Jamie Koch ’14 is an Illinois State University alumna from the Department of English’s publishing studies program who completed a production internship at the Publications Unit; completed an independent study with Dr. Steve Halle, director of the Publications Unit; served as a production editor for the English Studies research journal Polyglossia; and is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the national English honor society.
In her current position as the project manager for online assessment content in McGraw Hill’s Connect platform at McGraw Hill Education in Chicago, Koch has been able to find a position where she can combine her interests in English and business with publishing. In her role, she manages the important task of verifying content for accuracy and consistency before publication.
Additionally, she was named the 2019 Content Design and Delivery Contributor of the Year, which is awarded to a team member who exemplifies team values in a meaningful way, because of her advanced work on tracking and reporting tools in Smartsheet. This is a program used for collaboration and work management such as assigning tasks, tracking project progress, managing calendars, sharing documents, and the like.
Prior to her time at McGraw Hill, Koch worked for textbook publisher Goodheart-Willcox as an editorial assistant and later an assistant editor. After graduating from the University, her entry-level position was a learning and development specialist at Accenture.
We were given the opportunity to interview Koch about her undergraduate studies at Illinois State and how her experiences in the publishing sequence aided in her post-graduate career.
What influenced your decision to pursue a degree in publishing studies at Illinois State University and, ultimately, a career in publishing?
I struggled with picking a major and plan of study when I started at Illinois State, remaining an undeclared major until the very last semester possible because I didn’t know what path to pursue. A major in English seemed more and more appealing to me as the declaration deadline crept closer, but I also had an interest in a business-related major, so Publishing Studies seemed like a great way to combine the two (and then some). I love books, I love reading and learning, and I love that I get to be a part of the behind-the-scenes process of putting together learning materials. Also, I am fascinated by the history of publishing and how it has evolved over time. We are at an interesting point in that history now, as the shift from print to digital continues to unfold.
How did your experiences as an intern at the Publications Unit shape your career choices?
It was formative to my work experience, understanding of the publishing industry, and desire to pursue a career in publishing. Steve Halle’s balance of editorial and production work and structured time to explore and learn about the field of publishing provided a really solid foundation to begin to formulate ideas about my future career and what I wanted it to look like. A major takeaway from my internship was that Halle always encouraged us to value ourselves and our work and not to sell ourselves short. My internship at the Publications Unit felt like a real job, not just a formality for my degree. I left feeling prepared to work in a professional office setting, and I’m so grateful to have had the experience.
Besides the Publications Unit internship, what other extracurriculars during your time at the University played a fundamental role in your career path and have provided you with valuable transferable skills?
I completed an independent study with Halle where I learned to convert InDesign files to eBooks. I completed a Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) course in tandem with my work with Halle, and it exposed me to so much on the technical side of production that I hadn’t experienced to that point. I left the experience with a stronger knowledge of HTML5, a working understanding of CSS, and a desire to learn more.
How does your current position as project manager compare to your past work experiences in the publishing industry? How does it compare to your career expectations from when you finished your degree at Illinois State?
My full title is assessment content project manager. My current role in production is quite different from other editorial and production roles I have held in the past, but I think the basic skills are the same. As a project manager, I work with editorial and vendor partners to ensure accuracy, consistency, and timely delivery. I see myself as a kind of gatekeeper for the online assessment content for my titles. I am the last stop before content goes live, so it’s important that every bit of content goes through accuracy checking, accessibility review, permissions, and quality assurance (QA) review before it’s made available for instructor and student use.
We use vendors to perform QA testing on our products. The vendor is provided with specific instructions for each product type, which describe the steps for testing and the specifications for whether a component has passed or failed. Content passes QA testing when it functions as expected. Once the QA testing is complete for a given product, the editorial team and I address any issues and ask the production vendor to implement any necessary corrections. If needed, we will send content back to the QA vendor for regression testing, which is when the vendor will check that it is functional after corrections have been made. Accuracy and consistency are important at any stage of the content development process, but I’m just a bit later in that process now.
When I finished my degree at Illinois State, I never would have imagined myself working for a textbook publisher or educational technology company. I definitely thought I would be working for a small press, university press, or a trade publisher, but I’m glad I kept my options open. There are so many things you can do with an English degree, and the Publishing Studies track helped me hone in on my interests and develop skills that I probably wouldn’t have pursued on my own. My current position is a lot more communication focused than I would have expected. I spend less time with actual content (whether editing it or laying it out in InDesign or a similar tool) and more time communicating with internal and external partners about specifications, delivery timeframes, etc. Even though my current position isn’t something that I would have predicted for myself, I really enjoy my day-to-day work and the extra projects and initiatives I find myself involved with.
