When it comes down to it, I’m a writer who likes to code. It’s more important than ever for technical writers to know how to code. That might sound like a bold statement, and make some writers unsettled. I know, you already have a specialization and that’s writing. But if you want to be a technical writer, what’s going to set you apart is learning why software operates the way it does. Writing is not just about teaching and conveying. It’s also about experiencing and experimenting. If writers stay in their writing bubble, there’s always going to be a buffer between them and engineers.
At my past two positions as a technical writer, my goal has been to move documentation to code. And to actually do that. Not to push that responsibility onto developers.
What a Technical Writer Does.
Traditionally, a technical writer interacts with people who are knowledgeable about a product. They collect information and use that to construct manuals, guides, and robust documentation. They may do this in a word processor. And sometimes a more tech-savvy individual will review the work for technical accuracy. I think a technical writer should do more. In our technology-driven society, let’s not let writers get left behind. We are important to companies. We make closeted information available; we increase understand and by extension, we encourage strong communication. The role of a technical writer has to be more than delivering word docs. It must involve practices that blend the role of writer and developer.
What a Technical Writer Should Do.
A technical writer should drive a company towards a version-control, code-driven documentation system. In my mind, a technical writer needs to future-proof documentation and make it align with the work method of engineers. We can start to imagine a technical writer as an appendage of the engineering department. Their methodology should be similar, meaning that during the technical writer’s day-to-day, they should be working in an IDE, using git religiously, and thinking about scalability and content design. In order to do this, a technical writer needs to acquire a skill-set that is similar to that of a junior level engineer.