By Bailey Herring
Students recently packed a meeting room for Networking with the Pros, the first of several events designed to get technical communication students in contact with professional tech writers and communicators.
Organized by the Eagle Technical Communicators (ETC), the event hosted Philip Tirelli and Neil Cobb, two Advisory Board members and highly experienced technical communicators with much wisdom to share. The small conference room was filled to capacity as students spilled out of the chairs and onto the floor, paying close attention to both Tirelli and Cobb. When one of the men was speaking, the only other sound in the room came from keystrokes while students took notes.
He described his work as that of a technical editor, looking over suggested changes and edits made to Southwest Airline's operations manuals. He also trains and assigns projects to new tech writers and interns. Tirelli said he finds his work fulfilling, and that he takes pride in knowing his work will be seen by 20,000 Southwest employees.
"It's so cool to know my writing is really helping people," Tirelli said.
The other speaker, Neil Cobb, is a 25-year veteran of commercial proposal development. Before his retirement, he served as the executive direction of AT&T's Knowledge and Proposal Management Center for 13 years.
Cobb discussed the various "turning points" in his life; times that his professional career underwent drastic change.
His turn into the technical writing field came when he met Brenda Sims, founding chair of UNT's Technical Communication Department. Sims convinced Cobb to pair his communication skills with his love of technology and study technical communication at UNT. Cobb accepted the challenge and earned his Master's degree at UNT.
"It was like a marriage. Everything I wanted to work with in that field," Cobb said.
During his studies at UNT, Cobb came to another "turning point" when he was offered a position as a proposal writer for Southwestern Bell Telephone. Cobb soon rose to a leadership role, sharing the knowledge he gained at UNT with his coworkers. As time passed, Southwestern Bell grew into AT&T, and Cobb's position grew with it. He found himself promoted to head of the company's technical writing unit, and maintains that his department set the standard for business proposal writing.
"It was the most fun in the biggest playground I could find," Cobb said of his experiences.
His experience, including his certification by the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) culminated with his co-authored book, Writing Business Bids & Proposals for dummies. Since his retirement, Cobb has taught technical communication courses at UNT.
Cobb's and Tirelli's presentations were well received. Students showered the men with questions, and hung on every word during their answers.
One student, Michael Pollock, was happy to hear sage advice from a former college teacher. Mr. Cobb taught one of Michael's technical communication courses, and the newly minted technical communication major was inspired by his Cobb's words.
"[Mr.] Cobb always told these stories in class, but it was so cool to learn more," Michael said.
Students chatted with both Tirelli and Cobb long after the meeting had concluded, and after the students came several professors to speak with Cobb, their former colleague.
Interested UNT students should mark their calendars for the next Networking with the Pros event on March 22, from 5pm to 6pm in AUDB 103.