From Academia to technical writing

I’ve been a writer of sorts for around ten years. I love writing, and I consider it almost second nature to me.

Whenever I want to share something, create something, or do something, I start by writing. 

And now I get to do it for a living, which I love. But every time I have to tell someone what I do for a living, I always receive weird looks.

A Technical Writer is “a professional information communicator whose task it is to transfer information (knowledge) between two or more parties.” In startups and software companies, this translates to “the owner of the documentation.”

A Tech Writer is responsible for explaining complex stuff to the developers, the admins, and the end-users. And Tech Writers do so by writing excellent documentation: guides, how-tos, API documentation, references, and whatever document can make life easier for someone.

Tech Writers aim to add value to a product by creating instructions and documents that everyone can follow. Because if your product has a feature, but no one knows how to use it, it has a feature no one will use.

After this quick intro to Tech Writing as a concept, I want to share how I stumbled upon this career path.

The tech writing journey

Before becoming a Tech Writer, I was a part-time professor and researcher at Universidad de Guadalajara. I was finishing my postgraduate studies in Electronics and Computer Science. But when I was starting my studies, Intel contacted me. They asked if I was interested in a position as a Technical Writer in their Guadalajara Campus, given my experience as an editor in several blogs. I said I wanted to finish my studies first. And that was it.

During my studies, I wrote technical papers for scientific journals, helped edit some of my peers’ scientific articles, and enjoyed every part of it. And I sure love the Math behind my research, but I also enjoyed writing.

After several breakdowns and thinking about my future, I decided that success in Academia—at least in Mexico—was not the path I wanted to follow anymore. So I started looking for a job in “the industry,” whatever that meant.

I remembered that Intel contacted me for a Tech Writing position. And I learned that a top-rated software company was hiring Tech Writers. So I applied. And I — luckily — got the job.

I had yet to gain experience as an actual Tech Writer. So the first months were my learning months. I am proud to say that I worked with one of Latin America’s biggest technical writing teams. That became a great learning experience. 

I had to re-learn how to write technical documents because creating excellent documentation differs from creating successful scientific papers.

Becoming a technical writer is one of the most exciting experiences I have had in my life. In addition, working in a software company that successfully implemented bleeding-edge technology and practices in their day-to-day processes is an enriching experience.

(Hopefully, this experience will lead to some of the posts I’ll write here in the near future.)

One of the things I needed to do was figuring out what I needed to learn and what abilities and skills I needed to develop to become a successful Tech Writer. That introspection process helped me understand why my manager had hired me. Because, at the end of the day, only a few skills from Academia translate well to technical writing. But they may be the most important:

  • Curiosity: Wanting to learn more about everything is always a good idea for a technical writer.
  • Learning to learn: Everyone learns differently. If you know how to understand and learn things faster, you can learn complex subjects quicker and translate that knowledge into documentation.
  • Frustration tolerance: Your documents are not failproof. If you have a reviewer or an editor, your documents may get massacred. And that’s good because you’ll learn a lot. But sometimes, that can make you feel frustrated. How many revisions are left? As many as needed.
  • Teaching: A good teacher can translate complex subjects into easily understandable pieces. That’s the whole point of good documentation.

Looking back, it may have been easier for me to become a Technical Writer earlier in life. But learning what I learned in Academia and gaining those soft skills allowed me to become a Tech Writer.

I’m still learning, and I’m still growing as a Technical Writer. But this has become one of the most exciting and fulfilling paths I could have chosen. And I’m thrilled I did.

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