Technical Communication in Engineering

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English1Hugh Smith is an Electrical Engineer that works for a telecommunications company. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Louisiana Tech University. With 20 years of work experience with communication technology, hopefully he can shed some light on the communication process in this “niche service” of electrical engineering.

 

Communicating with Customers

A website that is easy to use and understand plays a big role for bringing in new business. Hugh says, “our customers continually say that our company’s website is better than most.” A website isn’t the only way or even the best way to bring in new customers. According to Hugh, “my company mainly relies on referrals and recommendation from satisfied customers to bring in more business.” In engineering, like any field, communication is vital to maintain good business and also for bringing in new clients. This is especially true when new customers see a business for the first time.

 

Communicating with New Employees

When joining a company, how well you understand your role in the company can greatly affect how well you do. It can also affect whether or not you choose to stay at the company. At Hugh’s company new employees are given a detailed company orientation. Written and verbal communication is used to inform all incoming employees about the products the company produces, the team they’ll be working on, the work they are responsible for, and expectations for success. They have over a week to train. This includes specific job training as well as learning the company’s mission statement, its health and safety standards, and code-of-ethics.

 

Language Barriers

Misunderstandings can hinder efficiency in any system. Hugh’s company employs over 7000 people worldwide. His company’s policy for the US “requires that all foreign employees who interact with US employees must speak English as a primary or secondary language”, and they hire translators for international customers.

 

Communication in the Workplace

Effective communication in the workplace helps to ensure that projects are finished on time, and it helps keep everyone up to date with policies or other company changes. Hugh has official face-to-face meeting like in most companies, but prefers other forms of Englishcommunication. He thinks that meeting and presentations have their place in communicating information, but using unofficial
communication, like email, would be more efficient most of the time. Hugh says, “A lot of time is put into preparing presentations to be shared at a meeting, which could have simply been shared and discussed online instead.” He believes that meetings should have a specific and limited topic in and be brief so that there is more time to focus on completing projects.

Hugh’s company uses email every day. It is the most convenient way to schedule meetings, send out company literature, or update all employees at the same time. One of the reasons Hugh prefers online communication like email or instant messaging is because you have a record of what was said. If anything is forgotten or specific information is given about a project, having access to exact words can be useful. Because of the increasing capabilities that smart phones have, they are becoming an important tool for most businesses. They give the ability to text small amounts of information quickly and conveniently, or you can check your email if you are away from your desk.

 

Communication in IO Psychology Education

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Dr. Steven Toaddy – IO Psychologist and Professor

Dr. Steven Toaddy is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences here at our very own Louisiana Tech University. He works for both Louisiana Tech and for a company partnered with Louisiana Tech called AROS (Applied Research for Organizational Solutions).  AROS is a consulting firm for people looking for organizational solutions.

 

Dr. Toaddy’s Credentials

Dr. Toaddy has received three degrees in his lifetime including a bachelors in psychology, a masters in IO Psychology, and a Doctorate in IO Pschology.  He also, as stated earlier, is referred to as the associate professor of social sciences at Louisiana Tech University. But the question that’s on most people minds is, what is IO psychology?  IO psychology stands for industrial/organizational psychology, which is a discipline of psychology that applies psychological theories and principles to organizations.

 

Communication in Education

Dr. Toaddy said that in an educational environment all forms communication are vital to succeed.  He stated that he tends to use oral and written communication in his teaching activities, which include lecturing,  facilitating classroom activities, and communicating with students about questions or concerns they may have.  He also provides in the form of written communication a syllabus at the beginning of every quarter, a course schedule, activity descriptions, grades, and assignments.  Graphic communication is also utilized, yet not as much as those mentioned previously.  When teaching how to graph certain functions needed in IO psychology, graphic communication is then utilized.

 

Workplace Communication

Within his workplace, AROS, Dr. Toaddy communicates with his colleagues and graduate students via email and face to face communication.  He said that his favorite form of communication by far was email, due to its simplicity, organization, and speed of communicating. “Graphic Communication seems to be utilized more in IO compared to other disciplines of psychology,” Toaddy said. He stated that with what our field requires of us we must communicate large amounts of information into digestible amounts so that it is practical and can be learned quickly and concisely.

