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Kate Yelle

Microsoft, Uber, Ubisoft


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What it’s like to be a technical writer


Technical writer. He's a documentation developer. He's a technical writer. He is an engineer in the technical documentation department. He's a technician. My dad says: "My daughter works as an English writer."

Experience shows that no one knows the profession of a technician outside IT. If I fill in the questionnaire in the bank, hospital or other non-IT organization, where there is a question "Your profession", I always feel awkwardness beforehand. After all, after the words "technical writer" employee raises his eyes and 2 seconds just looking at me.

With acquaintances, this conversation also always goes by the pattern. First the same 2 seconds of bewilderment, then the question:
- Do you translate texts?
- No. Writing. Right in English.
- And then translate into Russian?

If you meet this person in a couple of months, he will proudly say: "You translate the texts, I remember!"
So what do tech writers do?
The phrase "technical documentation" casts a glance at those around him. Sometimes people look at me with sympathy, they say, come on, hang on there! However, writing technical texts is interesting. I speak like a man who once earned a living by interviewing stars and composing advertisements.
To write technical texts is something of an entertaining logic game. Remember, in childhood, there were problems: "What is unnecessary: orange, pineapple, elephant, lemon". In the technical text, approximately the same. You write the text, and then you search for the "elephant".
Well, for example, the developer comes and says: "It is necessary to add information that the user who can be added, edited and deleted in the company's dictionary can only be the user who was assigned the DATAADM access code in his profile in our configurator."

OK. First of all, we transform this mess into English words. The thought of the first order looks like this:
If you want to add, edit, or delete keywords from your corporate directory, ask your administrator to add the DATAADM access code to your profile in Configuration Management. (28 words)
Now the game "Find the Elephant" begins. At once it would be desirable to throw out the administrator with the configurator, because there is a separate chapter on the access codes, and there it is painted in detail:
If you want to add, edit, or delete keywords from your corporate dictionary, you must have the DATAADM access code. (20 words)
Any technician knows that you can often replace add, edit, or delete with configuring without losing any sense. Corporate
too safely clean, no one will think about the dictionary of Dal:
If you want to configure keywords from the dictionary, you must have the DATAADM access code. (16 words)
Another couple of iterations and the final result looks like this:
To configure the dictionary, you must have the DATAADM access code. (11 words).
We reduced the text by 2.5 times without loss of meaning. Bingo!

For me, writing technical texts is a real creative process. This is art. You, like a jeweler, carefully cut off all unnecessary, making your work beautiful and elegant. Like a lawyer, you can not miss a single superfluous or inaccurate word. Like an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he must accurately sustain the tone of his message. Class! I love it!
How to become a technician
My friend Alexey Kolupaev said in an interview in 2002 it was enough to read some book on programming, practice a little and already go to a highly paid job.
"Such, as this, easy ways, in my opinion, no longer exists. There are no such technologies that you can literally jump into paid work during the evening. "

There is, Lyosha, there is! Of course, now I express a subjective opinion, but according to my feelings, any person who can become a technician:
Owns a high level of English;
Can independently collect and analyze information;
Can clearly express his thoughts.

I did not include technical knowledge in this list because I know at least 5 technicians who have finished the linguistic. It's very rare for a technician to read code in assembler and comprehend "higher matter". Basically, you watch user story, communicate with developers or QA. Therefore, when applying for a job, they often look at English and the general ability of a person to learn new things.
In this case, I would not want to derogate the professional skills of technicians. I know such people who aspired to get into this profession, but they did not succeed or did not happen the first time. My idea is that today a technician can become a person with any background and experience if he has to this natural ability.
Before becoming a technician, I worked for 7 years as a journalist and copywriter. Together with two higher educations - computer engineering and social sciences abroad - it turned out that such experience is in demand in technical writing. My friends came to this profession from logistics, analytics, support and immediately after the university.

