How John Fawole, a Lawyer, is Building a Technical Writing Career

John Fawole is a Web3 technical writer and the content marketing lead at Blockchain Alpha. He has worked with leading Web3 brands like Alchemy, Coinbench, Celo Foundation, Quicknode, NFTify, and Hacken. The crazy part? John juggles technical writing while studying law at the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria.

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How did you become a technical writer?

When I graduated from high school, I taught for about six months as a teacher. I worked 8 to 5 and even did extra lessons.

I also worked as a laundry assistant at 300 Level at the University. I loved to wash and iron clothes, and I was always eager to help everyone in my house do the laundry.  That was where my passion for the laundry service came from.

John Fawole, technical writer, during the Marketing Over Wine podcast recording - I'm a technical writer. Of course, I can code and do content marketing.

Then, I worked as a graphic designer, and I had clients who gave me jobs to work on for them, and I made money from it. I took up a lot of jobs, but these three top jobs I would always remember.

One day, I stumbled on the page of a senior colleague who is now a lawyer, John Ajayi. He posted about hosting a masterclass for writing titled “Learning how to write to sell.” 

So, I felt that I would use what I learned to get more clients for my graphics designs. I registered, and after the training, I realized I was more interested in writing. 

John Ajayi advised that I create an Upwork account and try it out. I did and got jobs from the site. I still use the platform to date. 

My first gig was to transcribe from audio to text, and I was paid $5 per hour. I did that for 12 hours a week. 

When my first payment came in, I felt on top of the world. It also coincided with my brother’s birthday, and I splurged on him then out of the money.

So, I started building my portfolio as a writer, and I became more active on social media. Meanwhile, I had initially built my LinkedIn account with more law-centric connections. I built my followers to 7k followers as a law student. Now, I have over 20k followers related to technical writing.

Along the line,  my brother started crypto trading, and out of curiosity, I took an interest in it and asked him some questions.

A while later, someone asked me to write a crypto article for him. So, I returned to my brother and said, “Explain this crypto thing to me in Yoruba, and then I will write about it.” For me, once I understand something in my Native language, I have gotten the concept behind it. 

The story of how I got into technical writing was quite different. There were five months of church training then, where I learned HTML and CSS before gaining admission to the University. 

While I was working at NFTify, the editor assigned us an article topic on how to build an NFT marketplace.

After writing the article, I also wanted to write about the tech stack and the developer part, but the editor kicked against the idea and said it was too technical and unnecessary for the project. 

That moment made me know that I love the technical side of writing.

Can technical writing be creative?

Let me give an analogy: when I was growing up, I loved reading books with pictures. But as I got older, I did not need the images to understand the book. I just wanted the straightforward book content.

For beginner-related technical content, you can be creative. For example, when I wrote an article on reentrancy attack for QuickNode, I used storytelling and illustrations to portray the problem and explain it better.

However, when writing for intermediate and senior engineers, they just want you to go straight to the point. They just want you to show them how it works.

What does a technical writer do?

As technical writers, we play a crucial role in content marketing—for example, technical documentation, technical white papers, technical tutorials, and blog posts. The list is endless, but we generally do content marketing with a touch of technicalities.

Do technical writers need to know code?

There is no definite answer to this question, but I will explain.

When I was working at NFTify, I was writing technical theories about NFTs. While working at Hacken, I wrote about security, what this attack is, analyzed a whole blockchain, wrote about the superchain of optimism and how it functions, and parachain of Kusama & Polkadot and explained how it works.

These topics don’t require the knowledge of coding but the understanding of the concept or industry.

For instance, when I wrote an article for Alchemy on proto-danksharding and the Ethereum roadmap, it was heavily conceptual and didn’t require coding.

John Fawole, a technical writer, speaking at the 2023 Web3 Lagos Conference
John Fawole speaking at the 2023 Web3 Lagos Conference

When I also worked for a crypto trading company, what they needed me to do was look at and analyze the market, candlestick patterns, fundamental, sentimental, and technical analysis—no need for code.

If you also check through Vitalik’s blog posts, you won’t really see articles with coding. Instead, most of his articles contain math equations and polynomials.

To put it into context, for some roles, you might need to know how to code to be able to understand the codes you see and write about them. For other roles, it might be understanding industry knowledge to be able to write about them and not necessarily about the code.

But if I were to advise anyone, I would say to learn coding to be an all-around writer.

What is a common technical writing misconception?

As technical writers, we are stuck in the middle of content marketers and developers who do not see us as one of them.

For instance, someone reached out to hire me and asked if I could code. Bro, I’m a technical writer; of course, I can code. You don’t need to ask me.

Content marketers also ask me if I can write well or know about content strategy.

In general, some people think technical writers are developers who can’t code well, so they regress to becoming technical writers. While others believe we are developers who don’t know about content marketing.

But in essence, being a technical writer means that I’m a content marketer and developer.

How to get technical writing jobs?

Generally, I don’t feel it’s hard to get a job as a technical writer because there are agencies who are always hiring. 

For example, and ContentLab are always hiring technical writers and Unity developers for games.

There are other technical writing agencies out there.

In addition, if you are using a tool and like it, you can approach the founder or team behind it and ask to join them as a junior developer advocate or a junior community member. 

If they don’t have any role for you, they will say no. Although some will ghost you but, it’s rare in the developer world.