 

Comparing Formality and Tone Between Students and Colleagues

When commenting on the formality of communicating between students and colleagues he said that there was no difference from a formality standpoint.  The only thing that changed in respect to communication between students and his colleagues was the tone of communication.  He said that when students come to see me I have the assumption they are there for my help and betterment of themselves or to gain understanding.  “So, I tend to have a sort of didactic approach when speaking to them,” he said. However, when communicating with his colleagues and coworkers he said they tend to know the same information as him so there is less of a didactic tone and is more based on efficiency.  It is important to note these differences because between students and colleagues the level of skill and understanding is drastically different, although his formality doesn’t change when communicating with them.   They both receive the same formality even though tone may change dependent on the situation.

 

Publications within IO Psychology

When asked about how often Dr. Toaddy published he explained that he published professionally on a quarterly basis.  He said that he rarely publishes scholastically and when he does the process is a lot more in depth and tenuous. He said that when publishing anything the first thing you come to find is there are many wrong ways to write an article or journal. Once you know those wrong ways, that leaves you with all the right ways to publish pieces.  If you operate within those parameters then the time it takes to publish is based on the editor and his or her staff.  I then asked him if he reads over his colleague’s publications and how he may utilize the information attained from them.  He said he tends to read their quarterly publications when they come out and focus primarily on things pertaining to his research and in his area of expertise.  He said he reads on those areas for about a week or so and then utilizes them where he sees necessary.

 

Advise for Up and Coming IO Psychologists

The last question I asked Dr. Toaddy what would you tell someone looking to pursue a career in IO psychology about communication? He said, “The thing I recommend, is intimacy and transparency across all media.  I am not so sold that formality and grammatical appearance is necessary.  I would say be less formal, more direct and more intimate, so don’t hold back uncertainties or let awkwardness get in the way of communication. If you have an objective go pursue it.”  This advice is in my opinion very useful in any career that uses communication in the workplace a lot.

 

Donovan Henry, Guest Blogger

 

 

 

 

Working with Technical Communication in the Computer Science Industry

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picWhat Hunter Does

I recently had the opportunity to ask some questions to Hunter Anderson about his work with Fenway, a technology consulting company with an office here at Louisiana Tech. Hunter tells me that he has worked with Fenway since early in 2016, and that he has been “the Tech Lead on software development POD that managed web applications for Southwest Airlines.” Given Fenway’s position as a technology consulting company, its employees have opportunities to work on technical projects across a wide spectrum of different companies and industries.

The Communication in Code

Hunter mentions that there are many aspects and decisions to be made surrounding the commenting of code. For those unfamiliar with the industry, no piece of computer code is just worked on by a single person for its lifespan of creation, rollout, and maintenance. Many teams of people across multiple businesses will look through the code at some point, and so comments are left in the code to help describe in human language the less obvious aspects of the code.

How Hunter Handles Commenting

When I ask if Fenway applies set guidelines to instruct their workers on how to comment their code, Hunter tells me that specifics are often laid out by the client, but that “there are some overarching principles should that guide every team.” These include keeping comments professional and explaining complex segments for the next developer who will have to work in the code. However, he also mentions the danger of over-commenting code. When every little piece of code if packed with comments in overabundance, then slogging through it all to find the useful information becomes more and more tedious.

Problems Arise

Hunter describes issues that can arise when commenting gets out of hand. One issue that he discussed was that he had seen cases where in-code comments were used to document when pieces were added to the code with which customer request it fulfilled. He explains the issue with scaling such a situation, where multiple customers need things changed and added to the same block of code, and the documentation to keep track of the changes upon changes gets out of hand, and becomes more of a burden than anything useful. Staying concise is just as important a virtue in programming as it is in technical communication.

