I was a software engineer for about 25 years before transferring to the technical writer role. As a software engineer, I always placed a strong emphasis on the quality of documentation. I ended up volunteering to write documentation on many occasions. Over time, I started to notice that I actually like writing better than software development. As an engineer, I spent a significant amount of time on tasks unrelated to my goals (integrating with other systems, debugging issues that had nothing to do with my software, digging through ugly legacy code, compliance, conformance, meetings, etc.). As a writer, I spend the majority of my time working towards my goals and finding creative solutions to complex problems. This makes me happy.
It seems strange to think about it now but I had never heard of technical writing until I was a senior in college. I was pursuing a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and I remember truly enjoying writing about our senior-year project (even more than I enjoyed designing that project, which was a biometric access-control system.) A friend, who knew a technical writer, suggested that I look into becoming one. I asked, “What do they do?” He said, “Just what the name suggests!”
I wasted no time and enrolled into a technical writing crash-course that a local company offered. That quickly led to my first-ever job as a technical writer. I loved it! I grew serious about technical writing as a profession. I went on to get a master’s degree in Publications Management with an awesome technical writing internship.
To folks out there, wondering if they can become technical writers at Google: yes, you can! I’ve never seen a group of people with more diverse backgrounds and skills. While technical education is helpful, I believe it’s my passion for technology and writing that opened the right professional doors for me. Google was always my dream job, but I never knew I’d get to completely geek out over Android OS. As one of the writers that documents Android’s public features, I know what my Android phone will be able to do before it can actually do it. 🙂
I’ve always been interested in writing, but never thought I could make a lucrative career out of it. So I went with my other interest, technology. I started programming at 12 doing the exercises from my sister’s textbooks, and took up Computer Engineering in college. I ended up in tech support for 10 years, and loved studying the systems I supported and helping users with them.
Then I moved to the US from the Philippines at the height of the 2008 recession and had to start from scratch. Nothing like a huge life change and a period of marked general decline to force you to think about what you really wanted in life. In my case, I decided to pursue technical writing.
I took a technical communication course, which I applied to my former job -- I transformed myself into the technical writer for the support team. Then I applied for an actual technical writing job at Google. Seven years in, I've never looked back. I enjoy applying what I’ve learned in college and studying technical concepts (no shortage of those at Google, plus they evolve rapidly!), and translating them into effective, user-friendly documentation.
I was looking for a new engineering role, and a friend who knows me well said, "Hey, why don't you think about becoming a technical writer? I think you'd be really good at it." The idea just clicked, as I realized how much I enjoyed the documentation work I was already doing in my software engineering role. I've always enjoyed the challenge of creating clear explanations and the intellectual exercise of putting myself into the role of the reader.
Before I contemplated this switch, I thought of a technical writing career as fairly unappealing. But it's become a much more interesting field in the years since I first chose my career direction, and there's a wonderful community of writers here at Google.
As I searched for a way to combine my love of tinkering and tech with my knack for writing, I stumbled across a flyer for technical writing in my undergraduate English department office. I immediately knew that my search was over. I graduated from San Jose State University with an undergraduate degree in Professional and Technical Writing and a certainty that I'd found my path. I was right.
When I was little, I helped my mother, uncle, and brother disassemble and reassemble computers on the kitchen countertop. In high school, I discovered my love of writing (not just reading). I always liked to help others achieve their goals. I loved to push the limits of my knowledge and the tools I had on hand.
Tech writing was the perfect fit. I got to tinker with cutting edge technology while teaching others. I organized and clarified existing content to make sense of the senseless. I pushed the limits of my tooling and systems while working with engineers to improve the next version. I pushed my own limits as I got my Masters degree in Technical Communications from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I wrote, revised, and wrote some more.
Every day as a technical writer is different. I organize chaos, design tools, provide feedback, teach classes, and refine turns of phrase to be ever more clever and clear. Each day, I'm even more grateful for that errant flyer in the English department. Tech writing was, and is, the perfect fit.
Growing up, I always struggled with writing. If you had told me that my first job title would have the word "writer" in it, I would not have believed you. I decided to major in computer science. However, after four years at a liberal arts school, I realized that, while I love coding, I was going to miss the writing and research aspects of my other classes. I didn’t even know what technical writing was, but when I stumbled upon the Google job posting, I applied.
Technical writing offers many different outlets for me, both as a writer and as someone with a technical background. As a technical writer, I get to dive deep into technologies and find ways to teach and educate people to share that knowledge. Sometimes that involves writing, other times crafting coding tutorials, and sometimes even creating and teaching classes. My primary goal is to help engineers accomplish their goals.
