Onjeinika Brooks is an independent writer and editor. She is the author of two self-published books and currently edits for LinkedIn News. In this interview, Onjeinika tells the West Coast Editor how she pivoted from engineering to editing.
Can you tell us about your background and how you transitioned from engineering to editing?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I studied engineering in college. So, it wasn’t a surprise when I began my engineering career as a technical writer, researching and updating standards for electrical products. A few years later, I landed my dream job as a senior engineer doing workflow analysis for a travel company. But after being laid off from the position, I couldn’t find anything quite like it. I was unfulfilled and decided that if I was to be happy, I needed to do work I was passionate about. This was around the time my husband and I started our family. I figured, “I’m at home; this is the best time to try.” So I decided to become an author. I took a course through the mail (I know I’m dating myself here) to learn how to write for children. Writing short stories, blogs, and articles felt amazing—but it wasn’t paying the bills.
After several years of struggle, I decided to return to a traditional job. But this time, I did it with the goal of transitioning from engineering to editing. I took a part-time bridge job that was completely out of my wheelhouse and fun. It helped me prepare for the big jump. With renewed confidence, I took a job with The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) as the assistant editor for The Military Engineer magazine. That was my first editorial role and the start of my new career. I tried to make the transition easier by pairing engineering topics with editing. It worked.
How did you develop your editing skills? What challenges did you face in making the transition to editing?
Although I had plenty of writing experience, editing required a different skill set, and I wasn’t quite sure what that was. I needed guidance, so I applied for a junior editing role so I could get hands-on training. I knew this would result in a serious pay cut, but I told myself the salary drop was temporary until I gained the necessary knowledge and experience.
Unfortunately, the job was extremely fast-paced and included many other tasks and editing. Our department was small and overworked, and I couldn’t get the mentorship I was seeking. However, SAME encouraged professional training each year. So, I made sure to attend programs where I could learn more about writing and editing. I also reviewed my manager’s edits of articles I’d had a first crack at to identify which skills I needed to fine-tune. It wasn’t until I started my second editorial role at US News that I really grew. I was part of a larger team and received direct feedback on my writing.
How has your engineering background influenced your approach to editing, if at all?
Industrial engineers often seek process efficiency. So, I approach most things as an engineer first. My brain is just wired that way. Whatever I do begins with the process. Editing naturally unfolds in steps for me. Most times, I read an article for understanding, then developmental editing, and then proofreading and grammar edits. I fact-check last because it takes more research. When I asked more seasoned editors about their steps, many of them said they had a similar process. That was encouraging. Depending on the type of work, I choose which steps to apply when editing, but I’m always thinking like an engineer, asking how I can do something better.
Does your writing experience influence your client relations and leadership as a news editor?
I’d say yes, to some degree. My current and previous roles allow me to manage freelancers and junior reporters. I think one reason is because of my writing experience. When it’s added to my editorial experience, it makes my profile strong. I always see writing as my truest strength. It is my go-to mode if I need to communicate anything. It has helped me seal the deal after many job interviews and afforded me other opportunities (like this one). Never underestimate a concise and kind email or a well-written post!
Can you tell us about a particularly rewarding project you’ve worked on as an editor and what made it so fulfilling?
Hands down, it was my time reviewing and writing about cell phone plans at US News. Cell phone plans were a new category for the vertical. I had to hire freelancers as well as write several new pages for the guide. The launch was a huge success! One reason had to do with Mint Mobile topping the list and a Ryan Reynolds viral tweet (Mint Mobile was partly owned by Reynolds). That was swell. Mint didn’t come first when I updated the cell phone plans ratings the next year, but I was offered a TV interview with an ABC news network in Las Vegas. I had a quick training with the US News media team and did the interview. When it aired, my family and I watched it together. That was by far one of the proudest moments in my editorial career.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone considering a career in editing, particularly someone from a non-traditional background like engineering?
I’d recommend they take an online course for building editorial skills like one you might find on LinkedIn Learning, Universal Class, Coursera, or similar platforms. An editing course will help you learn the basics and provide some experience with the content, so you’ll have an idea of what you’re getting into. Then I’d say look at open roles you may be qualified for. Don’t forget; transferable skills matter! If those roles sound interesting and the pay lines up with what you can manage, then go for it. Allowing yourself the time to work as an editor is one of the best things you can do to move your career forward. And if you end up loving this work, as I do, new opportunities will be waiting. Good pay will follow, and hopefully, you’ll find yourself in a career you enjoy.
Onjeinika Brooks is an independent writer and editor. She is the author of two self-published books and currently edits for LinkedIn News. Previously, she worked in editorial departments at US News and the Society of American Military Engineers. She has a BS degree in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University.