The Brains Behind the Books – Part I: Carla Schroder
This article has been contributed by Carla Schroder, Technical Writer at the SUSE Documentation Team. It is the first in a planned series of articles focusing on SUSE Documentation and the great minds that create the manuals, guides, quick starts, and many more helpful documents.
I Should Have Been Raised by Wolves: Life on the SUSE Dog Team
My name is Carla Schroder, and I am a happy member of the wonderful SUSE Documentation Team. We are also known as the SUSE “Dog” Team. I introduced myself to Carl Symons (who is now also a team member) at LinuxFest Northwest, and you know how conferences are noisy, so he heard Dog Team. Which is appropriate because dogs are smart, loyal, likable, and work well together.
My background is typical for a writer. Writers are known for bouncing from job to job as they try to make a living at writing. My original ambition was to be an adored and successful fiction writer. I have not had the time to give this dream the attention it needs because of always having to grub for a living.
Before I got into tech I worked in the usual horrid fast food jobs, then auto mechanic, cleaned houses and did landscape work, worked as a licensed massage therapist, and did handymam work, mainly helping elderly people with home repairs because most contractors aren’t interested in the small stuff.
Writing is teaching. Everyone is a newbie at 99% of everything, which makes teaching the most noble profession. Whenever I learn something new I want to teach it to other people, especially manual skills as there is much more to life than passively pushing buttons. I do not have much formal education, which is one of my regrets. I barely made it through high school because it was horrid and I wanted out. My dad was a teacher, and my mom and dad are smart people with a lot of interests, but being involved parents was not one of their interests, so they never taught us kids much of anything, or gave us any life guidance. When I went out on my own I was not prepared and had to learn everything the hard way. I might have fared better being raised by wolves!
When I was in my early 30s I had a stroke of good fortune that enabled me to enroll for massage therapy training. It was an intense one-year program of anatomy and physiology, and various bodywork disciplines. (I can still name all the bones and muscles in the human body.) I had my own practice for several years, mainly treating people in tech for the usual ailments that afflict people in stressful sedentary tech jobs: neck pain, back pain, and messed-up wrists.
I got into technical writing in the mid-1990s, yes, way back in the last millenium, and this is the longest I have stuck with any profession. (Here is an early example, my Happy Healthy Computering column for Computer Bits Magazine.) It all started when I bought a Windows 3.1 PC (OMG Windows was awful …) to help me run my massage practice, and quickly became more interested in the computer. I tore it apart and put it back together dozens of times, learned to dig into the operating system, and then learned about Mac and Linux. I liked Linux best and have used it exclusively for many years for everything I do: writing and publishing, image creation and editing, professional audio, video, and photo production, Web development, and cool fun with Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
I did some freelance system and network administration, then wrote full-time for a number of tech publications, became the managing editor of Linux Today and Linux Planet, and somehow found time to write three successful Linux books. My wanderings landed me at SUSE in 2016, and here I am yet.
The massage business was good preparation for technical writing because both are highly-skilled helping professions that require tremendous skill, dedication, and continual education, and both are misunderstood and not as respected or as well-paid as they should be. Nobody reads documentation, and anyone can write, right? A whole lot of people think technical writing is magical: we sit down, do a bit of easy typing, and call it a day. Let me tell you, my friends, we have the hardest job of all because we have to know entire software stacks well enough to teach them to our customers.
The SUSE Documentation Team writes the user manuals for SUSE’s product line. We are similar to quality assurance testers because we test every step as much as possible. We represent the end users of SUSE products: we take developer documents, workarounds, weird hacks, and software in a continual state of change, and translate it all into polished documentation that aims to help every customer successfully use our products, and to be happy customers.
I am fortunate to have landed here. My colleagues are pure awesome sauce. They are extremely accomplished in tech, are multi-lingual, and very supportive. SUSE is always on the leading edge of Linux and open source, and has a culture of helpfulness, which is essential for pretty much everything. This is challenging rewarding work that requires a lot of teamwork.
If you think you might like technical writing have some advice: Study and learn everything. Learn to type fast without errors. Formal computer science training is never obsolete. Always be curious. Try everything. Be good at asking for help. Be good at banging on problems until you solve them. If you want to be a Linux/FOSS writer then for gosh sake be a Linux/FOSS user. Be yourself and bring your own perspective to the work because monoculture is deadly. We don’t need no stinkin’ rock stars, we need diverse people and perspectives because that is what we need to meet the needs of a diverse world.
Disclaimer: Only the tiny little paragraph at the beginning of this article has not been reviewed by a native speaker. If you find typos or language mistakes in these two sentences, please send them to me (email@example.com) – or if you like them, just keep them and feed them.