DID you know that every time a new product is launched, the job prospect of a tech writer goes up? After all, what purpose will a software or a product serve without a user manual? As hundreds of gadgets and other products hit the market every year, the job opportunities for this breed of writers only go up.
A survey conducted by the portal careercast ranks technical writing at 13 among the top best jobs in 2010. According to Markarand Pandit, MD & Principal Trainer, Technowrites Pvt. Ltd., around 15,000-17,000 technical writers are said to be working across India.
Ajay Narang a technical writer with BNY Mellon, longed to be a writer, and moonlighted as a freelance journalist whilst in college. While pursuing a DNIIT course, his faculty told him that to be a technical writer one should have a thorough knowledge of technology. Three years after graduation, he began his career as a technical writer because he is passionate about explaining technology, using the written word.
What technical writers do?
A technical writer converts technical jargon into a simple and easy-to understand format, which can be understood by a lay person. He can work in diverse fields including computer software and hardware, automobile, aerospace, biotechnology, and consumer electronics.
A technical writer creates and updates product specifications, user manuals, reference manuals, white papers, collaterals and other supported documents. For each product release, the technical writer has to get involved in writing release notes and installation guides. During the documents’ life cycle, writers help the lead/manager in analysis, planning, and scheduling the entire project.
Skill sets for a technical writer
- The ideal candidate must have good writing skills and the ability to write in clear, concise and correct language.
- A good technical writer should be a quick learner to understand the subject and turn it into documents in easy-to-understand language.
- The technical writer should know the audience before creating the document and think like the audience to create a user-friendly document.
- He/she should have interviewing and listening skills to interact with experts to gather necessary information.
- Computer skills are a must.
- It is mandatory that technical writers have the ability to work in teams.
Find your eligibility
A graduation in any subject is the minimum qualification. Also, those with degrees or postgraduation in different subjects including engineering, pharmaceutical and so on, can find jobs as technical writers in their respective fields. And more than any degree, the ability to write well is what counts for the first break.
Institutes and placements
Shampa Bhattacharyya who worked as a technical writer in India feels that on-the-job training can keep one going in the industry. Keeping updated on what’s new in the field and browsing through articles on Society of Technical Communication web site and following discussions on different technical writing groups, can help a technical writer. But if you are dreaming big, you may (like her), probably have to pursue a course in a technical institution. Since there aren’t university courses, people like her move abroad.
Shampa is now pursuing a Master’s in technical communication at Michigan Technological University. She says, “I was looking for a degree that will give me a good theoretical knowledge in communication and rhetoric which definitely comes handy while working on a challenging project where you need to perform more than one role and interact with people from diverse backgrounds. Also, having a Master’s degree in your field of work gives you an edge.” If you want to learn in India, there are a handful of institutes that offer full-time, part-time and online courses.
Technowrites has a highly job-oriented course, which includes 12 live assignments. The students thus get the opportunity to work on projects for companies.Often those companies absorb some of these students. Also, some firms conduct written test for Technowrites students. Most often, they are asked to write an article or document after studying a topic. If the firm is looking for a candidate with technical communication tools skills, he may be asked to take a test for the tools like RoboHelp. Markarand Pandit, says, “The type of test depends on the requirement of the companies – it could be a written test to test writing skills or tool skills.”
Students can also apply for jobs at other companies including attending walk-in-interviews while doing the course, as they have samples to share and show off as their portfolio. For these reasons, 25 percent of the students find a job during the course and within 3 months above 50 percent are placed in companies. Pandit adds, “Though I strongly believe 100 percent of our students are placed, only around 80 percent of them us about their job status. Companies that have recruited our students include IT, manufacturing and government companies.”
Salary levels vary upon industry, experience of a person and the firm. These figures are also indicative and are subject to change.
- Entry-level/ Junior technical writer – Rs.15, 000 – Rs.20, 000 per month.
- Senior technical writer - 35,000 – 40,000 per month.
