I started tech writing back when I worked second-tier phone support at Indiana University in the early 90s. They had one of the first publicly-accessible knowledge bases on the internet (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 Scheme, and hanging out with other CS geeks. After graduation, one of them brought me to a job in Seattle documenting a commercial secure web server for unix and Windows NT 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 use email or a modem to people who had never used computers before. After that era, things got more technical. I worked on development teams, edited code, wrote API docs, and created content aimed at coders and architects. How-to guides and tutorials aimed at programmers are still 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, Python, and Ruby are also on my list of skills.
As far as tools, I got started with unstructured FrameMaker long ago, and I 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 source control while being called from an Ant file in a Java build. I did some structured FrameMaker, then went to DITA, then MadCap Flare, and have recently been doing more with static site generation from Jekyll with Markdown.
The most recent career phase has been management, and that’s what I do now. I’m still writing, though.