I've spent 25 years in information technology. During my first 10 years, I developed and maintained legacy systems. I've also managed programming teams that did the same thing. Now I want to transition myself into more modern skills and keep on working until I'm ready to retire. But I don't want to manage or compete head-to-head with younger technology gurus. Can I find a second career as a technical writer with newer companies?
-- Want to Work
Since senior technical writers working at software firms are often called upon to create their own code examples, your programming background could come in handy.
Nonetheless, your ability to succeed in making this switch will depend on your writing skills, plus your ability to handle a younger work and technology environment in a totally different capacity.
Start by attending a few meetings of your local chapter of the Arlington, Va.-based Society for Technical Communications (www.stc-va.org) to check out whether this transition will work for you, and check out www.techpubs.com/resources.html.
Also, obtain a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B.
White, counsels Stan Sinasohn, senior technical writer at Hybrid Networks Inc., a broadband wireless company in San Jose.
You might take a couple of community college or evening courses. Additionally, learn Adobe FrameMaker inside and out; it's the standard software package for publishing technical documents.
The earning potential in this field can be considerable, says Sinasohn. Senior writers can earn $90,000 to $100,000 per year.
"Dear Career Adviser:
For the past five years, I've been working half-time from a home office while building our house.
Now that I want to get back into work full-time, I can't - even though I'm an IT professional with more than 20 years' experience.
I spent the past 13 years as a computer consultant, and I have experience as a lead analyst in about 75 successful system development projects involving mainstream commercial programming languages, software and hardware, including Cobol, C, C++, DB2, Oracle, mainframes, PCs and the Internet.
I'm told I'm either over- or underqualified. Can I become employable again?
- Fatal Mistakes
If you live in an area with a wide range of companies and can stomach a stab at full-time entrepreneurship, try building a full-time business for yourself.
This can be a lot more rewarding, says San Francisco based entrepreneur Jeff Marchi, founder of MIS Services. Your best possibilities will be in computer support or Web development work.
If you pick Web development work, target small companies that want to outsource their Web site development and maintenance. This will require the ability to program in HTML, XML and Java and handle some sophisticated Web site development tools.
If you select computer support as your business, Marchi counsels advertising in some of the free computer magazines found in many cities.
Concentrate on companies with fewer than 30 computers, since larger companies usually have their own internal support staff.
"Dear Career Adviser:
I've been a software engineer for about five years and have a lot of good skills in Windows programming, HTML and Java. I have even done some work in C++. I'm keenly interested in exploring jobs in the wireless arena since it's becoming such a hot industry.
How can I get my foot in the door?
- Wireless Will
Wireless is an explosive market growing exponentially as consumer demand drives development. "There are 100,000 developers writing for the Palm Pilot now, and they're growing at a rate of 2,000 a week," says Carl Yankowski, CEO of Palm Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif.
While there are lots of opportunities for people with Java and Windows skills, many other jobs in the wireless field require Linux, XML, and other languages and protocols specific to whether you are a hardware, software, systems, firmware or applications developer.
"We hire all of those kinds of people," says Carolyn Morris, CEO of Wireless Dynamics, a wireless modem company also in Santa Clara.
In short, if you're interested in writing applications for server synchronization, telephony, voice integration, hardware devices or specific applications - be they instant e-mail systems or services that offer financial or sports news or content geared toward a female audience - there's no shortage of opportunities.
Fran Quittel is an expert in high-tech careers and recruitment. Send questions to her at www.computerworld.com/career_adviser.