Meetings between Team Members

The teams that work together to create solutions at Fenway need to stay on the same page if they want to work as an efficient group. Therefore, team members have several types of meetings that they go though. Periods of work are broken into “sprints” in which the workers create solutions to their client’s requests. Each day includes a “Daily Scrum,” which is a 15 minute meeting where each member discusses what they have accomplished since the last meeting, and what they are working on next. During “Sprint Review” meetings, the project is demoed to the product owner and information is collected on any other changes they may need. In a final “Retrospective” meeting, the team discusses the project as a whole and what was good or bad about the project and the process.

Documents that have to be made

When I ask about any kinds of official written documents that Hunter works on, he tells me that many documents are produced from a team effort. Teams will create a rough draft, and then “refine and improve” the document together. He mentions that with Google Docs, the whole process can be done collaboratively and simultaneously by the team members. Hunter also mentions the importance of emails as a paper trail of communication. In-person discussions can be forgotten, but having commitments and plans in writing and emails with their clients keeps everything cleaner.

 

Andy Curtis, Guest Blogger

Communication in Civil Engineering

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Carlos Castellanos began to work in Civil Engineering in the early stage of his college career. He currently works for the City of Anaheim as the City Engineer. He is presently in charge of all the engineering departments like: surveying, traffic, design, construction, etc. To land this position, it took him several years of dedication to both work and education. The hardest part of his career was going full time to school while working 40 hours a week. In the end, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Master of Science in Construction Management, and his Professional Engineering License.

Nothing Gets Done Without Communication

Mr. Castellanos works with consulting firms, developers, and the city council, so nothing would get done without communication. He emphasized that in government institutions, communication is critical to completing projects on time. The city is granted with millions of dollars, so good and effective communication is key to the city’s success.

Since Mr. Castellanos oversees 55 employees; he added that having open communication with his staff allows him to give feedback and vice versa. Mr. Castellanos must also answer to his boss, the director of the City of Anaheim. Thus, another important aspect of communication is staff reports. He must be able to give his superior an assessment on his staff.

Engineering Reports

Working for the city, Mr. Castellanos will work alongside with many firms and agencies. The technical part his job is working with geotechnical reports, hydrology reports, environmental reports, traffic studies, etc. Depending on either the size of the project, the impact on infrastructure or the community is what dictates what reports are requested. He said “a lot of it is driven by environmental documents”. Since there is a ton of information on these reports, Mr. Castellanos and his staff will mark up these reports with a red pen. This simple tactic will prevent error and confusion amongst the city and agencies.

Make a Mark There

When asked, who is your main audience when presenting technical information? Mr. Castellanos said “mainly engineers; we work closely with consulting firms, planning departments, developers, and upper management.” Mr. Castellanos strategy for communication on behalf of these reports is taking plenty of notes and making comments on plans, or engineering reports. There is a heavy load of information to cover, so a phone call won’t be much help when communicating. Rather, writing several memos throughout a project is practical, efficient, and it ensures a written record of what was said.

Communication with The Community

When presenting written information to the community. The city uses flyers, brochures, and pamphlets. Mr. Castellanos says that “we use a bunch of graphics, colors, and non-technical words; this way the community can simply understand what is presented to them.” Another medium that works well is social media; we can communicate the vision of the city council through the city’s website or Facebook.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

When asked, what advice would you give a Civil Engineering student who struggles with communication? Mr. Castellanos advise is not to be afraid to ask for feedback. By doing so, it allows you to see your weaknesses and strengths. He also recommends that you sign up for additional classes on communication. To become a better communicator; you got to be willing to get out of your comfort zone.

Angel Velazquez, Guest Blogger

Technical Communication in Occupational Therapy

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Occupational Therapist working with a patient 

Tracy Brown is a certified occupational therapist from Cary, North Carolina, and currently works for Glenwood Regional Medical Center in West Monroe, Louisiana. As an occupational therapist, he helps individuals regain activities of daily living. Occupational therapy services can be extremely valuable to those who have a multitude of diseases or injuries such as, a arthritis, stroke, or osteoporosis. Tracy primarily works with orthopedics and neurology patients that are 60 years or older.

