By Mandy Morgan | STC Member
There is something so invigorating about being the first technical writer at a software company. It’s even more fulfilling when a software company recognizes the need and importance of adding a technical writer to their team. After growing from intern to technical writer for a major software company in Chicago, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to start a technical writer position for Sertifi. Sertifi is a frictionless business company, specializing in eSignatures and authorizations.
To get started as the first technical writer at a fast-paced software company, you need hard and soft skills and all your technical writer hats. Thankfully, in starting this position, I was able to draw on foundational skills from my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and my on-the-job experiences from four years as a part of a 12-person documentation team.
I encourage all technical writers to look into software as an opportunity to stretch yourself and learn new skills. There are so many facets to the software industry that writers can almost take their pick of where they want to be involved.
My path took me from eDiscovery and litigation, to ratings and reviews, and now to hospitality. What’s most intriguing to me is finding the commonalities between diverse industries and then taking the tech writing formula and rewriting it to match.
I see technical writers as an elevated level of customer service. What I mean when I say that is I see myself as the in-house customer advocate. As technical writers, we’re in a unique position to listen to the customer, understand their pain points, and take that feedback and use it as fuel to power our documentation. We can help our colleagues take a step back from the software they’ve been developing by asking the questions they never thought about. By doing this, we give a voice to our customers. My job is to make other people’s lives easier—and I absolutely love what I do.
Starting out as the first writer for a company with no structured documentation can be as thrilling as it is challenging. My first order of business was to review the current landscape of our documentation. What did we already have, and what were we already doing well? From there, I started building my content strategy.
I took into consideration what we needed: audience analysis, personas, a style guide, a glossary, online documentation, videos, and developer and API documentation.
Knowing the fundamentals we needed helped to build relationships between myself and the other teams at Sertifi. I shared my content strategy and the benefits of each product I wanted to produce; not only for the customer benefits, but also for the benefits it would bring to other departments. For instance, my audience analysis can be shared with our marketing and customer success department, so that they can target the right audiences. By sharing my strategy with stakeholders from each department, I was able to learn more about the trends and customer types in the industry.
Technical writing should never occur in a silo—you need the opinions and questions of other people within your organization. Chances are, you have some industry experts that know what customers need. You can help by shedding light on what a technical writer does and show the value you can bring to the team. I don’t spend my days strictly writing procedures; I also I help my company by aligning my content goals to overall business goals, so that we succeed together.
A lone, new writer isn’t all strategy all the time. It’s also about getting to the heart of the content, and fully understanding each and every piece of functionality in the software. Maybe not to the extent of a developer, but close enough that I can take the jargon and backend processes and make them easy-to-learn for both my internal colleagues and external stakeholders.
That’s where the thrill of being a new and lone writer comes in—I’m responsible for shaping our content and the impression we make on our end users. I get to create the perception using my fundamental toolkit and by analyzing the trends in both the hospitality and tech comm industries. It’s a unique opportunity to lend a hand to the customer right off the bat, and lead them and the company to a more intertwined partnership, via documentation.