Associate Profile: Katherine Brennan Murphy


February 1999

Associate Profile: Katherine Brennan Murphy


This is a year of new beginnings for Associate, Katherine Brennan Murphy. In December, she left Tektronix after nearly ten years to open her own firm, Tapestry Communications. Yes, the name was inspired by the Carole King song but as Murphy says “I offer clients a suite of services whose foundation rests on technical communication, human factors research, and systems engineering methods, which I see as an interconnected, intricate tapestry.”

Murphy, who holds a MS in Technical Communication and a BA in Anthropology (both from the University of Washington), has until now always worked for large organizations. In high school and college she worked in libraries and in temporary clerical positions. She notes that much of her strength as an innovative and effective manager came from learning the organizational disciplines these jobs require. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Murphy worked for AirBorne Freight Corporation and the Boeing Company.

As a Lead in AirBorne’s accounting department, Murphy got her first taste of management (and at 23 felt that perhaps she needed to be older). She also had a chance to work with large databases and, in response to her employees’ requests, to redesign data entry screens. At Boeing, Murphy followed in her father’s footsteps and became a technical writer. She worked on one of the earliest Management Information Systems built in the U.S. She developed a method for executives to enter their confidential data directly into Microsoft Word. The method worked but she found that, in addition, she had to teach these men how to type!

While at Boeing, Murphy became a member of the Society for Technical Communication and realized that she needed more training to advance in the field. She was accepted into the Master’s program at University of Washington where she taught technical writing to engineering undergraduates and managed the department’s computer lab. In her spare time, she worked on usability tests at Microsoft with Judy Ramey. In her thesis she used systems engineering methods to discover better strategies for managing the computer lab; the department implemented many of her recommendations after she graduated.

After graduation, Murphy accepted a senior writer position with Tektronix in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area. After a few months in this job, Murphy was offered the chance to manage once again. Over the next seven years, she managed up to 20 employees in a large department devoted to writing user and service manuals for high-end test and measurement equipment. This job, while sometimes stressful, gave her the opportunity to manage all skill categories and to manage a large in-house service organization during difficult financial times, which sometimes meant layoffs and other times meant college recruiting.

Murphy states that this management experience went better than the one at AirBorne, “I had a chance to work with several other excellent managers as part of a self-directed management team. This concept, while somewhat difficult in the beginning, really provided a supportive, non-competitive atmosphere where we focused on the work and our employees collectively.”

Because of her supportive management, Murphy had the opportunity to work on several corporate projects, including one that investigated communication breakdowns throughout the company. As team leader, Murphy presented the project committee’s findings to Tektronix’ president and his staff; several of those recommendations are still being used today. Always energetic, Murphy also worked in a number of STC roles, including Society Employment Information Manager and Willamette Valley Chapter President.

Tektronix encourages its managers to rotate into different roles and in her last two years at Tektronix Murphy became an “in-house consultant” to the Manufacturing Operations staff. In this role, she used codesign and usability practices to design a human interface, she participated on an Activity Based Management project, acted as the quality manager for the plant, and offered training on leadership, teamwork, writing, and human interface design. This consulting, with its variety and opportunities to learn and deepen her skills, led Murphy to take the plunge into business ownership.

Murphy thought that these first few months might be “quiet” but she is busier than ever. She is writing a book for new first-level managers that focuses on making it through that critical first year with sanity intact. She is very enthusiastic about her contract with Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (AWSEM). AWSEM helps connect middle- and high-school girls with professional women to keep girls interested in math and science. They are expanding their program nationally and Murphy is helping them reorganize their work to accommodate the new responsibilities. Murphy previously wrote and directed a video for AWSEM.

Between AWSEM and adapting her Leadership Seminar for Integrated Measurement Systems in Portland, Murphy says “That book keeps getting put on the back burner! I hope that my contacts through the Center will help move it to the front. I really enjoy meeting new people and look forward to my activities as an Associate.” To discuss how Tapestry Communications can help with your organization’s management, work flow, writing, quality system, or training needs, just give Katherine a call or send her email. CIDMIconNewsletter

Tapestry Communications
PO Box 871495
Vancouver, WA 98687