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Ask HN: Software Engineers (SWE) turned Technical Writers – How did you do it?
18 points by techwriteher 75 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments

I'm a Sr. Software Engineer with about a decade in the industry. Haven't worked for FAANG. Mostly worked at startups and now, more recently, at IT Departments of Large Banks and Financial Institutions. I'm a full-stack engineer with experience in Python, C#, Java and a whole bunch of front end and back end technologies.

I'm considering switching to a technical writer, as I have a very popular tech blog and have been told that I have the gift of the (written) gab. Other reason is that I no longer feel comfortable competing with 20 something millenials who are lot faster than me, and work longer hours (some on stimulants like Adderall etc).

I've also contributed to a lot of open source API docs on github and feel that a Tech Writer career might be more fulfilling. I don't need the 140K and can make do with atleast a 100K in Tech Writing.

I would like to know those of you who have successfully transitioned from SWE to Tech.Writer

1) How did you go about it?

2) How do you deal with the drop in Salary? I currently make 140K in San Francisco. What can I expect as a Tech Writer at Uber, or FAANG company? Or would it be a stretch to aim for FAANG with no Tech Writer career experience?

3) Is there anything you regret about the switch?

4) Is it possible to make SWE level salaries after few years? If yes, at what kind of companies / Tech Writer jobs?

4) Any other useful info would be much appreciated.


-Sharon Su

Have you considered building up through freelancing? Having a technical writer available would be a godsend for small startups who lack the time or discipline to document decisions or processes (or anything). I am certain you could find enough SaaS teams to support with a pitch of “I’ll speak with you for 2 hours and save you 2 days”.

At 10-15 hours per week you could do this at nights and weekends, and quickly test if you want this as a job.

In fact I have a lot of writing that needs to be done, mainly internal for capturing what the product does etc. no massive time pressures so could be done in spare time over few weeks. Feel free to reach out via email in the profile.

Thank you so much! It never occurred to me to try this partime, and see if I enjoy it and if there's a practical fit, rather than risk diving into it full time. I'll email you.

Judging from the lack of response, do you think it's fair to say that not a whole lot of SWEs make the switch to Tech Writer?

-SS :)

I’ve met only a few of SWEs who were good at documenting, and only 1-2 of them who also enjoy it. From my experience, changing from SWE to Tech Writer is highly unusual - I’ve seen QA and BA folks change over, but never SWE.

Have you considered going into Developer Relations instead? It has a big overlap with Technical Writing, but spans beyond that to include community discussions and direct “support” comms.

These sound like good questions to ask someone over a coffee or pilsner at http://www.writethedocs.org/conf/prague/2018/

Or you could even skip the beverage and join their slack group: https://writethedocs.slack.com

EDIT: Got brave and tried the link, it says "Contact Workspace Administrator to join", but there is no link or contact form to contact the Admin?? How do I join? Is it invite-only gated community?

I'm somewhat wary of doing this. Do you know if the community is welcoming of (or hostile towards) newbies?

-SS :)

The community talks explicitly about the value of being welcoming to newbies. I've drifted away but I suspect that they still live up to that value.

Thank you! But I live in San Francisco. This conf is in Parague.

-SS :)

Ah, then you'd probably want https://www.meetup.com/Write-the-Docs-SF/

They seem to have a meetup oxt Thursday.

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