My biggest fear coming in to technical writing was that I would never code and therefore forget how to do it. That has turned out to be an unrealistic worry. Technical writing provided a way to tie together my love for technology with my love of educating others.
As a kid, I loved tinkering with computers. I taught myself some BASIC, worked with my dad to install and configure PC parts, and enjoyed the process of bringing something to life on the screen.
In high school, I thought I’d like computer science. Instead, it was demoralizing (debugging Pascal in the late 80s was awful). I abandoned any thoughts of a career in tech, but continued to explore at home.
I studied Translation and Psychology at Glendon College in Toronto. I had no clear career path in mind, translation just seemed like a practical application of my French skills. This particular Translation degree has a unique requirement for students to take several technical writing classes to improve employability. I did well in those classes, and my professor suggested that I try a tech writing internship over the summer. Incidentally, that professor is now one of my technical writing colleagues at Google.
That internship was my turning point. Tech writing combines many things that interest me: technology, creative problem solving, learning new skills, and teaching. I completed the remaining classes in the tech writing program in addition to my undergraduate degree, and I haven’t looked back.
In all of my former roles, I put enormous effort into writing. I wrote design specifications and customer facing documentation, designed courses and training programs, and documented behavior of both small and large software stacks. After meeting with Sam Harbison, to learn about the role from a day-to-day perspective, I knew that I wanted to pursue being a technical writer.
I love puzzles—any kind of puzzle. I discovered programming and realized that software design and programming are, at their essence, a logic game. In Writing—capital W—how you present the content is at least as important as the actual content. How do I efficiently convey the essential information to a user? To me, this is the difference between "writing" and "Writing". In "writing", all that is important is the content. Almost anyone can "write". But "Writing" is more like software design. In "Writing", you have to decide what the user needs, how to present it, what's essential, and what should be omitted. Writers (capital W) need to think carefully about wording—will my audience understand, will the text translate accurately, does the content include idioms, is the tone proper?
As a technical writer, I get to learn something new (yeah!) and I have the challenge of how to present this *thing* to the world. How cool is that?!
My epiphany came at, of all places, the amusement park Cedar Point in Ohio. It was the summer of 2006 and I was working as a computer engineer at Intel. I had studied electrical engineering in school, with an emphasis on digital circuit design, and everyone told me that Intel was the place to be for digital circuit design. I hadn't figured that so much of the day-to-day work would revolve around running scripts and debugging them, and that working in industry would be so different from designing toy circuits for school problem sets.
In line for a roller coaster at Cedar Point that day, I happened to see a teenage athlete wearing a t-shirt that said, "If you want to be a winner, play with your brain. If you want to be a champion, play with your heart." The realization was instant: I had chosen the wrong profession. I would never excel at engineering because I really wasn't all that passionate about it. If I wanted a chance to get to the top of my game, I would have to pursue something that I actually really loved doing. Although I had no formal training as a writer, I'd always known it was my calling. Technical writing seemed like the perfect fit for me: I could pursue my passion for writing and I could stay technical — all those years spent studying engineering wouldn't have been in vain!
I'm now coming up on 13 years as a technical writer at Google and have never looked back. It was a nerve-wracking decision at the time to change professions so early into my career, but I'm so grateful to my younger self for taking the leap of faith and trusting my instincts.
I started in technology while I was a staff accountant for a small firm, being the one in the office who could "get things to work" on our computers and translate tech-babble to my fellow accountants. In short order, I became the systems administrator for the firm and discovered that my passion for technology translated into a career I could really enjoy. Time has proven that to be a wise decision.
During my first 16 years in tech, I filled several different technical roles: systems administrator, systems engineer, systems engineer lead, database administrator, developer, and developer in test. I’ve always enjoyed learning, which is what drove me to move into each new role. As a systems engineer, I spent a lot of my time scripting manual and repetitive tasks, which piqued my interest in writing software. After a few years as a software engineer, I discovered that I enjoyed finding and fixing bugs, which led me to software testing.
During my eight years in software testing, I was the happiest when helping my peers succeed, which I often did by documenting my areas of expertise. Around this time I discovered technical writing as a discipline and asked an experienced technical writer friend of mine, “what do you do everyday?” Their answer made it clear that technical writing included all the things I enjoyed about my previous roles: collaborating across groups and disciplines, learning products in-depth, and writing to help others.
Now that I’ve been a technical writer for several years, the role feels like a great fit and a natural progression of my career.