Need career advice. How do I get into technical writing?

TwinkeAliceTwinkeAlice Posts: 1Registered Users ■□□□□□□□□□
Hello everyone.

For the past few months I’ve been looking at computer-related jobs that I could potentially do for a living. One thing that fascinated me for a bit was working my way up to be a Security Engineer: Help Desk Support –> Network Administrator –> Junior Analyst/Engineer –> Senior Analyst/Engineer → Architect –> etc.

It’s a growing field, and “hacking” seemed like a cool thing to do for a career, right? However, just recently I’ve realized that IT security seems like a joke of a field to get into; everyone wants to do it, and you’re just there for compliance. So you can fix hardware when it’s broken, monitor network traffic, run servers at a certain time, review and build security policies, etc. Even if the pay is great, it just seems like it would be a stressful job to work. My social skills aren’t the greatest, either.

So I’ve been looking at alternative careers. One thing appeals to me is Technical Writing because I enjoy writing, and you don't necessarily need the best verbal communication skills. Now…I have no clue how I’d even get in the field. What college degree should I pursue, if any? English or Computer Science (I hate the large amount of math in Computer Science). Should I get any certifications?

I’ve been advised that technical writers need a trade, preferably something related to computers, so I should get IT certifications, such as the A+; however, there seem to be a lot of people with baseline certifications that work a low-end job for 5-10 years making $10 / hour and companies take full advantage of them, which messes up careers in the long run.

Does anyone have any advice? Thank you.

Comments

  • doctorlexusdoctorlexus Posts: 217Member
    I'd say your best bet would be a degree such as comp sci, engineering, etc, and make sure you take courses in technical writing and editing when you get the chance.
  • Danielm7Danielm7 Posts: 2,268Member ■■■■■■■■□□
    My social skills aren’t the greatest, either.

    ... and you don't necessarily need the best verbal communication skills.


    That will be a bigger issue in getting a job than any degrees, certs, etc. If you really want to be a technical writer you should look up some technical writers and see what sort of background they have, maybe talk to them over linkedin? I imagine you'll find tech writing isn't just "writing" in the sense that you'd imagine yourself sitting back comfortably writing about something that interests you for pleasure.
  • TheFORCETheFORCE Senior Member Posts: 2,297Member ■■■■■■■■□□
    Danielm7 wrote: »
    That will be a bigger issue in getting a job than any degrees, certs, etc. If you really want to be a technical writer you should look up some technical writers and see what sort of background they have, maybe talk to them over linkedin? I imagine you'll find tech writing isn't just "writing" in the sense that you'd imagine yourself sitting back comfortably writing about something that interests you for pleasure.

    +1 on that but I would like to add that a lot of technical writers are SME's on the particular subject. Technical writers are asked to write or correct workflows for a particular technology or system so you do need to know what you are talking about and not just writing something. A minor in English would not hurt either. The other thing is that, technical writing is not only about computers, you need technical writers in every industry and sector, you know, some technical writer wrote that manual for your refrigerator and your toaster too :)
  • tedjamestedjames Scruffy-looking nerfherdr Posts: 1,054Member ■■■■■■■□□□
    I worked as a technical writer for close to 20 years. During that time, I also served as a minor UNIX admin, web developer, trainer, etc. My first degree was in architecture, as in building design and construction. I decided to get a second degree in technical writing. My technical writing professors recommended also developing a specialty in a technical field, such as computer science or engineering. Since I had already earned an architecture degree and wanted to work in that area, the specialty was covered. I accepted a job at a medium-sized firm doing design, drafting, spec writing, and desktop publishing. As my interest in computers and software grew, I accepted a job as a technical writer in a software company writing technical reference and training guides for architecture, engineering, and construction software. I also developed some intermediate level UNIX shell scripting and admin skills, which I carried over to my next job in semiconductors writing microcontroller documentation. They really wanted an electrical engineer for this job, but engineers want to do engineering. My boss said that since I had worked in other fields as a writer and had proven that I could be flexible, I could also learn electronics, at least enough to be able to hold my own as an engineering technical writer. Along the way, I was able to use my UNIX skills to help my team. Then I taught myself HTML and web development and created some of my division's first intranet sites. Eventually, I moved into state government and gradually worked myself into a technical writer position in the state's security department, which turned into security program management, which turned into a security analyst position where I am now. About five years ago, I was required to take project management training. My experience as a writer and document developer and security program manager, having to be very organized and complete projects on time, played right into project management. While I don't work as a project manager, I can use all of the skills I've learned over the years to further develop my current career path.

    Some people are content to spend their entire careers as technical writers, communications specialists, etc. Some choose to move into management as their careers progress. Others, like myself, use their experience to transition into other fields. I'm very happy that I found security. I still use my communications/writing/editing/presentation skills. My current boss relies heavily upon me to ensure that all communications coming from our department are accurate and clear.

