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Old 09-16-2015, 10:12 PM   #1
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Default Software/IT types/Joe P, step inside please

I'm realizing to continue my Tech Writing career I'm going to need to go back and get some additional schooling to open up the Software/IT side of things.

All my experience is in the Mechanical side (8 years) with the only "software" being demonstrating going through simple setup/calibration menus on heavy equipment.

So I'm thinking of going back to local community college to get an AS in Computer Information Systems, since I already have a BA in Journalism I can skip the general and go straight to the CIS classes, here is an example of what 24 hours might look like to get the AS:

CSCI 1203 Computer Concepts and Applications
*CSCI 1483 Introduction to UNIX (Linux)
*CSCI 2133 Introduction to Java
CSCI 2283 Visual Basic
*CSCI 2473 C Language
*CSCI 2683 Data Structures
*CSCI 2843 C++ Programming Language
*CSYS 1203 Introduction to Computer Programming
*CSYS 1013 HTML and CSS
*CSYS 2413 Advanced Java


Do you guys think this would be the smart move, or look for a "certificate" program from a national/online school?

Any other suggestions?
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Old 09-17-2015, 02:46 AM   #2
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<p>IMO going to a local CC is much better than cert programs. It's probably roughly the same price and you get much more &quot;seat time&quot; for the information to sink in. Projects, labs, etc are more in depth and you'll actually learn applicable material - instead of just learning how to take the certification.&nbsp;</p><p>That course looks decent, too. Heavy on programming, which is probably normal for a straight CIS degree. I'd want at least an intro class for things like networking, databases, and server administration just so you have the knowledge of how it all comes together.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="2 cents" src="https://www.miataturbo.net/images/smilies/sign0134.gif" style="height:15px; width:23px" title="2 cents" /></p>
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Old 09-17-2015, 08:32 AM   #3
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I've been a Software Engineer for 25+ years now, primarily as a developer on Unix/Linux and Windows platforms, using Ada, C/C++, Java, C#, SQL databases and now Android apps.

Much of my career has been on defence projects, command and control systems, air traffic control simulators and dispatch systems.

Tech Writers aren't usually involved in the design of systems (engineers do that) other than to document them (engineers generally suck at documentation and don't like it) so while it's not necessary to be an expert in programming, databases or data structures, it is is necessary to have a general knowledge of them so that you know what they're talking about.

I've found that the best Tech Writers are those whose English is excellent (not just their spelling but they can convey what they mean as simply and unambiguously as possible) and can pick up concepts and the operation of the system quickly.

As a Tech Writer you probably wont ever need to look at code at all but need to become familiar with how the system works and "hangs together" so it's more important to be a "Jack of all Trades" with a basic understanding of everything as opposed to an expert in a specific area. Having said that, it's nice to be familiar with at least one language (Visual Basic doesn't count).

For this reason, I'd focus less on specific languages and more on subjects like CSCI 1203 Computer Concepts and Applications that will give you a broad overview (you can further specialise later).

Learning Linux is a "must-have" skill as a Tech Writer, it'll give you more job opportunities (unless you want to focus on Windows/Android OSes).
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Old 09-17-2015, 01:48 PM   #4
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Can you clarify your motivation a bit more? I've been a software engineer for 21 years (writing software for network devices of one kind of another), and none of the tech writers I've worked with have had a programming background. What are the situations you're encountering that require more CS-related knowledge and want to address? Do you need to get a degree at the end of it to qualify for something, or is this just to pick up additional skills to use in your current job? What sort of documents are you writing, is it end-user documentation (manuals, etc) or something more internally-focused?

--Ian
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Old 09-17-2015, 02:18 PM   #5
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Thanks for the input so far gents.


My previous exprience is in writing Operation (end-user), Calibration and Troubleshooting manuals. Along with the occasional Work Instruction.

Most of the Tech Writing jobs I'm seeing now want some type of familiarity with SQL, PHP, CSS/HTML, etc. Well GOOD Tech Writing jobs, I don't particularly want to continually jump from contract to contract in manufacturing (again, it's lucrative with Software experience). I've already done the W3/Code Academy entry level "classes" on HTML/CSS, and I'm experienced with XML publishing software, so I have the basic nuts-and-bolts understanding of how coding works.

And since I'm seeing lots of jobs requesting this type of experience that I don't have, I was thinking my near "Senior Tech Writer" level of experience + the education in that field would give me a competitive advantage vs other applicants.

I'm well aware that I could quickly pick up anything that I would need to (when I started at MerCruiser I went from a new Tech Writer to Editor of a 10 person department in 6 months).
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Old 09-17-2015, 02:31 PM   #6
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I sent you a pm. I am going to try to get you in contact with a good friend of mine who does tech writing in the IT industry.
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Old 09-17-2015, 02:51 PM   #7
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Old 09-17-2015, 03:52 PM   #8
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Been in the industry since 98. Mostly java.

Every tech writer I've ever met was a not a coder or engineer of any sort. It might be a slight value add to have coding skill, but most employers aren't going to be looking for it. If you enjoy coding, why not code? It pays much better than tech writing and the main difficulty people have with it as a career is that they don't enjoy it enough to put in the effort to become good.
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Old 09-17-2015, 04:45 PM   #9
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From what I've seen most software documentation comes as a result of policy through the sldc, starting with the initial requirements, and isn't done by someone wearing a specific "technical writer" hat.

May just be the size of shops I've been in.

I'd suggest learning some simple documentation focused languages like wikitext and some tools like confluence/jira.

Maybe look into SharePoint, most places have sharepoint, but are poorly managed, Id think a technical writer or editor would be much more suited to admin it on the application side than the regular it folks that get stuck with it.
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Old 09-18-2015, 12:06 PM   #10
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^Good idea with Sharepoint, my last place was moving to that heavily.
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Old 09-21-2015, 04:58 PM   #11
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Come work with me. I'm on a mission to get our tech writer here fired.
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Old 09-21-2015, 07:09 PM   #12
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Pay scale? It's crazy pricey to not live in the ghetto there isn't it?
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Old 09-22-2015, 02:54 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by z31maniac View Post
Pay scale? It's crazy pricey to not live in the ghetto there isn't it?
Uhhh
Here is where I used to live about a block or two from the ghetto.

1349 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003 | Zillow
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Old 09-22-2015, 03:59 PM   #14
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IT director from my last job is with NORDAM now and is passing around my resume at the Exec level with her praises.
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