Also, try to be more active in the community (Twitter and LinkedIn). Most importantly, reach out to people, form friendships, be active in the community, and be competent. 

People can’t throw money where they are unsure to get the desired value. So, competence comes first, then other things will follow. 

How do you become an effective technical writer?

I didn’t start from being a developer. I began by understanding marketing well. Then, I understood writing well. So, for marketing, I recommend that anyone take this Google course, “Google Developers Skill for Africa.” They have a digital marketing course for 40 hours.

Next, an excellent book to read is the blogger’s bible: The Element of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White. It breaks down the numerous rules of grammar, grammatical style, function, name, and so on. 

After understanding these things, I learned how to code. I started with Solidity, then moved to Vyper, and then to React, and currently using Node.js

Now, don’t stop at learning how to code alone. Learn how to build simple stuff with code. That shows that you can write tutorials.

Currently, I’m working on how to build a CRUD API with Fastify. Then, write about what you learn and publish it.

There is a backstory to how I got into Alchemy. Previously, I’d applied to Alchemy for an opening, but I didn’t get a reply. 

Later on, I wrote something about how marketing should be done in Web3 and how some people are doing it well. In that article, I innocently mentioned that Alchemy guys lead the way. I published it, and the SEO manager saw it. He asked if I’d be willing to work for them, and I agreed. 

Also, as a technical writer, you should know how to write an actual conceptual guide that will be very clear (anyone who writes will understand that writing is more of thinking and clarity than actual writing). That’s the beauty of conceptual guides.

Lastly, you must know how to write conceptual guides, tutorials, documentation, white papers, and other content marketing stuff like email and press releases.

What are 4 technical writing skills that technical writers need?

  1. A good understanding of new technical writing tools

As a technical writer, you need to stay up-to-date with the latest tools in the field to enhance your productivity and produce high-quality documentation. Understand how to use technical writing tools like Mintlify.

  1. A good knowledge of the Docs-as-Code framework

The docs-as-code framework is how technical writers write content with the same tools developers use to write code. Some of these tools are GitHub, Git, and Markdown. Learn how to use them. 

  1. Communication skills

Technical writers serve as a bridge between technical experts and end-users. So, you need to be able to break down complex technical information to different audiences.

Take courses on communication. Get better at clarity. Read books on punctuation and writing. And learn about understanding user perspectives.

  1.  A sound understanding of newer frameworks and fundamentals

A good technical writer understands existing frameworks. However, a great technical writer keeps learning and adapting to the constantly evolving landscape.

A great technical writer learns about the latest technologies and frameworks relevant to the products they are documenting. Some newer frameworks you can learn on Udemy and YouTube are React and Angular.

What are some must-read books for new technical writers?

I haven’t really seen a good book on technical writing, but Cynthia Peter has a GitHub repo – a roadmap for technical writers. But mainly, I advise technical writers to read books on writing, marketing, and engineering.

What advice do you have for a college student or recent graduate considering a technical writing career?

Yes, there’s money in technical writing, but finish school first and finish well. You can be excellent at both, but you should never drop out.

It all boils down to time management and knowledge of priority. 

At the end of the day, you have to sacrifice some things to have more time. For instance, my day starts with my bible devotion, attending classes, doing client work, personal development, and reading my books at night. I don’t watch football or do sports (besides Taekwondo).

As you build your technical writing career, to be good at the job, you should not only do client’s work all the time. Instead, there are some things you should do personally, like reading up on a new framework, trying out a new framework, or building something — personal development. 

The beauty of this is that when there is a job that requires you to use this knowledge, it will come in handy. 

Also, try to write for yourself. I have a medium account where I don’t post anything technical-related. I only write about my philosophy, life experiences, and thought process. It helps me to connect with writing for myself (writing for passion). 

When you consider all these factors: your academics, client work, branding and posting on social media platforms, and personal development, your day is already filled up.

What tools do you use daily as a technical writer?

I use Google Docs like every other writer. I use VS Code if I want to code. However, if I were writing about smart contracts, I would prefer to use Remix. Then, if I’m working on API documentation, I use Postman or Swagger.

If you could have a glass of wine with anyone in the technical and writing field, who would it be and why?

The first person I want to have a glass of wine with is Paul Graham of the Y Combinator program.

Brian Armstrong of Coinbase. I like him because he saw value in crypto when nobody did, and he was heavy on doing stuff by the law, which eventually paid off. So, as a law guy, that impressed me. 

Then, Guillermo Rauch, the CEO of Vercel and Sam Altman.

When it comes to marketing, Jeremy Moser – I’ve been seeing a lot of his stuff when I was starting in content marketing, and it inspired me a lot. Then, Maeva Cifuentes of Flying Cat and Jeremiah Ajayi

Do you have any predictions for the Web3 space in 2024?

I feel we will see less of things that have little value; they won’t gain traction. 

One of the things I’m pleased about is that the hype around NFT has died down. The tech behind NFT is good, but what people are using it for is totally out of place. They are distracting the engineers’ that are building. 

I want us to build, and I hope we will have more products that people will use. I pray that there will be a crypto product that my mom, who didn’t really go to school, can use — using Web3 and the blockchain to create solutions for the underserved.

I also hope to see a synergy between Web2 and Web3 guys because there is needless arrogance, competition, and rift, which is unnecessary. I wish to see more collaboration.

Learn more about John Fawole

LinkedIn: John Fawole

Twitter: @jofawole

YouTube: @jofawole

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