So you think you can… become a tech writer?

by Nigel Bowen
08 October 2020

Nobody has ever accused me of gilding the lily when it comes to the challenges of pursuing a career as a content provider. But I do believe, with the right mindset and approach, it’s eminently possible to make a six-figure income as a jobbing writer.

I’ve done it myself (albeit not consistently) over the last nine years. Even more encouragingly, individuals with no background in journalism such as Lindy Alexander have managed to start invoicing for in excess of $2000 a week within months of hanging out their shingle.

There are myriad ways to make good coin as a writer, but all the high-earners I know have one thing in common – they pay attention to where the market demand is and (at least some of the time) produce content organisations are prepared to pay handsomely for.

I’m here to tell you there is strong market demand for tech content; demand that’s unlikely to do anything but grow exponentially regardless of the ups and downs of the economic cycle.  

Software is eating the world        

As you may have noticed, technology is placing an increasingly large role in everybody’s lives. One can debate whether that’s a good or bad thing for workers in general, but the salient point for content providers with mortgages to pay is that we’re still in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The techno-utopians believe the endpoint of this revolution is The Singularity (i.e. humans – or more likely human-machine hybrids – achieving Godlike powers). The Singularity may or may not eventuate, but there’s no question exciting things are happening right now in fields such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, quantum computing, robotics, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, nanotechnology, biotechnology, renewable energy, telehealth, 3D and 4D printing, cybersecurity and data analytics. And every single business bringing a new ‘Information Age’ product or service to market needs at least one skilled communicator to explain what it does.       

Confessions of a technophobe tech writer

I did no science subjects in my final years of high school and failed maths. In my journo days, I drove countless graphic designers to distraction with my constant queries about how to perform simple Adobe InDesign procedures. I haven’t been able to watch anything but Netflix since I moved into a new apartment six months ago because I can’t work out what cords need to go in what ports to access free-to-air TV channels. Rest assured, if someone like me can make $1 or more a word writing about technology pretty much anybody can.  

Actually, let me qualify that slightly. There is a subset of tech writers who have specialist domain knowledge they either gained at university and/or while on the tools. These are the mavens companies turn to when they need a 200-page instruction manual for their new SaaS platform or a whitepaper on the latest developments in Application Programming Interfaces. At least initially, you’re not going to be in a position to compete for those kinds of jobs. However, there are many less esoteric but equally lucrative tech-writing projects you can put your hand up for. 

When I started transitioning from print journalism to content marketing almost a decade ago, I primarily found myself churning out ‘Five fascinating facts about low-interest savings accounts’ and ‘Why your family will end up starving in the gutter if you don’t review your superannuation policy immediately’ pieces for cashed-up financial institutions.

About five years ago, my existing finance-industry clients started asking me to write more tech-focused articles on topics such as digital transformation and Australia’s start-up ecosystem. Then new clients started asking me to write about things such as printer cybersecurity and AI-enabled telehealth. In retrospect, I can see that – without having made a conscious decision to pursue such work – I was spending more and more time producing tech content. Nonetheless, I still thought of myself as a business writer.  

One day late last year, the BBC (OK, the BBC’s branded content division) got in touch out of the blue asking me to write an article about how British companies could help Australians make the most of 5G. I told the BBC StoryWork Content Strategist I knew nothing about 5G (and even less about 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G). Despite my protestations to the contrary, she remained convinced I was one of Australia’s more accomplished tech writers and would have no trouble quickly getting up to speed and generating the content she required. It turned out her faith in me wasn’t entirely misplaced. It was around then I started thinking of myself as a tech writer.

How to break into tech writing

If you look through your portfolio, it’s quite likely you’ll find you’ve written articles that touch on technology and which you can direct potential tech-industry clients to. Even if that’s not the case, it’s not difficult to transition into writing about tech if you already have some runs on the board in your particular niche. If you write about agribusiness, it shouldn’t be too hard to find start-ups that need agtech content. If you write about relationships, there’s always keen reader interest in sextech articles. If you’re a finance writer, you can earn big bucks pumping out Insurtech whitepapers. Be it arttech, biotech, cleantech, edtech, fashiontech, femtech, foodtech, greentech, healthtech, legaltech, medtech, proptech, regtech, retailtech or spacetech, there will almost always be a ‘tech’ you’ll be well placed to write about.

If there isn’t, you’re in the fortunate position of being able to find an emerging tech to make your own. In the coming years, 5G, biometrics, blockchain and the IoT will almost certainly have a transformative impact on the way economies and societies function. Countless start-ups, multinationals, NFPs, government departments and educational institutions will need to produce content that, in one way or another, explains these emerging technologies. If you get in on the ground floor, you could create a large (and largely recession-proof) revenue stream by reinventing yourself as the go-to 5G/biometrics/blockchain/IoT content guru.

Be an MVP

Tech types are big on MVPs – Minimal Viable Products. The idea is to put something basic – be it a social network, smartphone or online bookstore – on the market then improve it over time as customer feedback comes in.

My advice to aspiring tech writers is to embrace the MVP mindset. Don’t worry about not having a STEM background, or being unfamiliar with tech-industry concepts and jargon, or not having written much about technology in the past. Just start applying for tech-writing work and learn as you go along.

Trust me, you’ll pick things up more quickly and easily than you expect.       

Are you keen to become a tech writer or are you already working in one of the industries above? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Nigel Bowen

6 responses on "So you think you can… become a tech writer?"

  1. Totally agree Nigel. I’ve been writing for tech clients for nearly 30 years. I wasn’t a tech specialist either, started as a business journo too. The technology changes, the platforms the content is published on change, the communications principals don’t. My first speech for a tech client in 1993 was a 40 minute presentation for a senior exec at Apple on the topic ’emerging technologies for remote LAN access’. I didn’t know what a LAN was, let alone what innovation was on the horizon to access it remotely. (Turned out that emerging tech was WiFi that the CSIRO invented and released in 1997). You don’t need to be a technologist to be a tech writer. You need to ask the right questions.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I agree you don’t need to be a specialist either – it IS all about asking the right questions. Good to see you’ve had such success in the tech niche for so many years, Deborah!

  2. Nigel says:

    Thanks, Deborah, it’s reassuring to hear I’m not the only one who has been winging it!

  3. Deborah says:

    *principles, whoops. (Write in haste, sub at leisure)

  4. John Burfitt says:

    As always, Nigel, you offer great insights into the trends swirling in and around our game, and shine a light into the paths ahead. This is a great piece and full of so much information. Thanks for sharing your wisdom yet again. I remain a fan.

  5. Nigel says:

    The fandom is mutual, JB!

We'd love to hear your thoughts...

%d bloggers like this: