Pivoting out of technical writing

I lived a large part of my working life as a career technical writer. While my career has its share of ups and downs, I always felt at home doing the actual writing work. Over the years, clients, colleagues, and friends often encouraged me to seek other career opportunities. I finally pulled off a much-needed career pivot at the end of last summer.

Looking back over the six to twelve months prior to my career pivot, here are some key events in hindsight that played into my long-overdue career pivot

Staying instead of moving jobs

In late 2019, I got caught in a reduction in force (RIF) at work. I could see it coming, and I was prepared for it by bulking up on freelance work. I had another job offer during that time to take another writer position with yet another government contractor. While the pay raise was attractive, I felt a malingering sort of dread at the prospect of moving to another government contract. I turned down the job offer to take an internal transfer to another group in my employer at the time.

Despite some bad luck on the job hunt trying to change out of technical writing, that this was to be my last technical writing job was still very much on my mind.

Walking away from two Season of Docs proposals

I enjoy the art of the project pitch a lot as a writer and a person. Maybe too much at some times. Last spring, the COVID-19 lockdown left me with a lot more free time than I usually have. I decided that this was the year to pitch two projects to Google’s Season of Docs. I spent the upfront time researching, strategizing, and writing two proposals for projects. Writing the proposals made me feel good. I’ve become the type of person who’s grown pretty detached from pitching their ideas. It’s about the pursuit for me. I do my best on the idea. Send the pitch in and don’t take any rejection personally.

When I was finalizing the proposals I had reoccurring thoughts of what happens if I’m not a technical writer and one of the proposals lands? I then developed an overwhelming urge to cease work on one of the proposals. It was a proposal I usually would’ve been happy to submit to let it land how it may. Next. I quit work on the second proposal too.

Both proposals will see new life as blog posts at some point in the near future.

Tried volunteering in the technical writing field and regretted it

Spare time and isolation made volunteering in the technical writing field make sense for some reason. Looking back, I also think it was an early sign that isolation was getting the best of me. While the people in the online meetings were nice enough, I began to see the group leader fawn way too much over the female members in the group over the weeks. I shrugged it off.

Then I submitted an outline for a document I was proposing to the group. In return, I received one of the most unprofessional responses and critiques about my proposed outline ever in my entire career. It’s not to say that my outline was 100% right. In actuality, I just didn’t care about this guy’s opinion of my work, my career, or my expertise. I took the event as another sign that it was time for me to move on from technical writing.

The great thing about volunteering is that there’s no money left on the table if you leave a project. I made a quick and quiet exit from the group — no caustic or snarky comebacks either — because it just wasn’t worth it.

Final thoughts

Three or so months into my new job, I realized how I was occupational slumming, especially the last 2–3 years of doing the job. While I’m still creating content in my new job, I get credit for my domain knowledge.

I have no regrets about my time spent as a technical writer. It was time for me to go. It was as if the profession went one direction, and the work I enjoyed was out of scope for the technical writer role.

My name is Will Kelly. I’m the technical marketing manager for a container security startup. Before that, I spent my career as a technical writer working on projects in the public and commercial sectors. I’ve written about the cloud and DevOps for InfoWorld, InfoQ, TechTarget, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

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