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18 Sep 2013

What does it take to be a Tech Writer: DNA

“Write stuff” on DNA Online

Caroline Diana gives a low down on the new breed of writers who help translate jargon into layman’s lingo

When grandpa Parthasarathy received an iPhone 4S on his 70th birthday, he was excited. Little did he expect his NRI grandson to gift him a gizmo that was way ahead of his time. Initially, Parthasarathy felt a little lost. For some strange reason he thought it was a gadget for geeky youngsters. The oldtimer, nevertheless, decided to give it a shot. He has after all borne witness to the evolution of phones for over five decades, ranging from rotary dials and chunky key pads to cellphones with huge antennas. But the learning curve to master his iPhone was much shorter. In just two weeks, Parthasarathy was chatting with his grandson on WhatsApp and uploading photographs on Pinterest. Thanks to the user guides that came along with the smart-phone that made it possible for him to find out how the handheld device worked.

Many technologically impaired people have benefited from these user guides, and those that created them belong to a new breed of writers, often dubbed the Technical Writers or Documentation Specialists.

So, does one need to be a nerd or a geek to become a technical writer? “No,” says Helen Shukla, founder-director of The Writers Block (TWB), a Bangalore-based company that focuses on technical documentation outsourcing and consulting. “One need not necessarily be a tech savvy to become a technical writer. Many from the non-tech background have gotten into IT companies and are doing a brilliant job,” she says, adding that the remuneration is high for technical writers.

“The key traits that companies look for in a technical writer are the individual’s attitude and language skills. The candidate must be a curious person, ask the right questions and always be willing to learn,” explains Shukla.

Anitha Ranjan, who switched over from a call center to a technical writing job, says she has made the right career choice. “About two years ago, I was doing a graveyard shift in a BPO. My health was deteriorating, and I felt that I should get into a day job. Someone suggested that I should look at technical writing. Initially, I was a little apprehensive because I had no technical background and was wondering if I would ever be hired by an IT company. But then, I took up a three-month technical writing course and as soon as I completed my course, I got a job as a documentation specialist,” she says.

The best part about being a technical writer is bridging the gap between technology developers and end user. More often than not, the sci fi-loving developers may not be able to communicate what they have created to us: The end users. Here’s when the tech writers make a dramatic entry and help translate jargon into layman’s lingo.

“One has to be highly organised and take a call on high-priority tasks for the day. The technical writer must stick to deadlines, interact with developers, understand their requirements and come up with easy-to-use instructions for the end users,” says Mahipal Ramachandran, senior technical writer, SAP Labs India.

The starting salary of a technical writer is about Rs3.5 lakh per annum and it could even go up to Rs10 lakh in a span of five-six years. Candidates who have taken up technical writing hail from different backgrounds. There is no specific qualification/ background that companies look for in a technical writer. “We have hired dentists, medical transcriptionists, fresh graduates, BPO/call center employees and anyone who have an inclination to technology and a flair for English for a technical writer’s role,” says Satish Kumar, a freelance HR consultant.

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