The most popular way to "enter IT" for a technician is through acquaintances. Classics of the genre: somewhere they are looking for a technician, someone from your friends remembers that you know English and invites you to send a resume. You are given a test task, and everything starts. Still, it is possible to come to the profession through promotion on a career ladder within the limits of one company. There is also EngagePoint University. There are books about Technical Writing. I read two, both seemed too stretched, so I do not recommend them, but in general, I advise books on technical writing as such. I did not meet specialized Coursera courses, but there you can pour separately English, writing texts, HTML, CSS and so on. 
In total, a beginner technician comes into the profession with two or three relevant skills, and the rest develops already at work. This is what I know. If you own more extensive information, share in the comments.
Myths about technicians
1. Tehreiter must know English perfectly
In an ideal world - yes, but the reality is that it is ideal to know the language and write well the texts - these are two different skills. Even in Ukrainian newspapers and magazines, there is always a literary editor who rules the stylistic and grammatical errors of journalists. The texts of the technician are held by a language review by a native speaker who is not unemployed, not a student, not a hairdresser, but works as an editor of technical texts. For example, it was in my previous company. In the current company, language review is made by an editor from Denmark, who has a philological education in English.
2. Tehreiter should know all the texts thoroughly
Recently a colleague addressed me: "Remember, you wrote the error message? Now we need to write one more for the same template. " I asked to send the previous error message, which he was genuinely surprised: "You already wrote this a few weeks ago, do not you remember it?"
Possessing phenomenal memory and writing texts well is again two different skills. Yes, the technician knows almost all the functionality of the product, but do not expect that he knows by heart thousands of pages of documentation, all messages and labels. We are the people who use the search dozens of times a day.
3. Being a technician is not cool
There are developers who write code and create a product. There are testers who find bugs and make the product stable. And there are technicians who distract developers and testers from important work with their stupid questions to write help that no one reads. Unfortunately, there are companies where exactly they think so. I know the company where permission to communicate with the tester must be requested from his lead through Google document, and interviews with developers to request at least a week through the ticket system, also through the lead.

A good product is hard to imagine without competent and timely documentation. And communication with a technician is not a force majeure. Each time to notify him through the ticket is ineffective, if not ridiculous. Time for this should be laid at the stage of planning the task. And to understand, read help or not, just screw Google Analytics. Therefore, how the process of writing documentation is built, can be considered a litmus test piece of paper. If your work is not valued on an equal basis with other employees, do not think that you are not lucky with the profession, and do not hurry to retrain to a QA engineer or someone else (I know such examples). In fact, you just have no luck with the company.

Development of profession
I think that the profession of a technician will actively develop on the Ukrainian market, and more and more vacancies will appear. Abroad, this profession has existed for a long time, and there is already a lot of interesting things happening there. For example, there is the European Association for Technical Communication, which organizes professional conferences four times a year for technicians. The organization operates in 12 European countries.
The conference lasts a day, technicians from all over the country come to it, listen to reports and discuss the stated topic. My colleagues from Denmark regularly attend these conferences and always return ecstatically. There was a time when we could not solve one problem in MadCap Flare (it's a software for editing and publishing documentation), and even MadCap Flare Support could not help us. But one day my colleagues suggested a solution. "How did you come to this?" - I was surprised. "Yesterday we were at the conference and met the MadCap geek. He suggested this decision. " That is, people communicate and exchange experiences, ask questions and get answers. 
A few recommendations from the technician as an epilog
1. Read the book "Write, cut", even if you work as a swimming instructor. It's just a masterpiece.
2. If you doubt the correctness of using the word in a technical text, look in Terminology Search - find out how this word is translated into Microsoft. Remember your college paper writing about IT or math.
3. Well, of course, our all - Microsoft Manual of Style. In addition to technicians, this reading will also be interesting grammar nazi and very curious people. Here you can learn how to write correctly:
$ 10 or 10 USD;
Email or e-mail;
8 am or 8 A.M.
And read more 450 pages of rules that you never thought of before.

And a little farewell for those who just think to become a technician. Be sure to try, if you have to this though a small but sincere interest. But I do not advise you to waste your time if you are motivated only by high wages, according to standards. As Alexander Skakunov said: "True wealth is a realized talent".


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