Job Title: Technical Writer
Type of Company: My company makes internet-based software applications for the medical industry.
Education: BA in Computer Science, Brandeis University MS in Computer Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Previous Experience: During college, I was a QA engineer for a computer manufacturer. After I completed school, I was a systems engineer for a large telecommunications company. I also worked as an editor for a magazine publishing company and a manager at a web development company.
Job Tasks: My job includes many responsibilities commonly associated with technical writing. For example, I designed an online help system for our company's application, and I write user guides and other documentation to aid people in using the application. I also develop interactive training materials to make it easier for new users to learn the application.
However, my job also involves many other duties, as well. I develop prototypes to help programmers develop new features for our application. I create sales demos to help our sales people gain new customers. I help maintain my company's corporate web site.
Whereas many technical writers often only get involved once a product nears completion, I am often involved in the entire development process and can help shape the design of the end product.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is that I get to work on a wide variety of tasks. I'm always doing something new and never get bored. I get to work with a lot of different people in different departments: development, marketing, sales, etc. However, I get to work independently on my own tasks, whether it is creating a user guide or a training demo. At the end of the day, I can hold up a finished piece and say, "I did that."
The worst part of my job is that documentation is often not considered an integral part of the product development process. It is looked on as an adjunct the the real product. Also, programmers often dumb down their explanations when you ask them questions because they think you won't understand the answer.
1. If you are going to be a technical writer in the software industry, I would recommend taking some courses in HTML, web design, and programming. The more technical you are, the more ways there are that you can contribute to your organization. With more and more documentation going on line, having good writing skills and knowing how to use word processing programs is not enough.
1. Make technology a part of your everyday life. Be a user of new internet technologies, and if you see something interesting on the web, try to figure out how it works. Does it use Flash or AJAX? Does it work in different browsers or on different devices? Part if being a technical writer is knowing the different media you can use to deliver a message to the user.
3. If technical writing is a career you might be interested in, you can investigate schools that have technical writing programs. However, companies are more interested in the overall package of skills you can bring with you. If you have good communication and technical skills, you can become a good technical writer, regardless of what degree you have.
Additional Thoughts: What has surprised me the most about technical writing is how broad the field has become. When I started in this field, in the mid-90s, tech writing was mostly about writing paper manuals, but with the explosion of the internet and related technologies, many new ways of helping users are now available.
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