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Software engineer turns fiction writer

By Hannah Spicher
August 22, 2103 

Ryan Kennerly always envisioned he’d work as a software engineer. And for six years he did just that. 

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Kennerly worked as a software engineer at a company focused on commercial and defense contracting.  

“It was a good job, with good pay, and good benefits,” says Kennerly, now a third-year MFA in creative writing student and Presidential Fellow. “But leaving it for grad school is something I always considered. I always dreamed about going back to school to pursue writing.”  

While still working full-time in the computer industry, Kennerly wrote short stories, completed a novel and attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival for four straight years.  

Although he decided his novel wasn’t very good, it set his writing in motion, and things started to click. Exposure to great works of modern literature, regular contact with writers who were further along in their craft and a rigorous writing schedule all helped Kennerly shape his lifelong hobby into a recognizable talent.

And he used his technical background to his advantage. 

“Software requires you to understand an entire system and to anticipate how minor changes can influence that system. When you view writing as a system, and when you follow an action through to its logical conclusion without actually carrying out that action, you are able to skip that step,” he says. “Understanding the big picture allows me to figure out what I want to say, which then influences how I want to say it.”   

Through a combination of design acumen, imagination and an unbending work ethic Kennerly got the attention of nationally celebrated writers.  And when the time came for Kennerly to transition out of his full-time job and into an MFA writing program, their recommendation of the University of South Carolina made it his obvious choice.

“Carolina’s MFA program is rare on several levels. It’s a fully-funded three year program; it’s on the rise; and it has the desirable combination of writing workshops paired with an emphasis on classic literature,” he says.  

Last year the program broke into the top 50 MFA programs in the United States, according to a Poets & Writers ranking. The program, which is housed in USC’s Department of English Language & Literature, also provides endless resources for emerging writers, pairing the intimacy of a small program with the resources of a major research university.

“I’m surrounded by talented students and writers; I have regular platforms from which to share my work; and, through the professionalization classes provided by the Presidential Fellowship program and the visiting writer series, I have become familiar with publishing trends and the current state of the field,” he says.  

Kennerly’s dream now is to support himself and his family with his writing. And he’s one step closer. 

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