Since technical writing overlaps with many other types of writing (commercial copy, business, scientific, etc.) it comes in many “hybrid” versions.
One such hybrid is “Technical Writer-Software Programmer.”
Here is a real and recent job ad for a Writer-Programmer:
“Aquent, formerly Sakson & Taylor is looking for someone to research, develop and write documentation for an OEM and ISV audience, derive documentation from sample source code written by both the content publishing and product team, and manage the technical review process. The programmer writer must possess an understanding of both native and managed code. The programmer writer will work with the documentation lead, other writers, and an editor to define writing assignments.
Skills: The required qualifications for a programmer writer include three or more years work-related experience, excellent technical writing skills and the ability to read or write C/C++. In addition, the programmer writer must be able to work well under deadline pressure and must have an aptitude for learning new tools and technologies quickly. The programmer writer must also possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills. The programmer writer must be able to follow instructions and to oversee or modify a schedule of tasks with minimal supervision. The candidate must also have good judgment, time management and decision-making skills. The ability to be proactive in solving problems is required. “
Such a hybrid is perhaps easier for a C/C++ programmer who wants to shift into technical communications than other way around. I may be wrong in assuming this but, as someone who had 3 years of electrical engineering in college (in addition to 4 years of sociology), it is probably easier for a programmer to learn how to write a technical manual than a writer to learn how to program in C/C++.
So, if you are a software developer feeling the effects of downsizing, or a programmer who would like to increase his or her contribution and thus become a more valuable employee, you might try shifting into technical writing as well. The hard economic times we are all going through demand we add new tools to our existing set of skills. Technical writing is a perfect choice to complement your programming background, if you have any.
Any technical writer, however, can also learn C/C++ and make the transition in the other direction. It’s not easy to learn a new programming language but it’s not impossible either. It can be done and has been done numerous times in the past.
If you choose to do that, my advice would be to study and understand the concept of “Object Oriented Programming” first since it’s so central to many of the modern programming languages today.
RESOURCES for Technical Writers who would like to learn a Programming Language:
If you are a technical writer who would like to learn a programming language, I would definitely recommend all Head First series of books. They are excellent to present complicated technical concepts to absolute beginners.
Here are some Head First books in the series that I especially like:
Head First C# (Brain-Friendly Guides)
Head First Java, 2nd Edition
Head First PHP & MySQL (A Brain-Friendly Guide)
Head First Servlets and JSP: Passing the Sun Certified Web Component Developer Exam (Brain-Friendly Guides)
Head First Software Development (Brain-Friendly Guides)
Head First Ajax
Head First Object-Oriented Analysis and Design