Interview with Swapnil Ogale

Swapnil has been a technical writer for 13 years and has worked in multiple industries including healthcare, software, and telecommunications.

Key takeaways

  • When transitioning between writing for different industries, it’s important to immerse yourself in the field you are targeting by learning as much as you can about industry terms, news and technologies.
  • A lot of technical writing goes beyond just the writing work. Research, planning, and communicating are core skills that should be developed.

What is the story of your technical writing career so far?

I’ve been a tech writer for the last 13 years. After a Masters of Business in Information Systems, I spent a couple of years doing data analysis, before I realised I really needed to turn back to the one thing I love the most, writing.

After a Graduate Diploma in Technical Writing, I started out as a technical writer in a health software company and later worked for a couple of years in a share registry business. For the last 10 years, I have been working as a contractor with a number of companies across a range of domains - software, engineering, public health, and telecommunications. I have led small technical writing teams at a couple of contracts and enjoyed the challenges of managing schedules, deliverables, and expectations. In my current role, I work on a number of electricity and gas projects and am using this opportunity to learn new skills and technologies.

What led you to obtain a graduate degree in technical writing, and what did you gain from that experience?

I was always keen to get a formal qualification for multiple reasons. Along with getting to learn the basics, tools, techniques, I also realized this was a good way to build a network and find mentors.

The graduate diploma set me up nicely as I believe it assured employers that I actually knew what I was talking about, especially in the early days. I also got an opportunity to learn from and meet many good tech writers in Melbourne who could guide me.

How have you managed to transition between all of these different industries, and what have you found to be the key differences between them?

It hasn’t been very easy as a lot of SMEs (subject matter experts) are initially hesitant to share information because I have no prior history in a particular industry. But it also acts as a great conversation starter as it allows them to share more freely than making assumptions. The key is to do your homework, read and listen to as much as you can about industry terms, news and technologies.

The key differences between industries is the base of operations. Some are engineering or systems driven (IT, engineering, telcos), whereas some are process driven (public health, government).

What advice do you have for aspiring technical writers looking to break into the field?

Technical writing is more than just writing. Think of yourself as a conduit between technology and users. Think of yourself as the glue that binds the technical and the non-technical. You have multiple skills that you bring to the table along with core writing - planning, user research, interviewing and presentation skills, perseverance, and the ability to understand systems, processes, products from a completely different perspective (that of the users). Use your opportunities well to learn, share, and grow as a technical writer.

Swapnil goes by swapnil_ogale on the Write the Docs Slack group. You can find him in the #australia, #general and #watercooler channels.