Technical Writing: What They Never Told You About Your Engineering Degree

If you have an engineering degree or you’re studying engineering, you’re going to want to listen up. Most people are pretty aware that having an engineering degree doesn’t mean you have to work as an engineer. So what exactly are your other options? Well, technical writing is one that is seldom mentioned and it is definitely something to consider.

Maybe I’m the only one who thought this. But it seemed that if you didn’t want to be an engineer, you basically had the choice of consulting, banking, project management, engineering sales, or teaching. Still not exactly the kind of stuff that appealed, and absolutely no mention of technical writing.

Of course, I could’ve been the only lonely person living under a rock who didn’t know about technical writing as a career option. However, I have a feeling that there are many more of us floating around, oblivious to this job opportunity. Which is why I wanted to talk a little bit about what it is and why you may want to keep it on your radar.

desk and plant

Photograph by Nicolas Solerieu from Unsplash.

desk with laptop for writing

Photograph by Nathan Riley from Unsplash.

What is a Technical Writer?

green leaves

Photograph by Annie Spratt from Unsplash.

I mean it’s kind of self-explanatory, I guess. You write technical documents for various purposes. Some may be manuals for a new mechanical part, others could be how-to guides for building websites, and it really does go on to all sorts of things.

You are essentially the bridge between the creator and the customer. 

This is where it can get tricky and it’s why most technical writers have studied in engineering or technical fields. You need to have the mind of both the person who has created the complex system and of the person who knows nothing about it. And you can’t explain something effectively if you don’t understand it yourself.

Why Should You Care About Technical Writing?

What I’m really trying to tell you is that if you have studied engineering or another technical degree and you have good communication skills, there are opportunities for you. You may be thinking, what’s so great about technical writing?



For someone who has always had their heart set on travel, remote work is extremely important. Being able to earn an income from anywhere in the world, granted an internet connection, is extremely valuable in my opinion. Technical writing is one of the ways you could make that a reality.


Who Da Boss? You Da Boss.

While there are many full-time and contract jobs for technical writers, there is also a large portion of freelancing. If you can set up a clientele that consistently purchases your work, you can essentially work for yourself. You aren’t bound by anyone else’s rules. Work when you want. Play when you want.

Obviously deadlines still exist for freelance work but the flexibility you gain from choosing your own work hours is not to be underestimated.

laptop and camera with blanket

Photograph by Ewan Roberston from Unsplash.

Photograph by Hanny Naibaho from Unsplash.

cup of coffee on table

What Do Technical Writers Earn?

If you’re looking at technical writing from the perspective of comparing it to other fields close to engineering, you’re not going to be mindblown. However, if you’re looking at what most people can earn from freelance writing, technical writing definitely puts you in a much higher category. On average, a technical writer earns about R335,000 per year in South Africa. In the US, it is roughly $50,000-$70,000 per year as an average writer. In their respective countries, those numbers may not be huge. But if you’re living in a country with a currency weaker than the US dollar, and you’re working remotely to earn dollars, the potential changes drastically.

Depending on what you do with the situation and where you find work, you could potentially earn the same money as an intermediate technical writer in South Africa, as a complete beginner in the US by earning in their currency.

Is Technical Writing for You?

writing at coffee shop

Photograph by Tyler Nix from Unsplash.

I can’t answer that for you. However, I can provide some insight into why this is something that I am personally considering and if our situations are similar, there’s a good chance that technical writing could be a good idea for you too.

I’ve known for a long time that I really didn’t want to get into a classic desk job with set hours etc. Being able to move around and be flexible with work is something that I’ve always wanted to create for myself.

I also knew that I wasn’t interested in working as an engineer or in any of the related fields. Which seemingly left me with nothing to do with this degree that I had sweated bullets for. I knew that I wanted to give writing a shot since it was something I had always enjoyed growing up and all throughout high school.

So I tried out some freelance writing and it was pretty good. The money was decent because of the exchange rate but for dollar terms, I was earning very little. My productivity also completely plummeted because the stuff I was writing about was so mind-numbing.


That made me realise very quickly that I was working hard, not smart. The value of the words I was writing was low and that wasn’t going to change, even if my writing was perfect. I also realised that if I’m not learning, being challenged and growing, I lose interest and drive very quickly.

Generally, you earn more as a freelance writer if you are knowledgable in a particular field. It seemed silly to not be using my degree to improve my job, which leads to technical writing.

So if you have also been interested in remote work, want to work for yourself, and are struggling to figure out what to do with your engineering degree, this could be something to try out. It could be particularly well-suited to you if you enjoy constantly learning and if your writing skills are good.

I don’t have loads of experience with this but it seems that technical writers are generally in high demand. Especially compared to general freelance writing where the competition is intense. Any freelance writing is competitive, including technical, but if you have an engineering degree, you already have a solid foot in the door. 

This isn’t an instant gratification type of job. It takes time to build up a strong portfolio and enough experience for people to take you seriously. However, even during that construction process, you can still work and earn money. It’s not as if you need to put aside 2 years of your life to just get technical writing experience. 

Finally, you don’t need a technical degree to get into technical writing. The impression that I’ve gotten from freelance writing as a whole is that it’s all about the hustle. If you can deliver high-quality work, people are less concerned about what formal education you do or don’t have. 

I hope that you found this as least a little bit helpful. I plan on sharing more tips about freelance writing and technical writing in the future so be sure to stick around if it interests you. If you have any questions or advice for myself and everyone else, feel free to hit up the comments section. 

“A dream is not meant to be dreamed forever; instead, it’s meant for you to work hard and smart enough until success wakes you up from it.” – Edmond Mbiaka


  1. Nick

    Kath, this is such a great idea and certainly wasn’t on my radar. It’s also applicable with covid at the moment.

    • Katherine Pannell

      Hey Nick, glad it’s a new option on your radar now 🙂


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