Becoming A Technical Writer

A Crash Course in Getting a Job Out of College

Step 1:

Decide to explore technical writing as a career option. For me, I can date my decision to a meeting I had with my career counselor at the beginning of my college senior year. I had just finished a frustrating internship in a different field and wondered, what next? The career counselor said “I don’t know if you’ll like the idea, but maybe try tech writing?” I spent the rest of the day researching the field and found it more and more intriguing.

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Step 2:

Find a mentor. Google led me to the Society of Technical Writing (www.stc.org), its New York Metro chapter (www.stcnymetro.org), and its mentor program. For $20, tell them what you’re interested in and they’ll connect you with a mentor in that domain. A few days later, my mentor emailed me and we began talking. She told me everything I needed to know about technical writing. What thought process does a tech writer need? How could I start a portfolio? How do I get practice? She told me that a tech writer needs to explain to others how to use a software or gadget. Half of a tech writer’s job is writing. The other half is problem solving and creative thinking.

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Step 3:

Take the Tech Writing 101 course at www.stc.org/education/online-education/certificate-courses. This is the online class aspiring tech writers need to take. There are currently no equivalents at tech schools like General Assembly or Full Stack Academy. In this course you will learn more than you ever thought you could about tech writing. But be prepared to work and receive criticism, some of which may be difficult to take. The instructor is tough. She does not feed answers and she will tell you when your pieces don’t cut it. If you have experience in journalism or as an English major, you will relearn how to write. Don’t write to entertain (like I’m doing here). Write just to inform. That’s it.

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Step 4:

Educate yourself further. Tech writers work within domains. If you want to be a medical tech writer, learn about medicine as much as you can. If you want to work in the finance industry, take a bookkeeping class. Since I am most interested in the digital world, I learned coding on www.codeacademy.com. I also learned to use softwares like Robohelp and Framemaker using free software trials and a www.lynda.com account.

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Step 5:

Create a portfolio. This is crucial, especially for beginners in the field, like me. A kid fresh out of college won’t have experience that proves to a potential employer that they can do a good job. But a portfolio can show an employer that. So make it amazing. Get programs off an open source software website like http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html. Borrow your mom’s coffee maker or your sister’s digital camera. Find programs you’re not completely familiar with. That way, you’ll have a fresh perspective, just like the people who would read the documentation. Then create sample documentation for how to use these softwares and gadgets. Vary it up with different types of pieces like feature-based documentation, step-by-step procedures, and video tutorials. Also add other types of writing like journalistic articles, essays, and blog posts. Put these up on a portfolio website similar to the one you’re reading right now. Find other tech writers to critique your work. Remember that mentor from step 2?

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Step 6:

Network, network, apply for jobs, and network some more. Going to indeed.com and applying to every tech writing job listed is great, but it’s just a start. In-person networking is crucial. Oftentimes jobs aren’t listed publicly. You have to know someone to get it. I made an account on www.meetup.com and found dozens of networking events within the tech industry. A few personal favorites include Designers + Geeks New York, Girl Develop It NYC, and Internet of Things Central. But the best meet up I’ve been to was Women Who Code, NYC. There I met a woman who told me about the Outreachy Internship Program (https://www.gnome.org/outreachy). She said that Outreachy has tech writing internships available for someone like me.

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After completing all those steps, I applied to Outreachy Mozilla and became their new tech writing intern. I am thrilled to begin my tech writing career at such a welcoming and well-known company. Keep checking this blog for updates on my tech writing adventures.

 

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