- Documentation Manager/ Architect – 60,000 and above per month.
A technical writer can start his career as a trainee or junior technical writer. In 2-3 years, he can become a senior technical writer. It takes another couple of years to be a team leader of technical writing. With around 6-8 years of experience, you can be a documentation manager or documentation architect.
On the job
A technical writer has the opportunity to work on different domains, products, services and sectors (IT, Engineering, Finance, R&D, Aero and others).
They are never tied to one product or domain throughout their career. “Developers generally know more about the modules in which they are working while technical writers see the complete picture,” says Surag Ramachandran, Principal Technical Writer at Oracle. For Prema V Vibhute, Associate Manager, Comviva Technologies Ltd., the job being not monotonous helps to harness creative skills. Narang feels, “Technical writing is a hassle-free job. Getting the information is slightly hard but once you get it, you have to just get them documented.”
“He or she is also expected to be a product/ technology specialist,” says Pandit. Opportunities in multiple industries open up increased opportunities along with the need to have a good understanding of the domain. Unless the technological experts hand over sufficient information, it is hard to create a well-documented manual. “Documentation is always considered as a thankless job. It is thus essential to educate people about the importance of documentation. And this is the biggest challenge,” says Vibhute. “It’s not a ‘copy paste’ work. It requires creativity, planning, and the ability to explain technical concepts to different audiences. You have to also be tech-savvy,” adds Vibhute.
Finding job opportunities
Job opportunities in technical writing are posted in job portals. “Lots of jobs aren’t advertised in the newspapers. Several opportunities are posted in the mailing lists like TWIN. These lists are free. So, I think any technical writer should be in the network of technical writers. Direct placements are also happening through our institution,” adds Pandit.
Pandit says, around 15,000-17,000 technical writers are working across India and there is further demand for around 60,000 technical writers. “The Industry now expects the candidates to get trained at their own expense. It does not have budgets and time for training resources. Also a lot of jobs are now being offered as contracts,” informs Pandit. He also asks the aspiring technical writers to contribute to the lists and attend conferences, to know more about technical writing and to keep updated.
Institutes in selected Indian cities offer technical writing courses. University courses aren’t heard of in this segment. Ask Aruna Panangipally, Managing Director, ibruk Consulting Pvt Ltd., why Universities aren’t keen on a degree programme and she asks, “Who will teach and what is the viability at the moment?” Technical writing, she says, is a low-key career option, now gradually changing. There is latent demand, and the hi-tech industry prefers engineering graduates who know the domain well.”
Prospective candidates can learn the technical communication tools like Robohelp, Adobe FrameMaker, Pagemaker and Captivate. To sum up, as long as the technology industry is going strong and new products are launched, technical writers will be in demand.
David Suresh Marumudi, Sr. Documentation Engineer, Kernex Microsystems (India) Limited.
|David Suresh Marumudi
Sr. Documentation Engineer, Kernex Microsystems (India) Limited..
Q. What skills does a technical writer require?
A. Technical Writers according to me need lucidity and simplicity to mask sophistication and intricacy. Every Technical Writer is required to peruse the entirety of an entity through close scrutiny and remember to use it at an appropriate place and instance. A shrewd outlook, impeccable observation, tremendous analyzing capability and good learning ability are some of the skills that are essential for a Technical Writer.
Q. With whom do technical writers associate in their daily work routine?
A. Technical writers have to mingle with their colleagues for a better treatment during peer reviews, work and report perfectly to their Team Leads, Module Leads, and Project Leads for effective appraisals. They also have to maintain amicable relations with the SMEs and the clients for the sake of better business prospects. All-in-all Technical Writers are effective communicators in any software organization.
Q. How different is it working for service-based and product-based organisation?
A. Where it is services-based, a Technical Writer will work on multiple documents in a single day. While in a product-based organization a Technical Writer can be assured of working on a single task entirely for a week, month or a year too.