    To make a long story a little longer, if you really want to work as a technical writer, consider earning a technical writing degree. Forget about technical writing certifications; they are a waste a money and time. If you already have a degree, you should be able to earn a technical writing degree in a year or less, depending on the university. Your local community college may offer an associate degree program in technical writing. If you don't already have a degree, make technical writing your major and then get a minor or second degree in a specialty area such as computer science, security, electronics, etc. I can also recommend taking some graphic design and web development training. Also, don't think that verbal communication is not important. As a technical writer, you will be called upon to write and speak in a clear and concise manner. You may be asked to present research findings to executive management. How can you expect to write clearly if you can't speak clearly? Visual communications (e.g., layout, design, and presentation) are just as important as the written word.

    I've known others that call themselves technical writers and actually write for technical journals. Some write and publish technical instruction manuals, such as third party software guides or Dummies-type books.

    As a technical communicator, you have the potential to work in just about any field. Learn how to communicate and grow your technical skills along the way.
  • UnixGuyUnixGuy SABSA, GCFA, GPEN, CISM, RHCE, Security+, Server+, eJPT, CCNA Posts: 4,049Mod Mod
    @Tedjames: so what did you like about being a technical writer? highlights? pros/cons?
    Goal: MBA, Jan 2021
  • tedjamestedjames Scruffy-looking nerfherdr Posts: 1,054Member ■■■■■■■□□□
    I really liked being able to work in many industries (architecture/construction, software, hardware, gubment) and having the opportunity to learn so many new and interesting things. Technical writing is like a gateway career. I also found it easy to get work, both permanent and contract. A good technical writer is worth his weight in gold. Unfortunately, the pay is not like gold. Also, the attitude toward technical writers at a couple places where I worked was that we were more or less second class since they considered the developers to be the bread and butter of the company. During a six-month technical editing contract at a computer company who shall remain nameless (rhymes with Hell), the group I sat with looked down on me both being an editor (I rewrote a lot of their training materials because their writing sucked and they took it personally) and because I was a contractor.
  • ramrunner800ramrunner800 Posts: 238Member
    I'm not sure where you got your impression of what security is like, but your view of what it is is extremely limited. The way you have described security sounds like you've gotten input from some people working in unpleasant organizations, and who are working in pseudo-security roles (audit, sysadmins, GRC, security "engineers," etc). In my organization the security engineers are the guys who run the technologies used by the operations staff. Security Operations, Incident Response, malware reversing, and pentesting can be very exciting and dynamic. If you're only there for compliance then you need to look for a new position, because there are plenty of organizations out there that have worthwhile missions. I'm also not sure why you think poor social skills would keep you out of infosec, which is a famously(even if it's a bit of a stereotype) anti-social field.

    I work in IR for a large organization, and we have some tech writers on our team. They are all early 20's recent grads with English degrees. Because they do all the writing, they also end up needing to have very good social skills, because they end up giving briefings to executives and visitors, and end up functioning as our PR team as well. They work as hard, if not harder, than the technical folks in the office, but they make between 1/3-1/2 of the salary of an entry level technical team member. A benefit for them is that when they tire of this, management has been willing to hire them as entry level technical team members and train them.
    Currently Studying For: GXPN
  • Danielm7Danielm7 Posts: 2,268Member ■■■■■■■■□□

    I work in IR for a large organization, and we have some tech writers on our team. They are all early 20's recent grads with English degrees. Because they do all the writing, they also end up needing to have very good social skills, because they end up giving briefings to executives and visitors, and end up functioning as our PR team as well. They work as hard, if not harder, than the technical folks in the office, but they make between 1/3-1/2 of the salary of an entry level technical team member. .

    This fits my tech writer to a T, except the works as hard as the technical folks part. I don't say that because I don't value what she does, she just doesn't work all that hard. The issue with the early 20's recent English degree grad is that, in her case, her technical skills are not there. Because of that it takes much longer to explain certain things to her. It's not her job to be super technical but some light background would have helped a lot.
  • kiki162kiki162 Posts: 635Member
    Getting to a technical writing role requires time and experience, and is NOT something you can simply jump into without having a solid IT background in place. We have a lot of marketing folks at my job that "TRY" to write papers and documents, however some of them try so hard that its obvious that they don't have a clue what they are talking about. You really have to embrace and fully understand how something works before you can write about it.

    Another thing to note is that good writing doesn't happen overnight either. You can be a really good SA or NA, and know your stuff, but have a hard time trying to put things down on paper that makes sense AND flows well. It's an "art" that you can pick up over time with the right background and skills. One other thing to mention is that you have to be willing to "jump in" and embrace a topic that you may not fully understand.

    As far as your path, that seems like a reasonable goal. You can certainly get into a Security Engineer/Analyst role after gaining experience as a NA or SA. I would research schools that provide you with classes on Windows and Linux administration. Take a look at this link from UMUC Online Bachelor's Degree in Computer Networks & Cybersecurity | UMUC as this and other schools can help on your journey.
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