Changing from software QA to Tech writing. Is this a good idea?

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Comments (5)

Jackie K in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

65 months ago

I have worked in software testing and QA Management for the past 13 years and I've gotten burned out on the stress and the hours. I would like to transition into being a software technical writer. I am hoping my past experience working with software will help me break into the field. I have a few questions I'd like to get everyone's opinions on:

1. What type of education should I get to pursue this? There is a year long tech writing certificate offered at the graduate school level at my local university(this will take me about a year to get it). Is this helpful? The other option is taking some classes to the learn the software applications tech writers normally use. (I have a BA in Communications with a minor in English - writing already.)

2. What is the stress level of this job? In QA the stress is very high all the time due to the fact that testing is normally done at the end of the project and the time availalbe to complete the work diminishes as dates are missed by other departments on the project plan. Is the same true for tech writing? Not really interested in transitioning into a new career where nights and weekends are the norm.

3. What is the job outlook for tech writers? Are the jobs being shipped offshore like so many of the IT non-managerial jobs seem to be?

4. What should I expect for a starting salary?

I'd love to get input from the experience tech writers out there on your experiences and opinions. Thanks!

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Dacoh in Los Angeles, California

65 months ago

1) You have to be able to write. It looks like you can and I don't think you need a certificate. I don't have one and I started learning the trade in 2000 on the job. I started then at 42K/yr, but in California and in a tech-crazed market. The tools are not that hard to learn and, if you can take some inexpensive classes, that might be worthwhile. Are you still in QA? Talk to the technical writers where you work if so. Find out what they use. I use RoboHelp X8 now, but I've used FrameMaker, Arbortext Editor, and MadCap Flare. Look at the Microsoft Manual of Style and try to understand and emulate how things are documented. Then, write some sample documentation for the software that you QA and use that as a writing sample.

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Dacoh in Los Angeles, California

65 months ago

2) The stress level depends on the employer. Being a technical writer at IBM sucks. IBM sucks period to work for. Elsewhere, I've had a few late nights, but I've only worked one Saturday in 10 years. The late nights are usually isolated at the end of the development process and there's a cutoff so anything QA catches after a certain point is documented in release notes and corrected in the next release.

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Don't do it in Mountain View, California

59 months ago

I'd stay in QA. Or look for a better alternative than tech writing.

I'm a tech writer at a company with a reputation of having a good working environment. I have to admit that the pay is good, and I have a decent manager. But the pressure is intense for some of the same reasons you mention that QA is stressful.

Frankly, I can looking on this page for suggestions of possible career paths out of technical writing. Given how many jobs are going overseas, it would be a smart move even if I were happy in my current position.

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Emily Weant in Hyattsville, Maryland

52 months ago

Forget being a technical writer. Writing and editing are becoming a thing of the past with the economy and the literacy of our country going downhill. Usually, to stay in the field nowdays you need another set of skills in addition to the writing to stay marketable. It looks like you have that. As far as stress goes, you won't get a break from it if you are a technical writer. Most of my jobs have been stressful. I am trying to get out of the field altogether for health reasons. In addition, where I live in the DC Metro area much of the work is contract. Employers are less and less willing to hire technical writers permanently, and the competition is intense. I have only been able to get contract work in the field around here; and I'm tired of the stress, lack of job stability, and layoffs.

Take my advice, if you want to stay employed, stay in your present job until you can get out of IT altogether. There are these articles online and sites that say technical writing is a highly paid, low stress job, but that is a lie and probably written by people who aren't even in the field.

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