Any Technical Writers Here?

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Smashter
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Any Technical Writers Here?

Post by Smashter » Sat Jun 23, 2018 4:31 pm

Am I mistaken in thinking that there is a strong demand right now for technical writers? Whenever I search the term on job boards I get tons of hits.

I make a decent chunk of money (about 5-10% of my yearly income) from freelance writing. I think I could significantly boost that up if I was able to get technical writing jobs.

Unfortunately, I have no technical chops :cry:

Does anyone have advice on what might be the best use of my time if I want to learn the bare minimum to apply for tech writing jobs? Or maybe all the good ones require technical degrees, and I'm wasting my time?

There are tons of free ways to learn basic web development, for instance, so I'd be interested in spending the time to learn JavaScript if I thought it had a good ROI for tech writing jobs.

But maybe it'd be better if I learned IT basics, or some other coding language? This is surprisingly hard to find info on. When I read job descriptions they will often say vague things like "must be familiar with various aspects of technical Documentation" or "must know SDLC best practices" or even just "will be working closely with someone on the engineering team."

I have a lot of free time right now, so I think it's a good time to start learning.

Thanks for any input.

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daylen
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Re: Any Technical Writers Here?

Post by daylen » Sat Jun 23, 2018 4:48 pm


jacob
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Re: Any Technical Writers Here?

Post by jacob » Sat Jun 23, 2018 4:55 pm

I looked into it as a way to get out of physics back in the days. There are career books you can read. It pays better than physics too :-P

A technical writer functions as the interlink between the product developer and the product user. It's the text-version of those who design user-friendly interfaces, etc.

"Will be working closely with the engineering team" ... means you need to know enough technical lingo to understand what they're talking about. This differs between writing instructions for head ache pills, clock radios, and O/S manuals respectively. You don't need to be a coder but you do need to know how to speak to coders.

One biggie you didn't mention would be the ability to make your own technical diagrams (like blueprints).

I had to look up the specifics of SDLC ... but what this basically means is that the technical writer is part of the product development process and you'd be responsible for fitting into some procedure, possibly managed by software, as the product gets readied for release.

After picking the field, I would spend my time documenting a product for that field. For example, if I picked consumer electronics, I would work to be able to create a manual for a clock radio complete with instructions and diagrams.

JuliusFC
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Re: Any Technical Writers Here?

Post by JuliusFC » Sun Jun 24, 2018 9:49 am

I work as a technical writer. I can give you advice about landing your first junior writing position, but it sounds to me like you're trying to jump right into (higher level) contract opportunities? I'm just assuming this based on the excerpts you provided and your questions. I imagine that would be a tougher sell, but certainly not impossible given your writing experience. If any of your freelance writing can be spun into technical writing that would be helpful for your portfolio and resume. Technical writing isn't only instructions and procedures. Specs and conceptual-type material can count too.

It also sounds like you're focusing on opportunities in software development companies. Tech writers work all over the place and in my experience the requirements decrease in non-software companies. You might have an easier time jumping in mid-level there.

Smashter
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Re: Any Technical Writers Here?

Post by Smashter » Sun Jun 24, 2018 5:05 pm

@Julius, you are correct. I am not looking to be a junior writer, I just want to pick up some side work.

That being said, I'd love to here any more advice you have, and maybe a bit about what you do on a day to day basis, if you're willing to share.

And that's good to know that I'd need less experience at non-software companies. I wouldn't have guessed that. Thanks.

@Jacob, hmmm maybe I glossed over that biggie because it sounds very daunting, ha. I think I'll check out a book or two and take it from there. I'm a little embarrassed that it took your nudge to google "books on technical writing." I was only searching for online content for some reason, as if a single Quora answer would tell me all I needed to know.

JuliusFC
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Re: Any Technical Writers Here?

Post by JuliusFC » Mon Jun 25, 2018 1:35 pm

Day-to-day for a software tech writer depends at the very least on the company (start-up to established), the product (vaporware to mature), the size of the tech writing team, the skills of the other writers on that team, and your own skills. Location also matters (presumably because of the quality of the available talent pool). Understandably, I found the expectations to be much higher when I was in San Jose than they are here in Vancouver. A (short-term) contract vs. a staff position also makes a big difference.

You’re looking for short-term contracts, so most likely the scope of your work will be well-defined. A larger company probably wants help during a big release or a start-up wants their vaporware to have some docs, for example. Your typical day depends on all the factors above. The job description will usually make it pretty clear what the expectations are for the term of the contract. It will also give you a feel for if they are expecting you to be fairly independent or if there will be more guidance, specs available, time with engineers and other writers, etc. You'll probably spend your days reading specs (if they exist), using the product (if it exists), talking to people in QA and maybe some developers (if they have time for you), and writing the docs. Sometimes a contract involves a situation where, for example, an engineer or a project manager has created some documentation, and now they just need you to "clean it up". In that case you'll spend your day testing what they've written by using the product yourself and cleaning up the docs from there.

As a contractor, you will be expected to have expertise in whatever documentation tools they use. For a staff job, they often don’t mind if a new writer spends some time learning Flare or confluence or whatever, but they’re unlikely to be okay with that for a contractor. If you are not familiar with their tools, that could be an obstacle. A contractor is expected to be able to jump in with close to zero ramp-up time. This is one of the reasons why I suggested you would probably have better luck with non-software companies. They often only use Word, which I’m assuming you are familiar with, and they usually don’t expect knowledge of whatever random product they have: wind turbines, helicopters, toaster ovens.

Smashter
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Re: Any Technical Writers Here?

Post by Smashter » Mon Jun 25, 2018 8:26 pm

Thanks for all the details! A contract job requiring some "clean up" would be right up my alley. I'll keep my eyes open.

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