I have gotten a lot of questions wondering how I became a Technical Writer. I decided to create this blog post to answer everyone all-at-once. Also, for future people who are trying to get into technical writing and want to know how. Here it goes:
Pre-Technical Writing Days
Before I started, I had been in IT since I was 17. Well, I was already in IT in a way. My mother was a Computer Specialist working for the Department of Defense, and I would spend hours with her checking code and database tables while my sisters played. For some reason, I found that fascinating even as a kid. When the Internet started becoming big, I was about 15 or 16. I loved chatting with people on different chat rooms, playing multiplayer games (back then it was just using keyboard commands), and creating ugly websites (hey, I learned HTML like this).
At 17, I started working at Errol’s Internet. Remember them? It was pre-T1 lines. I was working in help desk, and that meant having to troubleshoot computer issues that people would have connecting to the Internet. I quickly became tier-2 support. I love, LOVE computers. People? Not so much. I knew that computers would be in my future. This is when I decided to major in Computer Science and become a Computer Developer. While attending classes, I felt like something was missing. I just couldn’t pinpoint it. It wasn’t until I became pregnant with my son that I started doing some soul-searching. I asked myself: What is it that you really want out of life? What are you passionate about?
Writing! When I was younger, my sister and I would write stories even when it was sunny outside. I knew that whatever I did, I had to write. The only problem was that I was a horrible writer. I still decided to transfer from Computer Science to English.
Getting Into Technical Writing
You would think that my English classes would be way easier than my Computer ones. Let me tell you, they weren’t. My English professors would always return my papers where all you would see was red ink all over each page. They would tell me that I had to work on this and that. It was really hard for me, and I started to doubt myself. Could I really do this? It didn’t help that I had a baby to take care of, sleeping about three hours a night, and stressed out of my mind. Even then, I didn’t give up. I would always tell myself, “This is just temporary” over and over again. I knew that I had to continue. The professors helped me tremendously after I spoke to each of them. Talk to your professors. They are there to help you. There was one thing though. I missed coding.
I did a search (back then it was Altavista and Yahoo), and I found this book called The Writer’s Handbook (doesn’t seem they make it anymore). In it, it has every job you can get with an English degree. For a week, I read in detail about every job position. It wasn’t until I got to “Technical Writer” that I stopped. I knew I had found my calling. Technical writing combines writing and technology. What more could I ask for?
At the time, I was working as a System Administrator at this IT company, and I became acquainted with the Sr. Technical Writer there. I asked if he could take the time to sit with me to talk about technical writing. He graciously did. Do not be afraid to reach out to people who are established in the field you want to get into. More often than not, they will. He told me to keep writing because practice makes perfect, and that I should not let anyone deter me from what I wanted to do.
After we talked, I knew 100% that was what I wanted to do. Even though my job position was “System Administrator,” I didn’t let that stop me. I wrote help desk documentation without my manager asking me to, and I presented it to him. These were the ones that we started giving to the users. I decided to help with project management materials and help the technical writing group. I had become a Jr. Technical Writer overnight. A little time later, I started looking at different job posting sites, and all of them wanted someone with one to three years professional experience. How could I get that if no one wanted me to give me a chance? Also, I was still not the greatest writer.
This is when I started blogging. Even till this day, I am an avid blogger. Something that I know is that I will never stop blogging. When I got my degree, I got an internship at a think tank as a Research Associate. I researched and helped write analytical pieces that were presented to Congress. This is where I developed my research skills. As a Writer, you are always going to start with research, so definitely learn how to do it. I also was volunteering my writing services to different non-profit organizations that couldn’t afford a Grant Writer, and I’m glad that I did because it was a wonderful experience. I also helped with their copywriting and web content writing. After doing this for a couple of years, I decided to go out there and try to get a job as a Technical Writer. In a couple of weeks, I got my first technical writing job.
Finally a Technical Writer
Even when I finally achieved becoming a Technical Writer, I didn’t stop learning. I would volunteer to help the project management team, proposal writing team, and requirements team. This is when I learned about the different documentation, and how to create each one. Never stop learning. Don’t say, “That isn’t part of my job description.” I’ve heard that a few times from different technical writers, and I always wants to say to them “Really?!” Technical Writers can do anything, and the ones who continue to learn, are the ones who eventually rise above the rest. Even now, I’m still learning. I have done work as a Requirements Analyst, Trainer, Project Lead, Tester, and the list keeps going. I also have bought tons of books on writing. It has definitely helped my technical writing because I understand what I’m writing about.
If technical writing is what you are passionate about, go for it. Don’t let people sway you from not doing it. In the end, it’s what is going to make you happy, and not them.