Some technical communication fields have low entry thresholds (like press release and resume writing, for example). Others have far tougher entry conditions and they also pay accordingly. API (Application Product Interface) writing is one such highly technical documentation field.
API writing is for software engineers who would like to switch to documentation, or technical writers who know programming and have an intimate grasp of software design and build process. It’s a tough specialization that pays well.
Briefly, an API is a collection of all the methods, functions, objects, classes, etc. that developers (software engineers) use in developing a software product. Initially, all those programming components look manageable since there are only a handful of them. But in a software project that spreads over many months and years, such interface components multiply like rabbits. More often than not, the project needs someone to document and make sense of all the tools and methods used by the team. That’s when the API Writers enters the picture.
To be an API writer you really need to know at least a couple programming languages like C, C++, Java, etc. You should be able to look into a code and at least identify its main components and talk intelligibly about it with the developers.
Among the documents that an API writer generates are Programmer’s Guides, Quick API Reference Guides, System Administration Guides, Installation Guides, Release Notes, etc.
An API writer also needs to know how to use the standard tools of the trade like Adobe FrameMaker (excellent for single-sourcing multi-platform documentation) and such specialized code-extraction tools like Doxygen and Javadoc. Some API writers are expected to generate UML (Unified Modeling Language) diagrams as well. That’s why advanced knowledge of such diagramming and flowcharting tools as MS Visio comes in handy.
If you love technology and software programming as much as writing and information design, API writing could be your ticket to a solid career with good pay.
In the United States, the best locations for API writers are Silicon Valley in California, the Northern Virginia corridor, Austin TX, Research Triangle in North Carolina, Rt. 128 corridor in Boston, Portland Oregon, and Seattle in Washington State. In India, Bangalore would be a good city to find employment as an API writer. In China, Shanghai is a good bet for API writing jobs.