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I am a consultant technical writer in the transportation industry, and have worked in this field for the past 32 years.
Currently, I am reviewing and editing maintenance documentation for commuter railroad cars. This documentation can take the form of descriptive information about what is being maintained, procedures about how to maintain this equipment, and parts lists of what would have to be replaced or repaired.
The work itself is very detail oriented. The maintenance procedures are especially important as the safety of the maintenance workers is dependent upon how well the procedures are written.
Most people I have met do not seem to have a clue as to what a technical writer actually does. There are so many facets to technical writing that it is easy to be misunderstood. I could be writing about Navy airplanes or financial software, and everything in between.
I have always loved what I do, so I would definitely rate my job satisfaction as a 10. I have been told that I am good at what I do because I actually care about it, and yes, this is my niche. Technical writing is not for everyone, though. Unfortunately, the only thing I feel that could change to increase my enthusiasm would be for management to understand exactly what my job entails, and how long it actually takes to do it.
The uniqueness of my work situation is that there are not many technical writers who have experience with railroads. My experience is what got my hired for this position in the first place. As I have mentioned, I could apply my skills to most any industry.
I was originally an electronic technician, but did not like moving around on a daily basis. An entry-level job for a technical writer came my way, with the only prerequisite being knowledge of electronics. Since I had just taken a course in electronics, I was hired. I have been with it ever since, and I would not change a thing.
Technology changes very quickly. The down side of being a technical writer is that we move around a lot. When downsizing, companies do not put a high value on documentation, so the writers are usually the first to go. I have used this, however, as a positive factor because now I feel I can apply myself to any industry.
By far the single most important thing I have learned outside of school about the working world is to do what you love even if it takes some time to get there.
I get up and go to work each day for obvious reasons: I have a family to support as well as various other financial obligations that must be met each and every day.
Technical writers do not receive very much praise for their work. Our names are not usually on the documents that they work on. However, I believe it is enough when I receive praise from the people I am actually writing to.
Project deadlines tend to be my biggest source of aggravation in this field. When I have to submit a manual by a certain date knowing that it is not complete or ready makes me want to pull my hair out.
The level of stress associated with my particular job can be very intense, though I cannot complain at this point in my career as I work from home. However, it took me 30 years to be able to do this. Working from home allows me to maintain a comfortable work-life balance.
A rough salary range for the position I currently hold would be in the ballpark of $90-$125K. I am happy with my salary and believe I am fairly compensated for the type of work I do each day.
I do not receive any vacation time. I work as an independent consultant which means I do not get paid for vacation. I am okay with that as my work-at-home status allows me to do what I need to do.
You will need a college degree in order to get hired and succeed in this particular field. The field of technical writing also requires an attention to detail, a love of technology, and a relatively high level of inquisitiveness, among other things.
If I had a friend who was considering my line of work, I would encourage him or her to go for it as long as he met the educational requirements and possessed some of the qualities mentioned above.
If I could write my own ticket, I would be retired in five years.