Over at Ask Metafilter, somebody asked that question. As a former technical writer myself, I was interested to read the discussion. Here’s the worst advice I could find:
To do this job well, of course, you practically need to be a programmer yourself, and today that means knowing not just the basics of how to code in some language (something C-derived is a must), but also things like design patterns and development methodologies.
I have worked as a technical writer, mostly, since 1982. It is a hard, grueling job. I honestly can’t recommend it if you have alternatives.
If you plan to work in software, as most technical writers do, I recommend taking an introductory, theoretical course in programming. I’d also suggest you read a couple of books on the software development process. The book that helped me the most was Software Project Survival Guide. This research ensures that you can at least speak some of the lingo and have an understanding of whta, say, ‘unit testing’ is.
As for technical writing being a ‘hard, grueling job’, that’s just laughable. I can’t find it now, but I read a study that found technical writing to be one of the least stressful jobs around. It can get busy around release dates, but it’s very cyclical. After the product is released, there’s often a lot of downtime.
And the best advice?
If you already have a B.A. you will be very seriously dissapointed by a Technical Writing program at a community college.
While communication skills are only a part of a tech writer’s skill set, a B.A should give you 80% of that set.