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Writing a Road to Success

January 5, 2018

Portrait of James Cho

Portrait of James Cho
Photo by Matthew Weber, CLAgency student

Only two years ago, James Cho had no idea how to explain to others that technical writing and communication (TWC) is much more than “just writing instruction manuals.” Now he’s about to join Tesla as a technical writing intern, putting the knowledge and practical skills he’s learned at the University of Minnesota to use to help Tesla’s products succeed. 

Learning from the Best

One of the first professors who helped him understand what technical communication is was Dr. Lee-Ann K. Breuch. He explains that her course, Introduction to Technical Writing and Communications, “[was] one of the best courses [he has] taken.” Cho learned the multiple ways in which TWC is used, and he realized that everything Dr. Breuch taught was applicable to real-life situations. 

Throughout his years as a technical writing major, Cho developed a network of support in the Department of Writing Studies. Barbara Horvath, the assistant director of undergraduate studies, has been a tremendous support who has kept him on track with his courses and electives. Not only did Horvath help Cho with advising, she was also an integral part of his learning experience. 

Cho learned that TWC skills are not simply about mastering words. In Horvath’s Visual Rhetoric and Document Design course, Cho discovered that “visual graphics are important in any position because how you present and format the design is just as important as the content.”

Practical Application

Cho's upcoming internship at Tesla isn't the first opportunity he's had to gain real-world experience. He spent the summer of 2017 working as a technical publications intern at Polaris Industries, where he supported the technical service publications team. His contributions led to ensuring smooth engineering operations across all product lines.

In the summer of 2016, he also worked at St. Jude Medical (now Abbott) and stayed on through fall semester until December. He was a technical writing intern whose role was to implement new training system practices for product lines across the organization.

Chasing Goals and Achieving Dreams

Earlier in 2017, Cho applied for several spring 2018 internships in Silicon Valley when he found the perfect fit: an internship at Tesla, one of the largest automakers in California and an industry leader in sustainable transport and energy consumption. “I had a phone interview with the senior technical writer of the team and was emailed an offer for a spring internship from HR the next day,” Cho says.

“Tesla has always been one of my dream companies,” Cho says. “Tesla has always stood out to me because I think their cars and solar panels are incredibly innovative. Furthermore, their mission to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy is a noble cause, and I have always wanted to contribute to it. Add to these things the fact that technical writing is in demand in high-tech fields . . . and it really was a no brainer for me to apply to Tesla.”

A Disruption Dynamic

Being part of such a large and innovative company satisfies his strong interest in “disruptive technology,” which is a term that describes an up-and-coming technology that is overriding old technology. “It’s a trailblaz[ing technology] that sets off a new path in an innovative way,” Cho explains.

Tesla is consistently creating this kind of new and improved technology with impressive results. Cho says, “Tesla recently unveiled the new Roadster 2.0 along with the new Tesla Semi, so I'm excited to join the team during such a dynamic time.” 

“I'll be creating internal-use engineering documentation specifically for the Tesla Roadster,” Cho says. “This will entail interviewing engineers, service technicians, and other subject matter experts to gather information and formulate manuals, specification sheets, and other deliverables that support all facets of the Roadster product line.” 

Home and Away

Cho will come back to Minnesota when his internship concludes to cross the stage in his cap and gown at commencement, but he hopes to return to California for a permanent role at a Silicon Valley tech company.

“I learned that studying technical writing at the UMN has given me an advantage because it's such a niche area within the tech field, and being that unique person whose entire undergraduate career was devoted to honing this unique, specialized craft has been an amazing opportunity that I'm very grateful for.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.

Four students having a conversation.

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Are you interested in data visualization? Technical communicators do this and so much more. Technical writing and communication involves communicating complex information to specific audiences with clarity and accuracy. Technical communicators write, organize, edit, and design information for a variety of careers in business, technology, science, health, law, and more. 

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