From man-eating dinosaurs to espionage and good wine–UWaterloo Alumna Edna Kruger’s interview has it all. I think this is going to be a hard one to top! Thank you to Edna for participating in Words in Place; she made it even more fun than usual.–JLH
JLH: Can you tell us a bit about your career trajectory after graduating–has it played out as you expected?
EK: That’s a funny question because I had no idea what to expect as a career trajectory – I was just happy to have one! When I graduated from UWaterloo in 1988 and moved to Montreal, it was enough of a challenge to get any job, let alone one in the area of professional writing. I took a job as an office temp to pay the bills, and went to career fairs and prospective company open houses to apply for jobs. After a year or so, I got a job as a technical editor in a computer company that created video graphics cards and video editing software.
But I wanted to write, so after two years there, I saw an opportunity to take a writing job at a network software company. I got some great experience there … and was bored out of my brains with writing user guides about terminal emulation software! As if by magic, an ex-colleague contacted me about an opportunity to be an editor/writer at a company called Softimage. They created 3D animation software, and I was hooked as soon as I saw the T-Rex from Jurassic Park being animated in their software! It didn’t hurt either that the company was on St-Laurent boulevard in Montreal’s hip plateau area. I was at Softimage for an embarrassing number of years (15) because I loved working there and, amazingly, I didn’t get laid off. The people at Softimage had a real passion for their work and a camaraderie that I hadn’t experienced in other companies. The animators who used the software were crazy and creative, and I got to know many of them, which gave me inspiration to write the user guides.
Then six years ago, Softimage was bought by Autodesk and most of us made the move there. Autodesk likes to restructure itself fairly often, so two years ago I was presented with the opportunity to switch from writing to creating tutorial-type training videos, which is what I’m doing now. I do the research on a concept or workflow of the 3D animation software, write the scripts, record the video, record the audio, do the video editing, and then post everything on an Autodesk product “learning channel” on YouTube.
I’m happy to drift along this current for quite a while, but I also have some ideas percolating in the back of my mind. I’m looking at using other forms of social media to contribute training information to the 3D community, and I’d like to take some instructional design courses.
JLH: What do you remember about your undergrad experiences? Were any particularly co-op terms memorable?
EK: The house parties and WatPubs! I also met students from other faculties, whom I probably would have never met otherwise. I also remember the angst of trying to find an apartment in a city I had never visited before!
My first co-op job was at the RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa, which seems like an odd choice for an arts job. I was helping an art historian catalogue data about stolen art into a database for INTERPOL, which was pretty cool. The thing that took me aback for that job was being interviewed and fingerprinted by RCMP officers because I had access to some top secret information! My favourite co-op job was at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton. I did research on health issues and created video scripts to explain possible health problems from exposure to hazardous materials in factories and hospitals. I’m not sure if those scripts ever got turned into videos, but it was fun experience. This was definitely in the days before YouTube!
JLH: In retrospect, how useful was co-op in establishing you in your current career?
EK: Very much so! I doubt that I would have had any relevant experience in professional writing after graduation had I not done the co-op program. In fact, at my first real job, my manager told me that he hired me because I had had a co-op work term at IBM, and that impressed him. The fact that a university actually had a co-op program for Arts was quite revolutionary at the time. I would not have even known the type of jobs that were available for Arts grads without the co-op program.
JLH: When you think back to your time in English at UWaterloo, what stands out?
EK: At university in general, it was just such a joy to take courses of subjects that I actually liked, as compared to high school. I loved how my English, history, and art history classes all revealed different facets of the same time period. But I think what strikes me most was that I realized how much I enjoyed analyzing literature. I had had only a taste of that from two of my high school English teachers, but I knew I wanted more! It started with my first-year English course with Prof. Gordon Slethaug. He presented literary analysis in such a clear way that I was convinced that I wanted to do my degree in English (I was enrolled in General Arts in first year). On top of that, he was just a great guy who made you feel at ease. Then there was Prof. W.K. Thomas, whose passion for the importance of descriptive language flipped on a “word” switch somewhere in my brain! I also enjoyed Prof. Lynne Magnusson’s Shakespeare classes because she was an excellent professor, and she also had a “Renaissance aura” about her, which seemed very appropriate.
And, of course, the best thing about university was all the friends that I made.
JLH: I love to ask: what are your current favorite books?
EK: I hadn’t read much fiction in the past years, but I finally got back to reading again last year. I was halfway through Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which is so beautifully and sensitively written, when I got distracted by two books on my son’s Gr. 10 summer reading list: The Humans by Matt Haig (an engaging and entertaining story), and the classic Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Don’t worry – my son read the books too, but I think I enjoyed them more!
Last Christmas, I received the book Red, White, and Drunk All Over by Natalie Maclean as a gift from my husband. I have recently started learning more about wine, and this book is a very informative and witty romp through several vineyards, from Burgundy to California. Of course, doing wine research also involves lots of sampling! Now, I just have to finish Life of Pi before I get distracted by something else … like a bottle of pinot noir.