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Best locations for API documentation jobs

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You’re taking this course most likely because you want to break into API documentation. However, if you live in a place where there aren’t many API documentation jobs, it will be difficult to find work. In this topic, I’ll explain where the API documentation jobs are.

Where are the API jobs

Where are the best locations for API documentation jobs? The 2017-2018 STC Salary Database (which is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data) provides a lot of research about technical writer employment in different parts of the U.S., but nothing that breaks down the numbers by API documentation opportunities.

As such, we’ll have to triangulate a bit and make some best guesses about where the API documentation jobs are. The STC Salary Database information gives us a starting point. Here are the “Ten Largest MSAs [Metropolitan Statistical Areas] by Number of Technical Writers” (based on 2017 data, which is the latest data set available):

Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) Technical writers employed
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 3,390
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 1,730
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,560
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 1,220
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 1,040
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 970
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 930
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 910
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 810
Austin-Round Rock, TX / Columbus, OH 740

“MSA” stands for “metropolitan statistical area.” Most of the research in the STC Salary Database focuses on MSAs rather than states. Why look at MSAs rather than states as a whole? While California might rank high in technical writer employment, you would have a tough time finding employment in some remote areas, such as Lone Pine or Corning. Employment measurements are more accurate when they’re focused on a specific metropolitan area rather than the state as a whole.

However, it’s hard to filter API data by MSAs, so I’ll use states anyway. The top 10 states (rather than MSAs) for technical writer employment (again, according to the STC Salary Database) are as follows:

State Number of Employed Technical Writers
California 6,340
Texas 4,360
Virginia 2,840
Massachusetts 2,450
New York 2,390
Florida 2,360
Maryland 2,180
New Jersey 1,980
Ohio 1,770
Pennsylvania 1,540

They aren’t too different from the list of MSAs — California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Maryland, and Ohio still feature prominently on both lists, so focusing on states probably reflects the MSAs within that state as well.

To try to determine which states have the most density for API-specific documentation jobs, I searched Indeed.com for the term “API” and filtered by state (it wasn’t possible to filter by MSA). I performed one set of searches on August 12, 2018, and another on December 26, 2018. Then I averaged the two.

I didn’t meticulously examine each hit in the Indeed results for “API” to see if the hit actually related to documentation jobs with APIs, or even that it related to APIs (though I did spot check). I assume that the number of documentation jobs will be a relative percentage of the API-related jobs overall. For example, suppose a state has 1,000 hits for “API.” If we were to examine each job and filter the results down to “technical writer” jobs that mention APIs, we would probably see a relative percentage (e.g., 5 percent) of jobs related to technical writing. Error rates will probably be the same overall as well.

Admittedly, I’m by no means versed in statistics, and I admit that this method has many flaws for our overall question (where are the best locations for API documentation jobs?). For example, a high number of jobs doesn’t necessarily mean more jobs will be available if there are just more technical writers competing for those jobs.

To illustrate some of these issues, suppose the state is small and has only about 500 technical writers in the area, but the technical writer growth rate in the area is high as well as the number of “API” hits on Indeed. Is that a better area in which to find a job? Maybe. It depends on how many writers are competing for the jobs — that information would be even harder to gather.

On the other hand, living in a larger tech hub with more variation in the job opportunities and required technical skills might provide more selection and fit for your particular skills. API doc hiring managers usually want candidates familiar with the languages they’re targeting, so with more jobs available, you might have a better shot at matching up with one of the roles.

Additionally, just because states have a high employment rate of technical writers doesn’t mean it’s the best location to find a job. Job growth rates might be a better factor to consider, as it means more new jobs will be available in the area. In the STC Salary Database, high-growth-rate areas are listed in the “Fastest-Growing States for Technical Writers and Export and GDP Performance in 2017” table.

Alternatively, we could have examined the top areas based on industry sectors. The Computer Systems Design and Related Services Industries employs the most technical writers, but if you’re focused on another industry, such as medical, different locations might be more optimal for these other industry sectors. California has a high density of computer-focused companies, while New Jersey has more pharmaceutical companies.

Thus, it’s hard to say for sure where the best locations are for API doc jobs, especially as they fit your unique profile. At most, in this topic I indicate where some promising areas appear to be, based on the technical writer employment in the area and the prevalence of “API” as a keyword in job postings in the area.

