mentor during her internship. “We were impressed with her. There aren’t many technical writing programs in the country. Those people, like Soniya, who graduate from these programs have an edge on the rest.”

Lemaire said HP Vertica doesn’t expect their interns to come in knowing everything about databases, but the company wants interns to have a technical mindset and a good personality that can mesh well with software engineers and other co-workers.

“Soniya was taking a programming class at CMU – her classes weren’t all English classes,” said Lemaire.  “She was someone who could dive right in and do technical work. I think her willingness to learn and to take on new tasks is important. We are looking forward to having her back.”

Did you have any mentors who guided you?

Along with having experience at HP Vertica, Shah already uses content management tools like MadCap Flare in her Software Documentation course at Carnegie Mellon that HP Vertica requires their employees to use. Shah said her English Department classes, as well as her advisor were instrumental in her success at Carnegie Mellon and beyond.

Necia Werner was the one who encouraged me to pursue a major in technical writing and really made herself available anytime I needed her,” said Shah. “She offered countless pieces of advice, helped me apply for internships and has written letters of recommendation. Necia is an outstanding advisor and I am thankful for all of her guidance.”

Werner credits Shah’s passions for successfully completing the TWC bachelor’s degree, the oldest major of its kind in the country.

What are your future plans?

“Soniya’s dual love of writing and science and her particular passion for communicating complex science and technology to non-experts made her a natural fit for a top technology company like HP Vertica,” said Werner, assistant teaching professor of English and director of the Undergraduate Professional Writing and Technical Writing Programs.

Shah said she eventually wants to return back to school to earn a Masters degree in Business Administration so she can approach the field with a business perspective. She plans on going into management or starting her own freelance business.

“TWC majors have gone on to do all kinds of amazing things, working as technical writers at places like, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Boeing,” said Werner. “They don’t just ‘do’ technical writing. If we’ve learned one thing about our TWC majors by keeping in touch with them over time, it’s that they are leaders who shape and define the field.”