Why did you choose to be a Technical Writer?

Why did you become a technical writer? Some move into technical writing by accident (me!) while for others it was part of their career path.  I spoke to some technical writers about this recently. Here’s what I learned.

How to get into technical writing

1.    By Accident – Karen started in journalism and discovered technical writing by accident. She felt that technical writing suits people who enjoy communicate and learning new stuff. If you like/love technology, you’re half-way there, if not, chose another field.

2.    Out of Manufacturing – after 10 years in engineering, another colleague saw the ‘writing on the wall’ as the US began to lose its manufacturing jobs to China, India, and Eastern Europe. Moving into technical writing proved an exit route. However, as technical docs are now getting off-shored, she’s considering moving into another field, possibly teaching.

3.    Career Choice – new technical writers (especially in India and China) have decided on Tech Comms as a career and taken the appropriate degrees, such as English, Communication and, in some cases, Journalism.

4.    Career Change – JP did a postgraduate in biology and moved into technical writing as it allowed her to combine her daytime job (technical docs) and real passion (travel writing).

Technical Writing (tech comms) is a very hot field in India, offering an attractive career for university graduates. Think Silicon Valley, late 90s and you get the idea.

How I became a technical writer

I started as a programmer (anyone remember Cobol? Fortran?) but was moved into tech docs during a downsize. I studied computer science in university and though the move at the time seemed a backwards step, it’s served me well.

Coding didn’t suit me. I signed up as others did at the time without understanding the field.

Remember, I’m from a very small town in the west of Ireland so the career advice we got wasn’t the greatest. Most teachers had no experience on PCs in the 80s. What they suggested was based on what the Dept of Education recommended.

So, for me personally, it wasn’t the smartest move but  it opened others opportunities later. I landed many contracts because I know how to write code and run simulations. Most other English majors could write (way better than me) but had limited technical skills.

Since then I’ve lived in the UK, US, Amsterdam and China, so it’s worked out quite well. I have some concerns for ‘old school’ writers who don’t always see the shape of things to come.  You need to keep moving forward in this industry or risk getting left behind.

One last thing

India has an advantage as its education system values/prioritizes maths, while most all young Indians speak English.  So, it’s a terrific combination. China, in contrast, lacks these language skills. So, the focus there is on development.

India is going to get stronger and stronger, especially if the government fast-tracks infrastructure development.

US technical writers will lose their jobs to India. I can guarantee it. It’s a done deal.

But…

There are tremendous opportunities for those who have the gumption to move there and help develop this industry.

India lacks experienced writers, projects managers and team leads. If you have these skills…

UPDATE – I had some comment by email. Most seem to have moved into tech docs by design. However, quite a few are now saying they to move out again to find work.

What careers do you think are open to them?

By the way, 3 of these emails were from people outside the large metro areas so contract options are very thin. Any ideas?

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