API keyword density by state

Here’s the data from my search for the keyword “API” in job searches on Indeed.com, contextualized with the technical writer employment for the state. I sorted by most API hits (because API frequency is what we’re optimizing for). In measuring hits, I took the average of two searches for “API” spread out over about six months. Also, I divided the API hits by the employment to give a percentage hinting at the density of API documentation jobs.

State (U.S. only) Technical writers employed in the state API average (Aug hits + Dec hits ÷ 2) # of "API" hits on Indeed
(Aug 2018)
# of "API" hits on Indeed
(Dec 2018)
% of API hits ÷ employment
California 6,340 5,262 4,983 5540 83%
Texas 4,360 2,569 2,450 2688 59%
New York 2,390 1,864 1,735 1992 78%
Washington State 1,240 1,257 1,283 1230 101%
Virginia 2,840 1,216 1,092 1340 43%
Massachusetts 2,450 1,128 1,080 1176 46%
Illinois 1,520 1047 949 1145 69%
Georgia 1,180 897 879 915 76%
New Jersey 1,980 846.5 800 893 43%
Pennsylvania 1,540 842.5 800 885 55%
Florida 2,360 750.5 722 779 32%
North Carolina 1,480 704 631 777 48%
Colorado 1,220 673 635 711 55%
Ohio 1,770 512.5 466 559 29%
Maryland 2,180 491.5 567 416 23%
Arizona 820 446 404 488 54%
Minnesota 1,030 407.5 389 426 40%
Michigan 1,280 367 351 383 29%
District of Columbia 700 355 355 355 51%
Missouri 1,120 313.5 322 305 28%
Utah 740 287 275 299 39%
Oregon 530 280.5 271 290 53%
Tennessee 480 255.5 212 299 53%
Connecticut 690 248 229 267 36%
Wisconsin 850 245 225 265 29%
Indiana 740 199.5 204 195 27%
Louisiana 180 182.5 167 198 101%
Oklahoma 790 159.5 169 150 20%
Iowa 470 138 130 146 29%
South Carolina 530 133.5 110 157 25%
Alabama 700 109.5 115 104 16%
Nebraska 300 103.5 102 105 35%
Kentucky 250 100 95 105 40%
Kansas 550 99.5 101 98 18%
Delaware 90 83 65 101 92%
Nevada 250 76.5 69 84 31%
Arkansas 180 69.5 56 83 39%
New Hampshire 180 64.5 51 78 36%
Rhode Island 210 62.5 73 52 30%
North Dakota 100 50 46 54 50%
Idaho 250 39.5 35 44 16%
New Mexico 370 38 36 40 10%
West Virginia 90 30 37 22 33%
Maine 70 29 20 38 41%
Alaska 70 27 31 23 39%
South Dakota 100 19 25 13 19%
Montana 60 18 17 19 30%
Mississippi 120 17.5 7 28 15%
Wyoming 30 15 12 17 50%
Vermont 160 13.5 8 19 8%
Hawaii 70 10.5 15 6 15%
Puerto Rico 110 7 4 10 6%

If “API” is a more common term for the area, I assume more technical writer jobs will involve working with APIs in those areas. Based on this assumption, California, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are promising areas for API documentation jobs for technical writers.

This superficial query doesn’t indicate whether there are more tech comm jobs overall for these states. For example, Michigan might have a lot more general tech writing jobs than API doc jobs, even though it ranks far down in the above table.

To get more granular with details, such as job losses or gains, the hottest MSAs for each state, the best industry sectors, the highest salaries, etc., consult the STC Salary Database and mine the data you want.

I want to note some issues. In my initial searches for District of Columbia, I failed to specify “exact location” and as a result, the original hits (which allow a 25-mile radius by default) included many surrounding states such as Virginia, Maryland, and others. I revised the search in January 2019.

Also, I’m not sure why Washington State, Louisiana, and Delaware are getting so many hits for APIs. I think “API” might have another meaning in some of these states (e.g., “API CNC Machinist,” “Familiar with OSHA, API, NFPA and other regulations and standards,” “Basic knowledge of API RP 53 and 30 CFR Part 250,” etc.). Like I said, I didn’t sort through hundreds of results to make sure API referred to “Application Programming Interface” in every counted hit.

