Tell me about how to become a remote technical writer
February 28, 2020 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I've been an online journalist, editor and writer for 15 years, working on tech, education and health subjects. Looking for ideas on next steps.

I'm originally from the UK, and when I moved to Canada, I had a couple of newsroom editorial management roles before joining a marketing team at a startup, a position I was miserably suited to, culture-wise, and was laid off from gladly. There's no way back into online journalism, because that's not a career any more.

Working with a career coach, I've found that quiet, focused work, where success is defined as being precise and clear rather obtaining the most retweets, suits me quite well. I've never worked in programming, but always been adjacent to it and used Python and JS to automate some of my work. I completed a data analytics course a couple of years ago, and technical writing seems to fit with my skillset and personality.

And given some life changes that may be coming up, and some family circumstances (including a kid with special needs), remote work would be ideal. I enjoy working with people and communicate very well over text and video call, but I bounce quite hard off general office culture and meetings. Most of my important relationships started through a screen.

What are some good next steps? Contributing to OSS projects to get a portfolio? Polishing up my GitHub? Learn MadCap Flare? Where should I network? I've just started applying for these kinds of roles, but hoping to get some more traction.

I'm 40, and in Toronto, if either of those things matter. Thanks.
posted by rpophessagr to Work & Money (2 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
A portfolio should help. When I hire tech writers, I look for evidence that they can write clearly and concisely about technical subjects in a style that suits a technical audience. I especially look for well-written task documentation.

Read some of the seminal books on modern tech writing, like Every Page is Page One. See if you can get a freelance gig or two that will contribute to your portfolio. Go to local tech writing meetups and make contacts -- I like Write the Docs more than I like the Society for Technical Communication, but either or both will help.

Feel free to memail me if you have more questions :)
posted by woodvine at 9:45 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


I am a technical writer and I hire technical writers. I suggest that you take a couple of introductory technical communication classes. Most university continuing education departments offer certificate programs and you can usually take individual classes without committing to the whole certificate program. These are a great way to learn the basics and, perhaps more importantly, get to spend some time with people in the field. When I took classes, the students were a mix of hopeful TWs and already working TWs, and the classes were taught by mid and late career TWs. I got my first technical writing job from a classmate, and two instructors gave me great references. I know you like remote stuff, but I think in-person classes work best for this.

As for getting a remote job, you might want to look for local onsite positions at companies that are work at home friendly. This is my current set-up and I love it. I work at home 2-3 days a week and in the office the rest of the time. How much time I spend at each location is entirely up to me. As long as I communicate with my team and my work gets done, no one cares where I'm sitting while I do it.

Write the Docs is great. STC doesn't seem so relevant these days, at least not here in Vancouver.

And get familiar with API documentation! It's hard to find API writers. If you get really good with APIs, let me know - we have a Toronto office and are WAH-friendly.
posted by subluxor at 12:43 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


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