Building a network in technical communication despite location
May 2, 2015 10:20 PM   Subscribe

Do you think I can build a network and find a job in technical communication despite living in the country with no STC chapter? My foundation is decent: an English degree and current technical job. Said job has few technical writing roles, and none available for the foreseeable future. More inside.

Do you think I can build a network and find a job in technical communication, given the following information? I live in the country, and Louisiana doesn’t have an STC chapter; Houston is the closest one. My foundation is decent: an English degree and current technical job (which I am being vague about so word doesn't get out that I'm looking elsewhere). Said job has few technical writing roles, and none available for the foreseeable future. Throwaway email:

I really want to get in touch with established writers (especially in and around Baton Rouge and New Orleans) and learn everything I can about this field. I’m also wondering about opportunities in Houston, Austin, or Atlanta*. Specifically, what kinds of technical communication work can be found there (computer software, engineering, healthcare, etc.)? My area of interest is computer software.
* Because I am seeking an entry level job, I am willing to consider other places and subject matter to get into the field.

Would I benefit from going to the summit in Ohio this year? (I’m already an STC member.) It seems like a prime opportunity for networking. How can I maximize the experience?

And what about the internet? I have a LinkedIn profile but have hesitated to approach people, partly because I don’t know them in real life. How does one approach forum users or blog commenters? Any recommendations for active online groups?

Finally, once you’ve made connections, how do you keep the network strong?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (1 answer total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You don't need to live in a place with an STC chapter to network or to find an entry-level job. When I started out in tech writing, I lived in a city with large, active STC chapter; now I live in a part of Europe where there's effectively no STC presence, and I network much more than before, thanks to the internet.

However, if you have the time and the budget, it certainly wouldn't hurt to go to the STC summit. You might be able to make some connections and get some business cards (don't be me and show up to a conference with no cards!). And of course, you'll get the benefit of attending the sessions and hearing the speakers.

Personally, I find that it's easier to make initial contact and to keep conversations going with people online. Regular interaction on Twitter and on blogs helps keep your name in people's minds, especially if you have niche interests or skills. The online world of English-language tech writing is small, and it's not too hard to get name recognition if you give it time.

I recommend that you:

* Create a Twitter account with your real name. Be sure your bio says that you're interested in a career in tech writing. Follow the big-name tech writing bloggers: @sharonburton, @Flacke, @ellispratt, @sarahmaddox, @tomjohnson, @mbakeranalecta, and @sarahokeefe, to name a few. Also follow the STC summit speakers.

* Start reading the blogs of those above, as well as Tech Whirl. Comment on their blogs when you can; personally, that has led to my best networking results.

* Retweet things in the #techcomm tag and share posts by the above bloggers. Also, explore tags like #contentmanagement and #userassistance. I also like to share general tech articles that I'm interested in, so my feed is more than just the same stuff that everyone else is tweeting. I find that it helps you gain followers if you often share articles in a few specific areas of interest; like a methodology (Agile, DevOps, etc.), an industry (aerospace, telecomm, etc.), or a hot topic (women in tech, kids who code, internet of things, etc.).

* Don't be afraid to reply to people's tweets, even if they have a lot more followers than you do. This one is hard for me! But if you have something to say, throw it out there. There's no shame if you reply to a tweet and don't get follow-up from the original poster. That's just the nature of Twitter.

* Join the STC and Technical Writing & Content Management LinkedIn groups; they're fairly active. Also, you might join TW in AE if you're interested in Agile. Comment on group discussions when you can. I'd also join Technical Writer in Action and Technical Writer; neither is as active as it used to be, but the old discussions are interesting, and it's good to have them on your profile.

* Join the Tech Writing World forum. There are still people posting there, though it seems like there aren't many people replying. You might be able to establish some connections by replying to posts.

Personally, I wouldn't approach anyone individually on LinkedIn unless we'd already had a one-on-one conversation somewhere else (like on a blog or via email) or met in person. Connecting on LinkedIn feels more personal to me than simply following on Twitter.

Good luck! Feel free to send me a MeFiMail if you have more questions.
posted by neushoorn at 11:44 PM on May 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

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