I never thought of myself as a classroom teacher, yet I always loved the idea of teaching someone something. When I came across technical writing, I knew I had found the right job for me. I could use writing to teach others how to use a software or program. I’ve been writing articles that show users how to use Firefox for iOS, Firefox Hello, and more. But my latest project makes me even more of a teacher. I am going to teach new volunteers how to become technical writers, something I’ve learned myself over the last year.
For this project, I am creating an on boarding guide that shows new technical writers how to write articles for Mozilla Support. What does an article look like? How does a person go about writing one? How does he take screenshots? What tone should she use?
I’m especially excited about this project because of its lasting impact. This training guide can help others for years to come. On top of that, it will impact every procedural and troubleshooting article that will be written in the future. The on boarding guide will be the starting point of all of that. And that feels amazing.
I love working remotely as a tech writer for Mozilla. I love being able to work from wherever I choose. I also love scheduling my work time around projects. I’ve noticed that there are a few qualities that make for a terrific remote employee:
1. Be self-motivated
When I was a child in school, I begged my teachers to let me hand assignments in early. I would get my work done as soon as possible and I didn’t want anxiety lingering over my head because I hadn’t officially handed the assignment in yet. I’ve kept up this get-it-done-ASAP attitude all throughout my life. Having this quality is essential for being a remote employee. No coworker will hover over you physically to get the job done. Do it yourself.
2. Don’t Get Too Lonely Too Easily
Remote work is perfect for introverts who love to work on their own. A remote employee won’t have coworkers to talk to in person every day. However, this makes it extra important to know how non-social you can be. Although I have a home office, I go nuts if I stay there all day every day. So I go to a local town center with a Starbucks and a library to get work done with other people present. I also have a few supportive friends I see on weekends. I can be alone at the moment without being completely alone.
3. Get in the Working Zone
I gave myself a few rules. Work in your office or occasionally the kitchen or den, but NOT your bedroom. Working in a sleeping space can be stifling. Many blogs and articles tout the idea of “working in your pajamas.” Don’t follow that advice. Getting ready in day clothes perks you up and tells your mind that it’s time to work.
Being able to do this is essential for being a remote employee. It’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for me.
In early December, I attended Mozlando, Mozilla’s biannual conference for its most dedicated Mozillians. I was so honored to be a part of the event. Because it is an all-expense paid for trip with a limited number of spots, Mozilla has to be selective about choosing their most dedicated team members to come. And I, a total, newbie, got to attend. Here are the top five best things I experienced at the conference.
#1: Meeting 1100 new people
There were over 1100 attendants from all around the world at Mozlando, all there for a general purpose: to work with Mozilla products and engage in Mozilla’s activism. I met people from Vienna, Spain, Germany, Poland, Paris, India, and Brazil, just to name a few corners of the globe.
#2 Being with a small team that embraced me
Ok, I didn’t meet all 1100 people. That would have been overwhelming and not entirely possible. But I did spend most of my time with the SUMO team, the approximately ten most active people behind Mozilla Support. It was scary as this team had been communicating with each other online for months and even years. How would they approach the new girl? With a warm welcome and lots of encouragement. That’s how. One London based member was particularly helpful and encouraging, giving me fantastic life advice and swapping stories about his home city. By the end of the week, I felt a part of a Mozilla family, not just a team.
#3 Getting to know the company culture
I admit that I didn’t know a whole lot about Mozilla before I came. My mentor told me to use the experience to soak up the company culture and find out what Mozilla is all about. That’s exactly what I did. Mozilla isn’t like most tech companies. While a portion of their work is devoted to products like Firefox, a huge part of their mission is activism on the web with privacy, net neutrality, gender equality, and more. They don’t just create Open Source products. They also create a better web.
#4 Having fun
I spent a lot of time in Epcot, a Disney park devoted to celebrating countries around the world. On my first night at the parks, I had dinner with several teams in a Moroccan restaurant. I also explored the different country-based pavilions like France, the UK, and Germany. One night Mozilla held an amazing party with dinner from each of the different cultural pavilions. One station had Indian food while another had Mexican. On stage, Chinese acrobats and Irish step dancers performed.
Mozlando was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t give up for anything.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.