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Technical Writing as a profession or a Brand Booster
02:30 - Getting hired as a Technical Writer 04:40 - How to explore Technical Writing 07:30 - Addressing the writer's block 09:00 - Technical Writing stifles creativity? 11:20 - Find a mentor 12:30 - Find your passion 13:40 - Get Hands-On
You can do technical writing to boost your brand. You can review technology and trends. You can shape opinions and possibilities. You can influence adoption of new products and services even if your day job is something else.
Technical writing is a full-time profession too, for many. The average annual american wage for a technical writer is 75K. For every 15 or so coding jobs, there is a technical writer. It could be you.
Nibu Thomas’ talks about how you can prepare for this. Practical and down-to-earth meets creativity and expressed passion in Nibu. He is an associate director at WhatFix – a startup that provides bolt-on in-app digital experiences to ease technology challenges in the enterprise world.
Brij – This is the ready to work podcast. Are you friends with the written word? Can you simplify and explain things? If you also understand technology in addition to this then technical writing is a profession possibility for you.
Technical writers prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, general articles and all other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily.
The average wage for a technical writer in US is 75K USD a year and industry is projected to grow at 7% for the next several years. As a rough rule of thumb for every 15 or so coding jobs there is always going to be one technical writer’s job.
For many technical writing will not be an either-or choice. You could code and write as well, to stand apart from the crowd.
Before we dive deep into the world of creative expression and marry it off to technology, we do want to say that college is a great time to explore things before you dive in deeper and specialise. When you are in college you do not have to make financial choices around your exploration decisions. Every thing is mostly free. it is a great time to explore things than can possibly work for you and give you an edge. Maybe also recognition.
Nibu, welcome to this episode.
Nibu (2:20) – an honour to be part of your podcast.
Brij – Nibu you hire technical writers all the time. What do you look for in a technical writer?
Nibu (2:30) – We are always looking to hire people who are better than us. We are looking for exceptional people. but finding exceptional people is not always easy. So what I look for is exceptional moments in people that we can work on. I look for people who are trainable. They need to come with a certain amount of good communication skills. They need to articulate well. Because technical writing is about being able to understand something and then being able to translate that into a language that can be easily consumed. They need to love technology. They should not be averse to learning a little bit of code. They need to have displayed some kind of affinity to writing. Which means, you need to have written blogs or this is something you are passionate about and you would do even if you didn’t get paid for it. Only then can you really make a dent in this particular field.
One hire that I made – a fresher – he did not fare very great in academics. But, what I really loved was his exceptional moment – he had created an infographic resume. It was very pictorial. And, he did something else. He looked at our support site and identified small issues. Like you know, certain UI was not bolded. Or there was a typo. And he did more than what was expected. That was the spark I looked at in him. When I am looking for writers, I am looking at – what can I learn from you? That is a primary question I ask myself. When I look at the resume as well, it needs to sell. In the first 5-6 seconds, I should see what it is that you bring to the table. Everybody is looking for a job. But, if you say that you are looking for a job, how do you differentiate your resume with the 100s and 1000s of resumes?
Brij (4;40) – if you can’t explain yourself, then how you will explain other things.
If I am just out of college, what should I do to explore technical writing as a future career option for myself?
Nibu (5:00) – My daughter always wanted to be a vet. She loves animals. We have a small farm where we have cows, goats, ducks. She was very fascinated with animals and wanted to do something with animals. She said, I will be a vet. Then one day, she saw what a vet actually does (laughs). That stopped her. She never wanted to be a vet after that.
If you are fresh in college the first step would be to talk to somebody who is already doing this. Take their opinions. Understand what they do in day-to-day life.
Brij – Get your hands wet!
Nibu (5:50) – Otherwise you will be like my daughter. Somehow you get in and then reality sets in. Is this what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life? Doesn’t look so interesting!
You can build a portfolio. If you want to be in technical writing – the writing part is critical. Technology can always be learnt if you have a reasonable ability to learn. But you have to prove to the hiring manager that you would write – even otherwise. That is what you need to focus on.
You may say that you don’t have anything to write about. Which is not true. You have lived a life for 18 or 22 years – whatever. And, this is what you bring to the table. Like for example, I have a blog where I have taught my daughter how to cycle. There were some insights there. Like balance. Where is it? Is it on the seat where you are sitting? Or is it in your hands? The way that you navigate the handlebar. That is where you learn your balance. So, if you know how to cycle, you can easily create a blog about how to cycle. So it can be the simplest things that you can think of. It does not have to be software.
And talking about software, most software – they give you trial versions. Download a software and talk about it like you are explaining that to somebody who is new to that particular software – how would you explain it to them? How would you go about it?
Brij (7:30) So on one side there is initiative and passion that I should be able to demonstrate, but I want to write and I keep getting the writer’s block all the time .. what should I do?