Including the work environment and day-to-day tasks, what is a typical workday like for you?
My typical workday in quarantine starts with letting my dogs out and feeding them, grabbing some breakfast, and reviewing my email inbox. A lot of my work happens on email, and I like to do triage before I get into any project work. The majority of my project notifications from the editorial team and vendors are handled via email. For example, the vendor will notify me via email when a batch of content is ready for accuracy checking, and in turn, I will notify the editor that the batch is ready. After addressing all of my urgent and easy emails, I start in on my to-do list, which is dependent on the time of year and whatever extra projects that I’m working on. Some examples of my tasks include setting up purchase orders (POs) for vendors, maintaining project budgets, creating and maintaining project schedules, and tracking key project dates and components to ensure timely delivery. My project cycles correspond to the copyright year of the corresponding print product, so the year typically has a nice, predictable flow to it. Although, COVID-19 threw us all for a loop this year.
I work normal office hours (8–4), but my managers are incredibly understanding and offer flexibility when needed. My manager encourages our team to take time off when we need it, use all of our vacation days, and not to overextend ourselves by working too many hours in a week. A supportive manager really makes all the difference when you’re working in the middle of a global pandemic.
Do you spend time using a program to make assessments about content or do you delegate tasks and supervise?
We partner with various vendors to complete production work on assessment content (test banks, quizzes, end-of-chapter assessment questions, etc.). Although I am not responsible for the production and development within the editing software, I understand how to use the programs. It’s much easier to assign tasks to the vendor and request changes or corrections if you know how the program operates, so I find it extremely valuable to learn how to use the programs that the vendors will be using. Because each project manager has a number of projects, we typically delegate tasks and ensure that content components are moving through each stage of production on schedule.
Based on your career experiences in the field of publishing, what are some of the most desirable traits or qualifications for students coming out of a degree program in publishing studies?
Attention to detail is always key. I am no longer an editor, but my favorite editors to work with are the ones who are thorough, accurate, and clear. Individuals with strong communication skills, especially written communication, are likely to succeed. Whether you end up in editorial, design, production, or another area altogether, the ability to explain the task at hand and field queries from team members is important. I think it would also benefit students who are coming out of a degree program in publishing to make sure they have a working understanding of the Microsoft Office suite as well as any additional programs being utilized in their desired field. At my company, we use Smartsheet for tracking project schedules, while other companies might use the Google Suite or another publication management system.
What does “professional development” entail for you when considering the context of your current position as well as others since you’ve graduated?
Since I’ve graduated, most of my professional development has been related to increasing my mastery and understanding of various programs and processes that will help me in my current position. As I mentioned, my company uses Smartsheet as a tracking and reporting tool, so I have worked to become a “superuser” in my department. I have a Smartsheet Product Certification, and I’ve been able to help set up a lot of new tools within the software for my team and other teams. Technology is always evolving, improving, changing, and becoming obsolete. I do my best to keep up with the changes as they apply to my current position so I can continue to do my job effectively and so I can be a resource to my coworkers. If you look for them, opportunities for learning and growing your skill sets are all around you. I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning and reaching for more knowledge.
What advice do you have for current students when searching for jobs, networking, or preparing for the job market?
Searching for jobs: Don’t be afraid to reach outside what you think you’re qualified for. Just because you don’t have experience in a particular area doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable of learning how. When I look at a job ad, I try to make as many possible connections between the roles and responsibilities and my own work experience as I can. My advice to anyone looking for a job is to stretch forward and go for it. The worst thing that can happen is you won’t get the job!
Networking: Networking was always really scary and intimidating to me, but it definitely doesn’t have to be. Just like any situation where you’re meeting new people, just be genuine and kind, and good things will follow. I view networking as “making professional friends,” and that makes it a lot less scary for me.
Preparing for the job market: Start searching for positions in the field that you’d like to go into and try to identify the common themes. If there is a particular skill, program, or qualification that you can obtain or strengthen now, do it! There are a lot of great resources for learning different software and skills.
About the Author: Katie Fisher is an undergraduate at Illinois State University, studying English in the publishing studies sequence with a minor in Spanish. She works as an academic peer advisor for first-year students and is completing a production internship at the Publications Unit. She is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the national English honor society.
For additional information about the publishing studies sequence, visit the website for the Department of English. For more information about Publications Unit internship and assistantship opportunities, visit the website or contact Steve Halle, director of the Publications Unit, at (309) 438-7481. Follow the Publications Unit on Twitter at @PubUnit_ISU, Instagram at @pubunit, or visit our website.