Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

During the course of my annual end of the year home office clean, I came across some meeting notes from my last job hunt in 2016. It got me thinking about the current state of the technical writer profession.

Many senior technical writers are driven into contracting. Yet, there is are still technical writers that havenever taken such risks. Every technical writer needs to spend some time as a W2 and independent contractor. They also need to publish original work to expand their own horizons beyond font fondling.

In no particular order, here are five things I believe every technical writer needs to experience during their career:

  1. Publish an original work in a national technology publication or on an Industry Web site. There are too many technical writers who have never written original technical content. Even fewer have published an original work. That’s shameful. While yes, there are times every technical writer has to work from SME authored drafts and other source material, a technical writer should be able to write technical documents from scratch. A bylined article or articles or even book credits are big differentiators. The idiot as a user advocate is a myth
  2. Wear more than one hat. The things that excite technical writers rarely get a rise out of programmers and no more than a blank stare from many IT managers. There are some things that technical writers need to worry about for themselves. I propose that technical writers need to wear more than one hat in their career. Whether it be managing the team’s SharePoint site; delving further into requirements analysis and business processes; becoming involved further in application testing; or managing the team’s resource pooling or project schedule using Microsoft Project. There is more value a technical writer can add past technical writing and editing.
  3. Work as an Agency Contractor on a W2. Whether a contractor interviewing for a FTE position is going to stay around seems to be a question tree huggers and FTEs harp on when interviewing contractors for full-time positions. They need to understand that contractors are more akin to their employers versus the full-time employee Working as a W2 contractor will help technical writers experience a different business model where they aren’t an employee and there is no career development or coddling outside of how the contractor markets themselves. They can also learn how to work independently and become more project focused.
  4. Work as an Independent Contractor. Much in the same I stated above. Yet, you get the added responsibilities of managing a business including getting paid. You also have to manage client expectations and relationships means a technical writer working as an independent contractor is going to learn a lot. They can also get some business education while working as an independent contractor. Contracting whether on a W2 or as an independent on 1099 is about taking risks.
  5. Experience Unemployment. A person’s mortgage, car payment, and other bills don’t discriminate whether they get paid from contract or full-time employment. The current economic apocalypse means the game is changing in the information technology industry and not just for technical writers. Today’s times mean that contractors and FTEs may need to cross the lines to continue earning and further their career growth.

My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

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