Online Mentoring

It’s nice to know when this blog is working as intended. In addition to the readership, which has been growing steadily, one sign that I’m reaching my target audience is that I’m getting occasional emails from young people seeking career advice about entering the technical communication field. I just received another of those emails yesterday.

The young man who contacted me is working on a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in English and was asking about the utility of pursuing a graduate certificate in technical writing. He was also interested in any further advice I might have regarding improving his marketability in the job hunt. My response is below. If there’s one piece of advice I’d add, it would be to develop a solid network of peers, mentors, and professionals as you do your work well. Knowing a bunch of people doesn’t do you much good if they also know you to be a shoddy worker. Onward!

Good morning!

Okay, now that I’ve had sleep and some caffeine, I can respond a little more coherently.

So you want to be a professional technical writer. Good for you! I see that you “speak” C++ and Java. You’ve got an advantage over me, as I’m allergic to coding. X-) Given that advantage and your interests, I’d say you’ll be in a good position to find work in your chosen field, even without a technical writing certificate. The certificate wouldn’t hurt, I suppose, but you might want to check your career options before spending money on education you don’t need. I got a master’s degree in tech writing because I needed to prove to the rocket scientists that I was serious as a technical communicator, and writing letters for Disney World while having a B.A. in English Literature was not going to cut it.

Re: job hunting marketability

Start a portfolio of your projects–the good ones, of course–and polish up others that you can add to the mix to show that you have experience writing specific types of documents: design documents, technical requirements, interface descriptions, and so forth.

The big battle technical communicators are facing right now is that companies are still in a downsizing mood. They’d rather hire “an engineer who can write” rather than an English major with a flair for communicating clearly about technology. So, again, you’re ahead of me on that score. My day-job work for the last 8 years has been in a very narrow niche: technical and outreach writing for space and rocket propulsion engineering. The way I earned credibility in the aerospace field (besides getting the M.A.) was by doing a lot of extracurricular writing in my topic of choice, space exploration. So if you are looking for things to beef up your resume, I’d go in that direction. Is there a computer or coding club by you? Perhaps you could volunteer to help them write their documentation. Are there computer people or other techies who are trying to start a business? Find out if they need help writing their business plan. Diversity is helpful because it can lead to other work.

Most of my work is in proposal and marketing/outreach writing. I am not a documentation writer because that stuff bores me a little. I AM passionate about helping bright people get their messages out and their products/ideas sold. If I had one final bit of advice for you, it would be to get clear about what type of work you like to do. My blog is full of articles on such things, so I encourage you to review that as well. It covers anything from future markets for tech writing to what size company provides the best working environment. Speaking of the blog, I might post this note on my blog, since you’re not the first person to query me for advice. There are no big secrets here, so I hope you don’t mind.

Good luck to you, and keep me posted on your progress. Thanks again for contacting me.


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in careers, education, mentoring, technical writing, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.