Nibu (7:50) – writer’s block – it could happen. For me, it is not a problem because the way I think about it is I go on questioning ‘why’. Why do people get writer’s block? I think about – when I am writing something where does the idea originate from?
It comes from my thoughts? Can I stop my thoughts? I can’t! . I am always thinking about something. Even when I am asleep I have dreams. So the mind is constantly at work. So how can there be a writer’s block?
If there has to be a writer’s block then what should I do? One of my suggestions is you need to do a lot of research. What are you writing about? Go find out something more about it. Read books. Talk to people. And when you have some amount of information, you can add your perspective to it. And that is how you write.
Get a pen and start writing. Whatever comes to your mind, just start writing. IF you start writing that is the end of your block. So block is only as long as you are not able to get that first word. It does not need to be perfect. You can always refine it. It is an iterative work process.
Brij (8:55) – I am reminded of the fact that if you want to have hot water from a tap with a geyser, you sometimes have to just open the tap and wait for the cold water to flow out and then automatically the hot water comes.
But if you don’t open the tap at all, then there is no hope for hot water.
Nibu – Exactly!
Brij – So this is a thought I am thinking. If I am someone in college and thinking of doing this creative stuff. So my writing is an expression of my creative freedom. Isn’t technical writing going to be all boring? Will it not tie me down?
Nibu (9:35) – That is, I think a myth. Who has stopped you from continuing to write?
There is the work writing you do. Even that you can make it interesting. For example, you are documenting some supply chain solution that is read once in a blue moon. That is still a lot of areas you can contribute as a writer. Because fundamentally you are a writer. You are a communicator.
What I have done is, I have put out blogs and stuff like that.
I have made known the fact that I can help with writing. So, HR reaches out to me, when it comes to job description. When it comes to the newsletter. Even our CEO often reaches out to me, ‘send it to Nibu, see what are his thoughts on this particular write-up!’
The thing is, you have to make your expertise known. How do you do that? You do that by writing. You can write on LinkedIn. You can write on your company’s intranet. You can initiate a newsletter. So what I am saying is that there are other ways to express yourself creatively. Make use of that.
Brij (10:55) I think you have done a lot of initiative taking in your career as you have gone ahead and you have chosen to find a path and strike out on your own path. It would be really really awesome, I think to ask you, ‘If you had to do one thing differently about your career Nibu, what would it be?’
Nibu (11:20) Definitely I would try to find a mentor. I think that is where I lost out on a lot of things. People in their initial stages need a sounding board. They will not make as many mistakes as they have made, if they had somebody to mentor them. I think that is something I would definitely have. I would advise a lot of people getting into professions to find a mentor – Who does not have any kind of apprehension or hidden agenda – I am sure that they can reach out to you as well (laughs)
Brij – And to you?
Nibu – Definitely. If that is something that is writing related. Anything. I am open. If you have written a resume and you want me to review it, I will be happy to review it.
Brij – Awesome
We are now going to stand back and look at what we have shared with our young listeners. How do you want to summarize it for them.
Nibu (12:30) – If it is related to your profession, I would repeat, what you have already told in an earlier podcast. He (Saurabh Kale) said find something you are good at. Find something you love to do. Find something that can make a change in the world. And find somebody to pay you for it!
Brij (13:00) Ikigai! Saurabh Kale.
Nibu – yeah Ikigai. So, I think that is at the root of what we do.
That should be there. That is what is missing, I feel. If you talk to our youngsters, they don’t know why they are studying their courses. They are just moving along like sheep. They come out of the system clueless.
And all this talk about employment and employability. They have introspect and see how can they change that(status quo). And that change can be made by them.
One more thing I want to say is, you have got to be hands on. This particular thought is something that I have reflected on a lot.
In my early career, I did a lot of hands-on stuff. I worked with metal. I continue to do that as a hobby. What I found is that the innovation, the ideas come at the intersection of disciplines. So embrace a hobby. Don’t just waste your time reading novels and watching Netflix.
Because you have to establish yourself quickly. The sooner you are able to establish yourself, then later you can watch all of these things. It will be there even later. It is not going to go away. so make use of your time and see how you can add value.
Brij (14:20) Alright! If learning and consuming content is a bit like eating then writing and producing something tangible is like exercising. And I guess you need to do both to stay healthy. You need to eat well but you also need to exercise and produce something and make sure that you are doing it on a regular basis. And all will be well.
Nibu – Absolutely. Completely agree.
Brij (15:00) Technical writing can be satisfying and rewarding both as a full time profession and as a means to influence along with your day job.
Nibu thank you very much for sharing your experience and insights around technical writing. I am grateful for your time and for your wisdom.
Nibu – Thank you brij. Always a pleasure talking to you.