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Twenty years after accepting my first job as a software engineer, I’d like to try picking up some technical-writing work. If I find that it agrees with me, I might well consider refocusing my career into writing full-time, making software development an activity I’d continue to pursue for my own benefit only.
To this end, I have published a new portfolio highlighting some of my better technology-writing since the start of the century, from O’Reilly books I co-authored ages ago through reports I wrote just this year for IFTF. I have also given my résumé its most significant overhaul ever, streamlining and reformatting it to let my history as a writer stand out more.
A lot happened in the first half of 2019 to push me in this direction.
In March, I joined the What Cheer Writers Club here in Providence, offering me a local community and a quiet, shared work-space dedicated to writing — something I hadn’t really experienced since college. I have found myself heading to WCWC’s downtown offices whenever I want to write — and I’ve had a lot to write, this year! This has, of course, included my ongoing commitment to Fogknife — observant readers will note the addition of the club’s logo to this blog’s sidebar, acknowledging the role it has played in my recent blog-writing.
The club also saw me write the community report of IFTF’s accessibility-testing program, describing and delivering upon years of planning and effort by eight subject-matter experts and dozens of volunteer testers. I thought it would take me a month to accomplish, and budgeted as much — but with time to focus and a friendly environment, it required little more than a week from first word to final draft. I feel quite proud of this accomplishment, and prominently link to it from my new portfolio and updated résumé.
So all this has boosted my confidence as a writer, but one event tied to WCWC only coincidentally may have played the most catalystic role in suggesting that I might professionally identify as a writer as well. The very first day I settled down to write in the club’s library as a brand-new member, I received an email from a tech recruiter. A common enough occurence, this, except that instead of the usual enticement to sit in a cubicle on Route 128 and write Java for medical-device firmware or something, this one said that a tech-writing position had opened at a major corporation’s Boston office.
For the first time in years, I felt moved to respond to a recruiter’s email. I said that I’d like to know more about that opportunity, sure, but I also wanted to know how I wound up on a list of potential tech-writing candidates. “Sure, Josh,” came the reply, “send me your résumé and a good time to call.” I did, and heard nothing further. The next week, the same person mailed the same pitch, and I indicated that I remained interested. “Sorry, Justin, could you send that résumé again?” I did — and, predictably, the conversation petered out immediately.
But none of that bothered me! In fact, it got under my skin as a tingling itch, and it stayed there. I may have fallen between the floorboards of that distracted recruiter, but the implication inherent in their contacting me at all, mixed with my new club membership, encouraged me to think of new career directions for myself — just as my well-worn identity as an engineer starts to feel uncomfortably stale. So, months later, with that report done, with Narrascope done, and with a major client project shipped, I find myself turning back to the potential of tech writing.
I want to try it. Jeff Atwood listed tech writing as a sensible career shift for programmers who feel done with programming, and family and friends with whom I have discussed this have proven unanimously encouraging. And, again, I’ve been writing all this time — I’ve written books, for god’s sake. I have reason to believe that I practice more discipline and care in my writing today than I ever have before, and I like to think that shows in my output.
Programming is beautiful. I will continue to program weird stuff for the rest of my life. I am glad that I had comfortably paid decades to get really good at it! And, you know, maybe I’ll end up still doing that for a while longer anyway. (It was certainly the thing I wanted to do more of the last time I used this blog to pitch myself, some years ago.) But I began my career as a writer; my college degrees belong to a writer. I fell into programming by accident. I can no longer ignore the suspicion, borne by another benign accident, that the time has come for me to pack up everything I’ve learned from two decades of software adventuring and come back home at last.
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