Changing Career (to and from Technical Writing)

This is an excerpt from my book “Technical Writing” published in 2008.

Changing Careers to Technical Writing

You may currently be be doing something else and want to take up technical writing as your career. In this case, you are not only changing your job, but you career as well. Even though you are unhappy with the current job, the very thought of change is unnerving. If you are making a switch only because of some minor problems you are facing in your current job, you should look for the solutions to the problems. Else, you may have time only to run away from problems.

If you are considering changing careers, you may have some concerns if you are not really aware of the job profile. Any change is scary, and changing careers is even scarier. Once you have decided to move on to technical writing, first start by putting together a perfect resume. You may have to underplay some of your existing talents, experience, and skills and overplay a few others that are specific to this field.

  • Some Concerns

As a person with some work experience (though not related to this field), you may have a few concerns (in a random order):

    • The first concern may probably be whether you would like the work. You may fear that you may not like the job profile, the responsibilities, the work atmosphere, the corporate culture, or the that you might find it boring or not stimulating enough.
    • Another major concern is regarding the salary. Since you enter this field as a newcomer, chances are you might earn less than what you presently earn. On the other hand chances are that you might earn more than your current salary.
    • You may also worry about losing out on benefits that you currently enjoy
  • Still Concerned?

If these issues don’t bother you, it means that you are ready for the change. You can now focus on other factors that will help you to prepare yourself for this change:

    • Understand the concepts of technical writing, the tools used, and other things related to this field so that you can converse logically and intelligently.
    • Take a look at a few manuals to understand how they are written, organized, and formatted.
    • Understand why and how certain things are done (e.g., consistency in the documents)
  • Previous Experience

A commonly asked question is I have x years experience in abcd field. Why do I have to join as a trainee or as a junior writer? Simple! It is because you will be learning the basics of the job just as the others. The same amount of time and effort will have to be dedicated to you for training (the concepts, writing styles, processes, procedures, tools, etc.).

This is even more evident if the work experience you have is in no way related to writing (instructional designing, content writing, etc.). Any previous experience will be valid in terms of the soft skills (team spirit, communication, leadership qualities, etc.) which will help you to get faster promotions if you are a good technical writer. Use the non-related work experience for climbing up the professional ladder, not to be close to the top of the ladder when you enter the profession.

In a senior position, you are expected to make important decisions about the project, which can make or break a project. Relevant experience helps in making the right decision at critical stages of the project. Making wrong decisions, when you consciously think that you are right may cause a critical situation! If you strongly feel that the prior experience is of extreme importance to you, you should probably continue in the same field. If you have decided to change careers and move on from your present field to become a technical writer, then think of yourself as one. This will help you move forward with a clarity of thought.

Changing Careers from Technical Writing

The question is how many people are content being a technical writer? Do they see themselves being technical writers for the rest of their working lives, or do they hope to move into another field or into management category? There are numerous instances where in technical writers with over 10 years experience are still senior writers or team leaders. This does not mean that they are not good at their work.

This happens due to lack of the right opportunity, lack of organizational requirement, or even the organizational policies. These writers don’t mind the designation as very often they are paid well for their skills, knowledge, expertise, and experience. Many of them earn more than what a documentation manager with similar or lesser experience might earn. If you are a motivated individual, you can find a lot of opportunities to grow in the area of technical writing.

Actually, the designation makes no sense here—it is all in the mind. But again, this is a very personal perspective. Before asking what next ask, yourself the following questions?

  • Do you know your responsibilities as a technical writer?
  • Did you identify areas where you wanted to improve?
  • Have you set goals for yourself|long term and short term?
  •  Have you learned from your mistakes?
  • Have you found solutions for all the problems you have faced?
  • Did you gain the respect of people in your team and other teams you work with?
  • Do the others feel that you are a dependable and/or responsible team person?
  • Do the others see you as a valuable member of the team?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, ask yourself why do you feel the need to switch careers or move out of the organization? If you feel that you still have a long way to go, first try to achieve the goals to overcome them and then ask yourself what next?

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