I started tech writing back when I worked second-tier phone support at Indiana University in the early 90s. They were starting a publicly-accessible knowledge base (http://kb.iu.edu/), and I wrote articles based on phone support calls. I also spent time following content through its lifecycle, including editing, research, verification, and rewriting. This taught me the importance of the documentation lifecycle, the value of content management systems, and the plight of CRM groups who don’t have docs updated with current customer issues.
I spent most of college on unix workstations, programming in C, and hanging out with other CS geeks. After graduation, that brought me to a job in Seattle documenting a commercial secure web server for unix platforms. It also introduced me to WinHelp. My boss was Scott Boggan, co-author of the Developing Online Help book, and aside from RoboHelp, I wrote Mac help using Altura’s compiler, and later authored balloon help and Apple Guide. That eventually led to HTML-based online help, and XML-based homegrown help systems for web-based applications.
The first part of my career involved authoring help aimed at general customers and end-users. When I was at Juno and Compuserve, that meant explaining how to set up DSL or use email to people who had never used computers before. But everything I’ve done in the last seven or eight years is more technical. I typically work on development teams, edit code, write API docs, and create content aimed at coders and architects. How-to guides and tutorials aimed at programmers are a frequent project for me, and I’ve even written for retail Linux books. I’m most proficient in Java and JavaDoc, but C++ and DOxygen, .NET, and Ruby are also on my list of skills.
As far as tools, I got started with FrameMaker long ago, and never looked back. Over the years, I’ve used it for single sourcing, print and online docs, structured and unstructured, and have built templates from the ground up. I also have done a lot of work with automating Frame, including a huge project involving getting to build PDFs and shove them back into CVS while being called from an Ant file in a Java build. I’ve had experience with other authoring tools, from Dreamweaver to XEmacs, and I’m pretty agnostic with tools these days. And yes, I can edit HTML by hand. When I created my first homepage in 1992 (they were called HyPlans back then), your only choice of tools was vi or emacs.