Dual-Degree Alumni Spotlight

Author: Jessica Baron

Author: Paul Schreier, B.A. '73/ B.S. '74
Paul Schreier PR (Marketing/authoring/translating for high-tech companies)
Thalwil, Switzerland

You will repeatedly hear many generalities regarding your studies and future career, just a couple being “you could well end up in a career you never anticipated,” and “the dual-degree program will open up unexpected doors.” Truisms, all of them. But as you’ll see, especially in my case they all held true.

I seem to have always had a gift for languages. In high school, based on placement exams, I was desperate to be admitted to the Science Honors program with all my friends. To my dismay, I was instead assigned to Language Honors in which I studied two years of Latin and four years of German.

When I was accepted at Notre Dame, I entered the EE program primarily because of the fun I was having as a ham radio operator. However, I enjoyed so many other things – literature, music, art – that I didn’t want to give them up, and I convinced my parents to let me enter the 5-year Arts & Letters/Engineering program. It wasn’t until years later that my father became convinced it was a wise choice that had actually paid off.

In that program, I got the most enjoyment out of the arts & letters courses, but generally got the best grades in my engineering courses. At that time, the program did not require you to declare a major within Arts & Letters; you got a degree in “Humanities” – this meant that once I fulfilled the requirements, I could choose virtually any courses I wanted. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I took Robert Leader’s legendary art history course; I took a course called “The Music of Bach”; I was able to snag a seat in the extremely high-demand course “The Literature of Science Fiction.”

Upon graduation, I thought my career would take the traditional engineering path. My first job was with Stone & Webster Engineering Company, primarily because I wanted to be in Boston. There I was designing the communications systems for nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, within a year of taking that job, the bottom totally dropped out of that industry (partially as a result of the Three Mile Island accident) and all nuclear power plant orders were cancelled. I started looking for something new.

I had always wanted to go to Europe and made no secret about it. Then the dual-degree program opened a door.

I saw an advertisement in the Boston Globe for a technical editor at an electronics magazine. I was given an interview, and just from my resume with the double degree their attitude was “Wow – an engineer who can write a sentence!” Shortly thereafter, I was hired as an Associate Editor at EDN Magazine (Electronic Design News), the country’s largest and most influential magazine for OEM design engineers. I quickly became a valued member of the staff, and I learned a great deal about technical writing from various managing editors and copy editors.

I had always wanted to go to Europe and made no secret about it. Then the dual-degree program opened a door. One of the secretaries “intercepted” a letter sent to the publisher of a sister magazine asking if he had any names of staffers who wanted to work for Siemens in Germany. I applied and was hired. I spent the next three years in the university town of Erlangen in Bavaria. At the time, Siemens was revising its company magazine the Siemens Review. Further and their target market was the US, so they wanted US English rather than UK English. They also wanted somebody with a technical background and also proven editorial skills. In addition, the fact that I had studied German in high school and college was a real plus in getting the job.

The time living in Germany was extremely rewarding on a personal basis – I had so many experiences and made friends, a few of who are still very close even to this day. I took business trips throughout Europe and Brazil. After three years I returned to the US and to EDN and was promoted to Chief Editor, the youngest person ever to hold that position.

At this point, it’s worthwhile talking about what a great job it is being a technical editor. You are constantly at the “bleeding” edge of technology, learning and reporting about the very latest advancements. You meet with the movers and shakers in the industry. You have access to virtually everyone because companies want to do everything in their power to get good coverage (and I was at the #1 magazine in the field). I met Bill Gates when Microsoft made its very first press tour. I was present at the official announcement of the first Macintosh. I met Ted Hoff, the developer of the 8080, the first real microprocessor. And on and on...

As Chief Editor, I also learned all about the business side of running a trade magazine and I was on top of the very latest technical trends. In the mid-1980s, I saw the personal computer emerge as an engineering tool, but at the time minicomputers from DEC and Data General and others dominated. I suggested that my publishing company start a magazine dedicated to PCs as engineering tools. Their response was, “PCs are toys, not tools.” I then left EDN and started my own small magazine Personal Engineering & Instrumentation News. Over the course of 15 years, operating the magazine from the office above my garage, it developed into quite a respected publication with a staff of six full-time employees and a circulation of 50,000. We were successful enough that during its tenure, the magazine paid for a house on the ocean in New Hampshire, and today I am using savings from those days to pay for my daughter’s education at Notre Dame.

Because of my many years in the trade press, I had a huge network of contacts in the electronics industry. After closing the magazine, I started my own PR/marketing consultancy. I then realized that I had always wanted to return to Europe, and that I could do my work from anywhere. I asked my wife what she thought, and she agreed. Shortly thereafter, we rented the house, sold the cars, packed our two kids, and moved to Switzerland.

In Switzerland, I started out by doing PR work for one client and writing for a number of magazines in the US. I was looking for a new revenue stream and noticed that a local translation agency was looking for someone to edit translations. I was shortly thereafter hired as a freelance editor. After a year, I found that being a translator was far more satisfying and lucrative, so I shifted into doing translations. I now work for a number of agencies in Switzerland, and I’m often so fully booked that I must turn work away. It’s again a case of so few people having both language skills and knowledge of the technology.

To be successful in translating, you must be very conversant in popular translation software packages such as SDL Trados (the industry leader), Across, Déjà vu, or others. Translation agencies demand this today. Being technically trained is a true advantage in coming up to speed and mastering such complex software.

Publishing companies will need people who are savvy in both technology and literature. Who better for such a job than a double-degree Arts & Letters/Engineering graduate?

Returning to publishing for a moment, let’s look at the future. Print publishing no longer offers the numerous lucrative jobs it did 20 years ago. However, new industries and jobs are emerging. Far-sighted professionals will be needed in the digital publishing industry as e-books start to take an increasingly larger cut out of overall publishing sales and as online publications continue to displace traditional magazines in print form. Publishing companies will need people who are savvy in both technology and literature. After all, online magazine websites are quite sophisticated -- being successful is far more than simply having content to publish, which of course is in itself the foundation for success. Who better for such a job than a double-degree Arts & Letters/Engineering graduate?

I think about the types of jobs available to me in 1974 when I graduated and compare it to the jobs available today. What a change there’s been! And the same will undoubtedly be true for students graduating now and in the near future. However, there will always be the need to communicate ideas in words. I firmly believe that the Arts & Letters/Engineering program will give such people an added advantage when looking for work and the types of opportunities available to them.

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