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Are Daily Rates for Technical Writers Starting To Improve?

In December, I looked at the daily rates for technical writers and others in the tech comms industry. At the time daily rates for technical writers are down to $30 per hour in some places in the Bay Area.

However, maybe things are starting to turn around. In Ireland (Euro HQ for most US IT companies) Google has announced 150 new jobs, many in technical roles.  So, is the tide starting to turn?

Articles in Tech Comms publications and on other technical writing sites suggested  that daily rates for technical writers were collapsing in the US, in particular the West coast, as more writers struggle to find roles that match their previous salaries. TECHWR-L (tech-whirl), the oldest site that I know for technical writers, highlighted the case of a technical writer who’s been in the industry for 10 years and been jog-hunting for six months.

When asked what he thought where the tech docs industry was heading, his reply was, “it’s a race to the bottom”. 12 months ago, he left a high-paying tech writing job to travel but returned six months later, and looked for work.

Daily Rates for Technical Writing in California

His only job offer had been $30 an hour. Some recruitment sites quoted $40-$60 an hour. Quite a drop!

I know that when I last worked in the states, late 90s, the rates were $40-$60 per hour, and that’s almost 10 years ago.  It’s hard to believe that now, ten years later, and factoring in inflation etc, daily rates are almost cut in half.

Salary for Technical Writing in China

Salary for technical writers in China is between 15-30k RMB per month, which is approx $2.5k.

Not great by US standards but the cost of living here is much less.

Daily Rates for Technical Writing in India

According to a tech writer in Bangalore, the going rate in India is $10-15 an hour. http://www.techwr-l.com/node/1205

Jobs Trends

Many US colleagues have seen their jobs moved to India. In Europe (Ireland and UK) they tend to go to Poland as they have excellent English skills (yes, they do!) and lower tax rates.

India now produces a steady stream of qualified tech writers who are highly motivated and keen to make the most of this opportunity.

Last year I said that,  “as someone who works in Asia, and is seeing at first hand the juggernaut that is hurdling down the motorway, the race to outsource has only started.”

In the next 10-15 years, IT jobs which can be replicated offshore/offsite to lower costs will be embraced more aggressively. US companies have little choice but to do this.

The challenge for technical writers

The question for technical writers and others in this industry is how to approach this.  One suggestion would be to setup consultancy services in places like Bangalore, Vietnam, and Poland where the talent is there but the experience is lacking. Experienced technical writers, who are willing to travel and embrace a new challenge, could do very well in these countries. Staying at home may not be an option.

What do you think?

Should technical writers consider moving to places like India? Do you see signs that the recession is over. Are there more jobs for tech writers than last year?
Fire away below and share what you think.

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Who Makes More Money – Technical Writers with Language or Technical Skills?

Which of these would you hire to join your Technical Writing Dept? Someone with great writing skills but little technical knowledge or, for example, a Computer Science graduate with deep technical knowledge but average writing skills?  We’ve been talking about this on LinkedIn and here are some thoughts.

Why Writing Skills Are More Important

  • Technical writing is about writing.  Words are the foundation upon which the rest is built.
  • If you don’t have the writing skills, then regardless of how well you know the application, you can’t explain how it works.
  • Your ability to drill down and describe complex functions may be beyond your grasp.
  • To resolve this involves arranging sessions & workshops with developers, IT architects etc, all of which cost time/money.
  • If writing skills were not necessary, programmers could write the user guides! Ever see a well-written user guide from a 22 year old Java developer? There are exceptions but…
  • Technical writing is about communication. Technical writers are trained to interview people and extract the relevant information.  Of course, listening skills are not exclusive to technical writers but many (that I know) feel they grasp the importance of this more than others.
  • Writing skills give you the tools to communicate – and to help/teach others to communicate.

FYI – One of the trends I see in Tech Comms, is the changing role of the Technical Writer / Technical Communicator into an educator, facilitator, and becoming the central point of contact for technical information distribution (i.e. technical information coordination).

The counter argument is as follows.

Why Technical Skills Are More Important

  • Technical knowledge is the starting point. You need to know how the system works, otherwise all the writing skills in the world may be of little use. If you don’t know what it actually does, what can you begin to write?
  • Most ‘non-technical’ technical writers (e.g. graduates with English degrees) waste/take up developers’ time asking questions about how the application works, instead of actually generating content. While there is some leeway here with new technologies, developers have their own deadlines and can’t be expected stop coding to explain the innards to the application.
  • Those with technical skills can hit the ground running – it’s the responsibility of the Technical Editor to refine the text.
  • Those with technical skills know which questions to ask. As they understand the application/industry/codebase they can ask the hard questions that ‘non technical’ writers would not see in the first place.

Which would you hire?

If you were running a technical writing dept, which type of person would you hire?

A technical writer with strong technical skills, but prone to the occasional typo, or someone with perfect grammar, sound writing skills, but low on technical knowledge?

PS – you can connect with me on LinkedIn here – http://www.linkedin.com/in/ivanwalsh

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Is a Degree In Technical Writing Worth The Effort?

tech writing degreeDo you have a degree in technical writing or technical communications? Was it worth the money? If you had a second chance, would you have chosen this or opted for another career path?

One of my younger cousins has started her degree in university in Limerick, Ireland. Not the place most of us think of as the heart of technical writing. But, for Microsoft, Google and IBM this university has provides a conveyor belt, producing freshly minted technical writers every four years. It’s one of the few universities in Europe with a specialist degree in Technical Communications. Continue reading Is a Degree In Technical Writing Worth The Effort?

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20 Tips When Working From Home

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I’ve being working from home now for almost seven years. Some contracts are on-site so I go to the office, but in general, I work in my home office. Actually, for the past 7 months, this means working in my bedroom. More on this later.

I’m married, with a little nipper, and friends are always popping over for a chat. How do I cope? Continue reading 20 Tips When Working From Home