About John Baker: John Baker has worked for Thomson Reuters in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the past nine years, holding various positions since he started with the company in 2009. He is currently employed as a Technical Communications Manager, overseeing a team of technical writers and developers who create content for accounting and small business software applications, as well as maintain the tools and platforms used to host this content. Prior to his current position, Mr. Baker worked as a Technical Support Representative at Thomson Reuters, before moving into a Technical Writer role while pursuing his master’s.
Mr. Baker holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Lawrence Technological University, with minors in English and Technical and Professional Communication. In 2012, he returned to LTU to pursue his master’s degree, graduating from their Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication (MSTPC) program in 2015.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[John Baker] I earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and a master’s degree in Technical and Professional Communication, both from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan.
I’ve been working at Thomson Reuters in Ann Arbor, Michigan since 2009. There I help manage a team of talented technical writers who write, edit, and maintain software documentation for our tax and accounting products, and also build the platforms and websites that enable us to organize, reuse, and deliver content to the folks who need it.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication (MSTPC) program at Lawrence Technological University?
[John Baker] I knew that I wanted to go back to school, but I was weighing options. I considered an MBA, a Human-Computer Interaction degree, et cetera, but I chose the LTU MSTPC program because I was intrigued by the creative aspect of the curriculum. In addition to the typical Technical Editing, Research Methods, and Rhetoric courses you’d find in similar programs, I was enticed by courses like Corporate Storytelling, Web Design, and Writing for Social Media. The curriculum stuck out as fresh and aware of trends like conversational writing and storytelling.
I also knew that I wanted to work more closely with content—the information architecture, retrieval, storage, and design of it, as well as the substance—what and how we say things. I was already working at Thomson Reuters when I made the decision to go back for my master’s, and I had built relationships with a couple of the content teams in the organization. I saw an opportunity in content (writing and designing) as a career path. The idea that there was this fresh content-oriented MSTPC program and an opportunity at my current employer just made too much sense to me.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is LTU’s program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[John Baker] LTU’s motto is theory and practice, and they really mean it. The MSTPC program starts with building-block courses like Foundations of Technical Communication and Rhetoric (the theoretical) and continues with Research Methods and Applications (the practical). This pedagogical approach is super helpful because it enables you to do and then be able to explain why with the theory and research to support it.
Along those lines, the program also underscores the importance of understanding your audience so that you can present information clearly and articulately.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your capstone project? What communication issue or challenge did it address, and what were your primary deliverables (i.e. communications plan, tutorial, video, visual marketing materials, etc.)? What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing their project?
[John Baker] I focused my practicum on a real-world work issue. I’ll spare you the details (because it deals with categorizing tax law information—everyone’s favorite subject area), but I’ll describe the premise.
I wanted to design and build a better way for our customers – tax preparers and accountants – to find information about tax concepts and form instructions. I really wanted to focus on two things because I wanted to grow in these areas: information architecture and usability testing.
I received plenty of support and guidance while working on my practicum. Once the subject was approved, I paired up with an advisor. We met frequently (but only as needed) to talk about how the project was going, whether I was still on schedule, and to bounce ideas off one another. While the work was demanding, especially when paired with full-time work responsibilities, the process of completing the practicum was quite painless (and dare I say enjoyable?).
I will say “enjoyable” because the project blended many of the concepts that the MSTPC program promotes, and I loved that. For example, I spent a lot of time researching usability test methodologies and interviewing UX researchers for their input – I learned those research skills and how to organize my findings and ask the right questions through one of the foundational courses, Research Methods and Applications. I was also able to apply principles from other design- and writing-centered courses, too.
Some advice? Try to generate ideas for your practicum early on so that you can leverage what you learn as you learn it and apply it to your future practicum efforts. Also, completing a capstone project seems intimidating, and it is to an extent; however, you should always be able to find support somewhere to help guide you, answer your questions, etc. (So it’s going to be okay!)
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from LTU’s Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[John Baker] Every day I plan meeting agendas, write status reports for different audiences, craft presentations, lead research efforts, design front-ends for help websites, and more. These are common tasks, I think, in many workplaces, and to do them well requires clear and strong communication habits. Sometimes, colleagues verbally acknowledge how helpful a meeting agenda was or how a report had just the information they needed to move on to their next task. I acknowledge those same things, too, when I experience them. Those tasks may seem like little things, but they help in big ways. I’m finding that folks with strong communication habits, who make an effort to understand their audience, or who have communication backgrounds eventually become valuable sources of information to their organizations. Folks may not be able to articulate why, but they go to these individuals when they need answers. The MSTPC program, in my experience, helped me hone the skills to be that type of resource to my colleagues.
To be more specific, though, the Advanced Interpersonal Communication course has helped me understand and improve in several areas, such as listening, perceptions, and conflict management.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the MSTPC program at Lawrence Technological University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at LTU or another university?
[John Baker] Be ready to learn a lot about yourself, and be open to constructive feedback on how to improve. Whether it’s your writing, presentation skills, or how you go about solving problems, the MSTPC program is sure to challenge and improve the way you work.
Thank you, Mr. Baker, for your excellent insights on Lawrence Technological University’s Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication program!