With varying backgrounds, two technical writers told us how they entered the technical writing field and then gave us some advice so that newcomers to the field can follow in their footsteps.
While Rachel Lithman, a technical writer at NetApp, transitioned into her career as a technical writer later in her career, Gideon Brookins, a senior technical writer at Extreme Networks, started his technical writing career directly out of college. Rachel worked as a teacher, teaching English as a Second Language and French before getting her certification in technical writing from Duke University in 2019. Gideon went right into the workforce after he achieved his master’s degree in Technical Administration in 2012.
Rachel stated, “I didn’t know the career even existed or I might have gone this route a long time ago.” In finding Rachel’s current position, which she has been at for approximately 10 months now, she credits her fearlessness in asking questions about what it took to become a technical writer to those already in the field, along with getting the necessary qualifications.
So far Rachel has enjoyed her new career. She enjoys the challenges that come with learning new content and writing about it in a way that is accessible and simple to the user. Like with any job, there are drawbacks to technical writing, especially when it comes to waiting for feedback on a document or tracking down the right people to gain the right information. But, as Gideon says, it is always enjoyable when everything comes together to produce the end result: “I really like getting into a groove when I have all the source material I need to write procedures, edit graphics and make clear choices that benefit the end user.”
Gideon always felt like a confident and capable writer in academic settings. “I appreciated the strength of words, but I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of career prospects,” he said. When Gideon took a professional writing class, he saw how he could turn what he enjoyed doing into a career. He also received encouragement from his instructors at UNCW’s Professional Writing Program, where he received his undergraduate degree in 2010. Gideon says that he has stayed in the industry because of the demand for people with skills like his. “The field is competitive, but there’s no shortage of companies with innovative products or services that require the expertise of a technical writer.”
So what was their advice that they would give to newcomers to the field?
Rachel encourages those transitioning into this field to not give up.
- Be persistent and get involved.
- Learn what technical writers do and learn their lingo.
- Leverage skills you’ve got to enhance your resume and interview.
Gideon believes being a good writer and having a curious nature are two qualities that will help those transitioning succeed in this industry.
- Have the ability to absorb a lot of technical information, but understand what’s pertinent.
- Be curious about the technology you are writing about.
- Attend technical conferences and add different writing and design tools to your skillset.
- Volunteer to help coworkers and friends with their writing and editing.
David Pollard was born and raised in Chicago and graduated with a degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. For over two decades he’s worked as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, Indiana, Ohio and in Beijing, China. He currently resides in Hope Mills, North Carolina and enjoys long walks, spending time with family, and rooting for the Chicago Bears.
Since becoming a member of the North Carolina chapter of of Society for Technical Communication three months ago, he has been welcomed to the organization with open arms from its membership. He’s also been lucky enough to become a part of the chapter’s Mentorship Program, which pairs newcomers, like David, to professionals in the field of technical writing. Since the start of the program he has been paired with Larry Kunz, lead technical writer at Extreme Networks in Raleigh. David said Larry has been a very good mentor and has been a valuable resource as he works to transition into becoming a technical writer.