At any rate, the top 10 states with the highest percentages (dividing API hits by employment) are Washington State, Louisiana, Delaware, California, New York, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona.

Should you move to California?

Since I’m currently in California (the “San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara” MSA), and California frequently appears at the top of these employment and API lists, I’ll comment a bit on API jobs in this location. California (specifically Silicon Valley, which roughly spans from San Francisco to San Jose) continues to be a hub (if not the hub) for API technical writer jobs.

The number of tech writers in the area fluctuates quite a bit. Here’s the data from the last several Salary Database for San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA, starting in 2007 (the first year the STC started publishing the report):

Year Tech writers employed
2006 1,370
2007 1,350
2008 1,350
2009 1,510
2010 1,340
2011 1,340
2012 1,200
2013 no data
2014 1,360
2015 1,360
2016 1,160
2017 1,560

Overall, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara is a hot area for tech writer jobs. The employment levels have been relatively flat for the past decade but jumped up 34% this past year. I can certainly see the effects of the job growth in this area. I get emails from recruiters pinging me several times a week, trying to fill positions. At my own company, I’ve seen how difficult it is to find qualified candidates for developer doc positions. At times, it seems like the candidates just aren’t here.

Should you move to California (or stay here if you're already in California)?
Should you move to California (or stay here if you're already in California)?

However, California has some drawbacks, mainly with housing and traffic. To live in Silicon Valley, you likely need the dual income of two working professionals to survive financially. Alternatively, you probably need to be single and willing to share a house with roommates. Or just be willing to live in an older, smaller house in an ugly part of town. Traffic along the 101 can also crawl at a snail’s pace during rush hour.

That said, given the increased exodus of tech professionals in the Silicon Valley area (some estimate that 46% are leaving because housing is so unaffordable), the need and opportunity for tech writers will be even greater in Silicon Valley.

So if you’re willing to sacrifice a few comforts related to housing — like being willing to live in a 1,000 square-foot house for $3k/month rent instead of owning a $3,000 square-foot house for $1,500/month mortgage — your future could be bright in California. California has many other perks as well — beautiful beaches, mountains with awe-inspiring Sequoias and Redwoods, free city-wide wifi, bike-friendly paths, abundant parks and good schools, year-round good weather, laid-back attitudes, and more.

But living here is a tradeoff. In Tech Comm and The State of Urbanization, Danielle Villegas, frustrated by the lack of tech writer jobs in the New Jersey area but not ready to give up her nice home and garden for the urban life, writes:

Why would I want to try to get a studio apartment in San Francisco or Silicon Valley or New York City for USD $1-2 million when I can get a three-to-four bedroom house in a nice neighborhood, have some green space/a garden, a good school district for my child, for a fraction of that? Why should I have to sacrifice my time with my family and other obligations I have to my community by commuting four hours round trip every day, and sacrificing my physical and mental well-being at the same time?

It’s a tradeoff that might not make sense for the lifestyle you want. For me, I moved to California (from Utah) after our tech writing team at a Utah company was laid off. I received a generous severance package and decided to move to Silicon Valley to be in an environment that has an abundance of jobs. I have four daughters and am the primary breadwinner in my family, so it was important to be located in a place where jobs were more abundant, stable, and where salaries were more lucrative. I was willing to trade my spacious Utah house and the green garden (okay, I actually hate gardening) for the chance to work in a thriving tech space.

Having been here for five years, I honestly love it. For starters, there are a plethora of tech writing jobs here if you’re qualified. If you have a few years of experience writing developer docs and are familiar with some technical languages or frameworks, many companies will gladly open their doors. Startups offer opportunities to build doc departments and tool workflows from the ground up as well. It might be tough to land your first tech writing job here, but once you get some experience, doors open.

Working in large companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Microsoft, and more can be invigorating. I love working with mainstream commercial products like Fire TV — literally, it seems like every day I see an article talking about Amazon products or the company in some way. It’s interesting to be working in a space that has influence, which is frequently in the news (for good or bad), and which is at the forefront of technology.

