What are the ways to make a career as a technical writer?

Hi there! My name is Maiken Blok-Wahlgreen, and I am the Technical communicator at the PSA software company TimeLog A/S based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here I am responsible for everything from UX writing and end-user documentation to translation and localization.

My career path

My career started in the pharmaceutical research industry about 12 years ago. I got the chance to go abroad and practice my German and work skills at a big American company in Berlin, Germany. After five years, I went back to Denmark and changed my focus during my English and Organisational Communication studies at Copenhagen Business School.

Like many others, I became a technical communicator, or writer if you like, by coincidence when my passion for languages, (cultural) communication and writing could be combined with the customer experience focus at TimeLog.

I have been with TimeLog since 2013 in various positions. I actually started out with marketing communication and smaller translations. I then worked in customer support for a few years and gathered knowledge about how the customers experience the system. At the same time, I learned more about their general use patterns. I now take these knowledge seeds from the customer communication and turn them into beautiful flowers dressed as useful help both directly in the product and in the online help center.

Do not worry: You are not alone!

You do not really wake up one day and say to yourself “I want to be a technical writer”. It is not sexy, right? When people ask me what I do, I most often answer “I work with communication and languages” and the reactions I mostly get are “oh, wow, that sounds interesting”. Nobody really knows what a technical writer does, unless they are one themselves.

So how did I end up in that specialized role? TimeLog saw a need for an increased focus on the end-user documentation to decrease the number of support tickets coming in, and I had the skill set needed to both explain the concepts and actually write the content needed.

I had the impression that I was unique, and it was not until later I realized that there are many others like me out there and that my “new profession” actually was not as new as I thought. I accepted the challenge without really knowing the direction, and after a few years of working within the field, I still have a lot to learn.

How do you get started?
I do not think there is a “one size fits all” answer to that question. A good place to start is by asking yourself where you want to take your career. I asked myself a few questions along the way:

  • What is my dream job?
  • What is the next best thing?
  • Do I like to help people?
  • Would I like to specialize in a specific field?
  • Am I good at communicating?
  • How can I combine the things I have a true passion for?
It has brought me to where I am today; Happy in a job where I make a difference each day, both to our many customers, our great support team and our fantastic developers.

My top 3 advice for new tech writers

Find a mentor

Find someone, who can help you get started in the Narnia of technical writing. It is a whole new world opening up for you with new terminology, new work procedures and things you need to take into consideration. I can recommend following tekom, or maybe even become a member. Here you find a lot of valuable input and you can draw on the experience of like-minded people, both locally and across borders.

Look for new knowledge within your field

Make sure to follow trends and tendencies in our field. The field of technical communication is under constant development, and we learn new things all the time. Listen to podcasts on your way to work, take courses strengthening your skills, maybe even a master’s program like the one I found at the University of Strasbourg or similar.

Be true to yourself

No matter what you do, always be true to yourself. Listen to your heart and mind, you are first in line to take care of you. If it does not feel right or if something seems off, do not do it! Work should not just be work. You should do something that makes you happy, not only while you are at work, but also when you have time off and enjoy doing other things.

You know what, we make it a top 4.

Never say no to a good challenge – you never know where it will take you.