Road to Occupational Therapy

Tracy decided that occupational therapy was for him because he enjoyed communicating with people, learning about the human body, problem solving, and he felt it was his calling since it contained all of his enjoyments. Occupational therapy allows him to communicate with patients and create activities that improve loss of functionality. Tracy learned that the most important skill in patient care is communication.

The Skill of Communication

Tracy says the most important part of his job is communication. Tracy’s job requires him to use many different types of communication with his patients, other therapist, doctors, secretaries, and other medical records staff. If communication is not successful, then the patient will not get the maximum benefit out of therapy. Tracy says, “Therapy is a 2-way street; both sides must execute in order for it to be effective.”

Verbal Communication

A therapist must transfer medical terminology from physicians into creative exercises for patients. Tracy communicates on a daily basis with doctors and professionals of other therapy disciplines. He notifies the doctor if therapy has not progressed. This especially common in orthopedic patients typically because the patient needs to return to surgery or there is a deeper underlying problem.

According to Tracy, a therapist must establish a rapport with their patients to make them feel comfortable; this is established through effective communication but is not essential for the therapist-patient relationship. However, verbal communication is important between a therapists and other practitioners. Most often, Tracy’s patients cannot verbally communicate, because they are non native speakers or speech has been paired because of an injury, so he must find alternatives to communicate.

Cross Barrier Communication

Sometimes Tracy’s patients cannot speak English, so he uses a translating computer monitor system called “In Demand Interpreting.” This system can interpret any language in the world, including sign language.

Tracy also encounters communication barriers when his patients cannot speak or understand him because of a brain injury. When this arises, he uses many forms of demonstrations with his patients. On the other hand, the patients communicate with Tracy by using nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. According to Tracy, the ultimate communication in therapy is communicating without words.

Written Communication

Though verbal communication works well for patient-therapist synergy, it is not the best method for communication between insurance companies and doctors. This requires Tracy to do paperwork, primarily to the insurance companies and federal government. The federal goverment and insurance companies have guidelines that must be met at certain times. If they are not met and the patient requires more therapy, further documentation is needed by Tracy to explain the entire situation of the patient. As a result, Tracy must document what exercises the patients were able to perform and not perform on the days they have therapy.

Communication Consequences

According to Tracy, a lack of communication can cause serious problems with his patients. These issues can cause minor problems, such as a patient routinely performing the exercises without improving during therapy. Major consequences can also occur, such as exercises causing a patient more harm, which results in a patient returning to surgery.

Communication Continuem

Tracy believes he is a successful technical communicator, but he is still learning better ways to communicate with patients on a daily basis. Tracy says, “It is a continuous learning process. It never ends; it just continues to expand.”

Haley Ballinger, Guest Blogger

The Influence of Technical Communication in Architecture

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Matt Huffman: Architect

 


Matt Huffman grew up in Ruston, Louisiana, and graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a Master of Architecture in 2014. He is an architect who is currently a part of the TBA Architecture firm based in Monroe, Louisiana. The firm he works for has built many projects, including both the Athletics Center and the new press box that is currently under construction at the Joe Aillet stadium. On a daily basis, Matt will interact with many people whether it be his boss, co-workers, partners, or clients. This being the case, all aspects of communication are vital to his success in the field of architecture.

 

Written communication


In architecture, written communication is the most important asset in the construction stage of a project. In construction, written communication is not presented in the form of a letter or conversation, but rather in the form of construction documents. Construction Documents (CD’s) are detailed drawings “loaded with information” on how to build each individual component of the project. If a single part is overlooked, it could affect the structural or visual integrity of the design.

