changing from programmer to tech writer (was: Webster Techwriters online course)

Subject: changing from programmer to tech writer (was: Webster Techwriters online course)
From: "Monique Semp" <monique -dot- semp -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "Ben Givens" <bengiv -at- gmail -dot- com>, techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 17:46:19 -0700

Hi Ben,

I don't have any info about the course, but did want to comment about the
career change you're considering. I took the same route: I was a software
developer for a dozen years before switching to tech writing. (And the
switch somewhat coincided with my move to the same Bay Area, assuming you
mean San Francisco Bay.)

What I wanted to comment on is that you may not need to constrain your
search to entry-level positions. Instead, what you can do is look
specifically for API Writing positions. The benefits are many:

* There's typically less emphasis on the more
creative/graphical/tech-writing-tools side (the emphasis is on the
programming/development tools).

* You're already more qualified than most writers to do API doc work
(because you've been a programmer).

* There's not usually an "entry-level" or "senior-level" designation
attached to API doc positions.

* Once you get an API documentation assignment, you can then say you're a
tech writer, and leap-frog past that entry-level point.

My first position was officially as a "Senior API Writer", but of course I
worked on many other tech writing projects, and was able to advance in the
"real tech writing" areas faster than I would have otherwise.

And you didn't ask, but my experience has been that I like tech writing
much more than I liked programming. And by concentrating on API
documentation, I feel I get the best of both worlds: I still get to keep my
fingers in the code (I've used Javadoc and DoxyS, and other tools work
similarly in that the documentation is created from the source code itself,
where you embed the doc comments), especially since my primary client is a
small start-up with not a lot of process. That means that there aren't
really detailed specs to work from, so I have to work my way through the

But at the end of the day, I don't have to stay up until 3 AM trying to
find that errant semi-colon or bad logic. I just document how it's
supposed to work, and then write the Release Notes to explain away the
Known Issues :-).

And on the creative side, I've had a chance to learn all kinds of wonderful
things and tools. Illustrator still baffles me, but I use Visio routinely
to create architecture and flow diagrams, InDesign for page layout, and
FrameMaker for non-API work. You can also put your programmer's analytical
skills to use with those latter two applications if you get into template
design and make it your business to search for plug-ins and tools anytime
you find yourself dealing with annoying repetitious tasks.

So maybe more than you wanted to know, but I consider it on topic.



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