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Photo Credit: Sierra Sumner

Kevin Xu '19

Kevin Xu is a senior English major, pursuing specializations in the Study and Practice of Writing (SPOW) and Professional Writing and Technical Communication (PWTC). This past summer, he was a Technical Writing Intern at Akamai Technologies. View his LinkedIn profile to learn more or to connect with him.

How did you start out as an English major? What has your journey looked like so far? 

I transferred here from another school. I was undeclared for about a year and then I did Computer Science for a semester. I’ve had a general interest in technology since I was young and still do now. I started with CompSci because my mother works in the industry.

I’ve always had an interest in English — reading and writing— I think maybe it was always in the back of my head. I wouldn’t call switching to English a knee-jerk thing, but I followed the path I felt comfortable in. But I didn’t realize what that really entailed, so I went to Celeste Stuart and she laid out my different paths [within the English major]. That’s how I found the SPOW and PWTC specializations; I also had an interest in Creative Writing, but I didn’t have enough time to do all three.

So you have two specializations as well as an interest in Creative Writing. Would you like to speak on that?

Yes, I’m doing my Honors Thesis in Creative Writing, but for my specializations, I’m doing SPOW and PWTC.

In the career sense, I felt I would be more well-rounded if I focused on SPOW and PWTC, but for my personal interest I focused on Creative Writing. I’ve taken English 350H: Expository Writing for creative nonfiction and English 354: Creative Writing. I’m currently taking the creative writing Capstone: English 499C/D and English 491PF: Political Fiction.

I took English 354 last semester and it’s my favorite course of all the ones I’ve taken at UMass by a large margin. The teacher, Chris Ayala (now an MFA alum), had a lot of passion and demanded us to take ourselves and our writing seriously. He was an incredible influence; I don’t think I would’ve pursued English 499 or 491PF or fiction in general, if not for him.

You mentioned that you did an internship with Akamai, a company that specializes in cloud computing technologies. What do you hope to do for your next internship or post grad?

I worked at Akamai in the summer of 2018 and I had a great time there, so I kinda want to go back that. My ideal now is to find something stable, and hopefully related to technical writing.

What exactly did you do at Akamai? You wrote software documentation, right?

Yes, they have different locations with servers and there are some esoteric procedures that don’t have great documentation, so we would supplement that where it is needed. So, if there are some weird quirks with the hardware — some troubleshooting issue— we would troubleshoot that and explain how to fix it.

What would you consider to be a memorable English class? How did it help you in your personal or professional development?

Professionally, English 379: Introduction to Professional Writing was very memorable for me. It's a general professional writing course, so it helped a lot with getting the internship last summer. Once I was there, what mostly helped me was my technical background. If you go into that field, the rest of the PWTC program will help, like English 380: Professional Writing and Technical Communication II, which involves software documentation.

One of the PWTC alumni, Nick Trieber, is part of the Akamai team. I met and spoke to him on my first day during team introductions. He told me stories about his path to the company, gave me pointers, and helped connect me with a lot of other people. He’s a great guy.

What is your favorite book/author OR what are you currently reading? Why?

I have a hard time picking favorites, but the novel that's most memorable to me is Motorman by David Ohle. It’s a dystopian novel about this guy Moldenke being stalked over the phone, seemingly no matter where he goes, by this guy named Mr. Bundts. More recently, I’ve loved My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist by Mark Leyner. He writes every sentence like it could be an obnoxious tabloid headline.

What suggestions would you offer for the English department?

More courses about rhetoric. There’s English 388: Rhetoric, Writing, and Society with David Fleming and he’s phenomenal, but I wish there was more in that area. It's important for public speaking, and learning about rhetoric in a structured way makes you aware of its techniques, whether they're used for or against you. Being literate in that field is important, especially now.

Interview by Sierra Sumner, Digital Communications Intern