 

Verbal communication


When Matt is meeting with a client, it is crucial that he listens intently “to understand the client’s desires, needs, and wants.” If it is not fully understood what the client is asking for, the architect risks building something that dissatisfies the client. Simple gestures like repeating things back to the client or asking them to clarify more specifically what they are trying to explain, will prevent any miscommunication. The next step in this process would be the explanation of Matt’s design to the contractor. It is the Architect’s responsibility to take the design based on the client’s needs and express it clearly to the contractor. If this step is not taken, the final product will not line up with what was designed. This would untimely leave the client unhappy with a product that does not meet their needs.

 

Visual communication


Throughout a work day, Matt will look through many official documents that express the design of a project. While these documents may be familiar to an architect and easy to understand, a client who is not frequently exposed to these drawings may not be able to visualize what the completed work will look like. It is for this reason that Matt and his co-workers show renderings and precedents. Using these tools closely resembles what the finished product will look like, making it “the easiest way to get the point across” to the client. These renderings make it easy for the clients to perceive the atmosphere of the design.

 

Advice for student


Matt has been working as an architect for three years now. Because he was in school only three years ago, it is easy for him to recall what those times were like. When asked about his college experience, as well as his experience in the actual work place, Matt had an important piece of advice to give. He emphasizes that in the real world the client is the most important factor. His number one mission is to meet the needs of those clients. Likewise, Matt believes that in school, you should treat your teachers as if they are your actual client. Taking advice and following their direction is how you will be most successful in school.

Joshua Maxfield, Guest Blogger

The Importance of Communication in a Changing World

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Logan Lewis is currently the Director of Sales for the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. He also is a Louisiana Tech graduate with a degree in Speech Communication. Before he transferred to Tech, he attended Anderson College in South Carolina to pursue a music major. He says he transferred after he realized opera and music teaching wasn’t for him. Once at Louisiana Tech, he says he chose Speech Communication because of his strengths in public speaking and speech writing.

Independence Bowl

Learning Communication Skills Early

Logan’s first job out of college was working for a family owned company called Pinch Flatbed, where he was an Account Executive. He landed the job two months after graduating from Tech and moved to Houston to start his professional career. He spent two years at the company, working in Houston and southern Louisiana. On the job, he said he managed three day drivers and three night drivers on a regular work day. He also said he spent a good amount of time cultivating business relationships in southern Louisiana in cities such as Lafayette, Morgan City, and Houma. Even at his first job, Logan learned some key business and communication skills that he could use for the rest of his career.

Communication on the Job

At Logan’s current job in Shreveport, there are many different communication methods that are used with various different people. When asked what was the most common type of communication on the job, he said “Email and face to face. I text a lot too.” He also has a lot of writing responsibilities on the job as well. Things such as sales plans, marketing plans, sponsor proposals, and foundation membership formal letters and correspondence. It is obvious that communication is an important part of his job and that he uses it in many different forms. He also has some unique ways of communicating on the job externally and internally. They use an app called WhatsApp to communicate to other members of the company and just started using snapchat to communicate to their customers and potential customers. These new methods of communicating have changed how he does his job day in and day out. He says they are spending much more on digital advertising, whether it is pushing out ads on Facebook and Instagram or posting on twitter of players and coaches that have recently played in their stadium. Social media is a huge piece of what he does now.

Communication Struggles on the Job

When asked what the hardest part about his job was, he said “Externally, that would be fighting criticism. Internally, it would be fighting for change.”. To Logan, Shreveport-Bossier city can be a negative place at times and the bowl not having its story told properly really makes his job more difficult. The main issue is that the people who are in charge of him, whom is the executive committee, board, and extended leaders, are all business leaders around the community who volunteer their time. Unfortunately for Logan, he is constantly trying to keep up with the times and says that the people he works with have been doing the same thing since they started working there and are not always keen on keeping up with the changing world around them.

 

Final Thoughts

After my interview, I really learned a lot of interesting career and life advice that could apply to just about anyone. The point he made that stood out to me the most was his viewpoint on how technology changed his job. He said, “It has certainly taken away off-time. No longer do we get the luxury of leaving work at your desk at 5 pm on Friday, not to be thought of until Monday morning.”. This is something we could all learn from.

Bailey Laborde