Do any of you remember your first computer? Can you recall the feelings it evoked? (Really, think back.) Those feelings have everything to do with why I believe the best technical writing fields involve software.
Command lines and wide-eyed wonder
My first computer came one snowy Christmas morning circa 1984. I was in elementary school.
My parents had set the machine up, and I stood there in my pajamas in awe as the blue glow of the monitor (an old color TV) enchanted me. That 20k RAM machine had so much potential, and promised worlds of experimentation that were like candy to my insatiable elementary-school curiosity.
Software was different then. (Everything was different.)
There were no CD-ROMs. The best software came on cartridges. Much of it came in the form of BASIC or machine-language code in the backs of magazines. I spent many late hours typing in such code and saving it onto blank audio cassettes.
Bent bindings and dog-eared pages
Around the same time I acquired my first Cub Scout Handbook. The Cub Scout motto was "Be prepared." That book was incredible; it had procedures on how to tie square knots, use a compass, shoot a bow and arrow, identify animal tracks, and build a campfire. In short, everything a bright-eyed boy needed to pursue life's adventures.
And so I devided my time between mastering the VIC-20 operating system and learning how to craft a longbow from a sapling and some kite string. By the time the next Christmas arrived, both my Commodore user manual and the scout handook were coming apart at the bindings. Those two manuals held fascinating secrets that opened up new worlds to me.
Those manuals are the reason I'm so enthralled with writing instruction manuals as an adult. Each time I sit in front of a computer or crack the spine of a manual, those childhood feelings of excitement come flooding back.
Practical reasons to join the ranks
In addition to nostalgia, there are many reasons I believe the software industry to be one of the best technical writing fields. Here are some of those reasons:
- Future growth. The software industry is growing fast, and as new applications emerge, more documentation will be required.
- Great pay. Software can turn a nice profit. Many software companies view technical writers as part of product development, and pay them great wages.
- Constant change. Software technology changes rapidly. While this requires writers to learn quickly, it also provides excitement and opportunity.
- Excellent atmosphere. Most software writers work in air- conditioned office buildings with cafeterias and coffee machines.
- Great tools. Software development requires high-end computers and cutting-edge software.
- Positive team spirit. In spite of tight deadlines, software development is way less stressful than many other fields. This leads to happier workers and an overall sense of positivity from everyone.
- Flexible environment. Software writing can be done from a remote machine or home office, and allows for flexible schedules.
- Career options. The diverse set of skills held by software writers allows them to move into many other positions within the field. Some leverage technical skills to move into programming or software engineering. Others use their communication skills to become product managers, trainers, or support reps.
The software industry is filled with many interesting challenges for technical writers to solve. With each document we write, we make the world of computers less mysterious for our users. We help them embrace technology instead of fearing it.
We are diplomats, brining people and computers together.
And we get to play with some really fun software.
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