These companies are shaping culture and so many other details of our lives. For example, even Fire TV may seem like a simple device, but it’s one of the technology products fueling the cord-cutter revolution that is disrupting the cable industry. Amazon is now taking TV to another category of experience by integrating Alexa into the experience (providing more of a hands-free interaction using natural language).

Alternatives to California

Before I moved to Santa Clara, I considered two alternatives besides the Bay area: Austin and Seattle. Texas offers a much more affordable housing market and many tech jobs. For 2017, the “Austin-Round Rock, TX” MSA employment numbers jumped up 34.5% (for a total of 740 tech writers) and in “Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX,” the employment jumped up 9.5% (for a total of 1,040 tech writers).

Seattle (specifically “Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA”) also has an abundance of jobs (an employment increase of 5.8%, for a total of 910 tech writers). And the real estate market is slightly better than the Bay area but still expensive (food seems to cost more Seattle too).

Traffic in all of these cities is pretty horrible, but you might be able to avoid this by becoming a bicycle commuter (as I have). In the end, I chose California because it seemed like the Ivy League of technology spaces, so I wanted to experience it for myself.

Will I stay here forever? Probably not. I’ll probably never be able to afford a home here, but for the time being, accruing experience at some well-known companies seems like a worthwhile investment.

Overall, tech companies will continue to grow and expand outside of Silicon Valley. There’s not enough space in Silicon Valley, and the number of engineers becomes fewer and fewer as companies grow and expand. Many say that Silicon Valley’s days are over because it’s no longer practical for a startup to launch in the conditions here. So if you want to come to California to work as a technical writer, great. But many other locations might be more ideal.

For ideas on alternative areas, see the “Fastest-Growing States for Technical Writers and Export and GDP Performance in 2017” section of the Salary Database. Michigan had a 28.0% increase in tech writer employment. Georgia had a 19.2% increase. New Mexico had a 23.3% increase.

Without looking at averages over several years, it’s hard to know whether these boosts are temporary anomalies or indicative of a continuous upward trajectory. To give better context to any growth percentages, the Salary Database says to look at the state’s overall economic growth, not just their tech comm job market. The report notes, “State employment gains are often correlated with the state’s economy. A growing economy will typically prompt new hires in nearly all industries.”

Overall, if you’re serious about choosing locations for jobs, consider these factors:

  • Number of tech writers employed
  • Abundance of API doc opportunities
  • The industry
  • Cost of living
  • Health of the state’s economy
  • Companies in the area you want to work for

How to conduct a simple test

To spot-check the job opportunities in an area, select a few cities where you might like to live, set up some job alerts on Indeed.com for those areas, and then monitor the frequency of jobs there over the next few months.

Indeed will send you a daily job alert whenever there are new jobs in that area. Over a period of time, you can consistently see how many new tech writing jobs are popping up in a city. I did this when I was initially considering where to live, and without question, there were about 3-4 times more technical writing jobs appearing in San Jose than Portland, and 2-3 times more than in Seattle.

In these searches, I didn’t run comparisons for more cities, nor did I add “API” into the job title. But you can set up multiple searches and assess the results.

If you’re relocating, let companies know when you’ll be in the area. Set up as many interviews as you can during the same week. When companies see you arrive on site in person, it can allay fears about hiring someone out of state.

Conclusion

Much more could be written about where to live for API tech jobs. Overall, if you want to find a job in API documentation, target these popular areas: California, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. On the other hand, if you want to start a farm or ranch, move to Wyoming.

Activity: Look at API documentation jobs and requirements

In this activity, you’ll get a sense of the skills needed for the jobs in your location, and then draw up a plan.

  1. Go to indeed.com.
  2. In the Where field, type your desired location.
  3. Search for “API technical writer” or some combination of API + technical writer + developer documentation jobs.
  4. Read the descriptions of 5 jobs.
  5. Note a few of the salient requirements for these jobs.
  6. Assess where you’re currently at with the following:
    • Portfolio with writing samples that include developer documentation
    • Technical knowledge related to developer domain
    • Experience writing developer documentation
  7. Make a plan for how you’ll match up your portfolio, tech knowledge, and experience related to what these job descriptions are asking for. You might need to dedicate more time to the open-source documentation project that you identified earlier.
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