The question is almost a cliche: How do you get a job without experience and how do you get experience without a job? Well, for tech writers, the answer might be simpler than you think, because there are lots of software projects out there that need writing help from anyone they can get.
They won’t pay you. Let’s get that out of the way right now. But you can add a line to your resume and a project to your portfolio while actually helping people. And when you’re interviewing for a job, you can point out that you’re actually doing something with your time other than going on job interviews. Not only are you working, but you’re showing that you take being a tech writer seriously.
Note: This is different from doing free work for regular companies. Normally, if someone asks you to work for free (or for “experience” or “exposure”) then the answer is no. But open source is different. It’s the community coming together to create something, not a tight-fisted company trying to rip-off young writers.
As a guy who’s recently spent hours looking at resumes, I can tell you that some volunteer work shows that you know what the job is about and are for real. You’re not one of those people thinking, “hey, maybe tech writing could be for me.” Those people are a risk to hire. I don’t want to train people only to find that they don’t really like tech writing after all!
So have I convinced you? Here are a couple of places to start:
One more thought
Though I’ve never tried it, this idea makes sense to me: Find practically any local charity with a poorly-written Web page (or other written material) and offer to write for them for free. I’ve seen a lot of abysmal writing on sites like that, and I’ll bet they’d be happy to hear from you. Bonus: there’s probably a tax break in it for you and if you do a good job, maybe some recognition and paid work down the line.
Has anyone out there done any open source work? How did it go?