The brains behind the books: Meike Chabowski
This article is part of a series of articles focusing on SUSE Documentation and the minds that create the manuals, guides, quick starts, and many more helpful documents.
Would you have told me 30 years ago that I would work soon in the area of Information Technology, I would have boisterously laughed at you. Yes, I have a master in ‘IT’ – however, in my case, this means I studied Italian Language & Literature plus Theater & Mass Media. Somehow I ended up in real IT, which is my playground for the past 27 years. But first, back to the beginning …
Start in life
I was born in Freising in Bavaria – but we lived there only for a short time. Usually I’d say: Here’s what you get when a girl from the very South with Polynesian roots meets a boy from the very North with Nordic roots – a Swabian (who are known as the ‘Scotch of Germany’). I grew up in a cute small town in Baden-Württemberg (capital: Stuttgart), I still feel ‘Swabian’, I went to school there, first elementary, then (humanistic) high school – the usual career as pupil. I definitely hated Maths and Physics. My favourite subjects were Art, Music and English, and my teachers were convinced one day I would run a gallery.
When I was young, I just wanted to be … grown-up ?. And then … a famous dancer. After I was over that, I wanted to become a movie director, journalist, foreign correspondent. And after that, I thought I should be a politician or work for the diplomatic/foreign services to help change the world for the better, and have a big impact. Until I realized that most of these guys usually don’t change the world for the better – but only for their own mastery. Finally, I decided that, whatever work I would do, the most important thing would be to like doing it and to have some impact in my own tiny little world.
Speaking about impact: I have been asked several times who (or what) had influenced me most. This is really difficult to answer. Influence happens rather unconsciously. I’d say my direct environment, parents, family, friends, even colleagues played a role here. I grew up in a household with defined values, my parents were quite liberal but communicated ethical principles. I am sure that influenced me quite a bit. Also, I don’t have real ‘role models’ or icons. But there are people that impress me, and who I admire at least for a certain character trait. Honestly, my parents are among them. My dad was a protestant pastor – more or less a 24-hours-job. Still, he always was approachable and empathic, but at the same time ‘grounded’. My mom just worked with him on all things needed. She was there, also 24 hours a day, for her family and for the parish. She always kept calm, had clear ideas, and acted accordingly. I admire Mother Teresa, the nun who devoted her life to serving the poor and destitute around the world, for her selfless work and her attitude which she put into the following words: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” And I was deeply touched by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school pupil and spokesperson for women’s right to education, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. During her famous UN speech she said: “I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” Adorable!
Life before SUSE
My very first job, when I was 13 (extra approval was needed in Germany to work at that age!), was cleaning my own school building. I so much loved to dust the skeleton in the biology hall. During my time at school and university, I then had various jobs in the gastronomy, as an assembly-line worker, in a fitness center, as interpreter at trade shows, etc. Erlangen (Middle Franconia/Bavaria) became my city of choice, here I went to University, and here I am still living. My major fields of study were Italian language and Mass Media. Thanks to a scholarship, I could spend parts of my student life in Parma/Italy. I also wrote my master thesis in Italy – about Silvio Berlusconi (!!) and his media empire. This was shortly before he decided to muddle the Italian politics scene up. I had the chance to personally conduct two interviews with him, and believe me (or not): at time being he had quite some charisma.
Right after my university degree, I lived for a while in Saint Petersburg in Russia. By chance, I had got the wonderful opportunity to do kind of an internship at the Academy of Arts and help install a small publicity bureau attached to the Academy. Living in Saint Petersburg not too long after the Iron Curtain had fallen was an exceptional experience. And better don’t ask me about the 5000 km travel by train from St. Petersburg through Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, to Caucasus – and back.
The first ‘real’ employment I had at Siemens AG was way too cool: I was part of the team established to push the “continuous improvement process” (KVP) inside the company. This meant that, for example, we held workshops with employees to enhance the work environment, the loyalty, and ultimately the satisfaction in and productivity of the department. Then I moved to a local software engineering company because they wanted me to handle their press relation. The funny part is that I ended up doing a divided job: some press relation AND documentation and training. Not only I published press releases, but I also worked on data flow diagrams, developed user training material, and held the trainings myself. And, for the very first time, I got in contact with (drums) … LINUX and SUSE! The entire idea behind open source and a community collaborating worldwide on one common goal immediately thrilled me.
Life with SUSE
Linux and I share the same birthday – it probably was just kismet that we met. No wonder that I seized my chance when I saw a job opening from SUSE in the newspaper – they were looking to hire somebody into the Marketing /PR department for press relations. I applied for the job, and got it – strike! This was in 2000 – more than 21 years ago. The first 6 weeks I worked as PR manager, and published my first press release about SUSE Blinux, a Braille screen reader developed by our former colleague Marco Skambraks. In the meantime, we had got a new Marketing director. One fine day, he asked me if I would move over from PR to Product Marketing. Quite overrun, I said “why not, let’s try it”. And for the next years, I worked as a product marketing manager on many different and interesting topics. I am very proud that, in 2000, I was among those that brought the very first Enterprise Linux server to market – it all started in 2000 with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for S/390 (IBM mainframes). The mainframe (today IBM Z and LinuxOne) was my first love, but I also was responsible for High Performance Computing for a very long time, and I am still addicted to this technology area, as HPC is so much impacting our daily life without us realizing it. Other topics I worked on were UNIX to Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server in general, SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service, and also SUSE Manager. Already during my time in Product Marketing, I wrote technical feature guides, and together with subject matter experts, technical whitepapers focussing on many different topics (A NUMA API for Linux from Andi Kleen, for example, is still out there, and regularly referred to).
I passionately did the Product Marketing job for nearly 16 years. Until the documentation team “made me an offer I couldn’t refuse“. The former documentation team lead had the idea to publish a regular technical document series which would not focus on pure product documentation, but on solutions and topics not covered with our product manuals and guides. As he knew I had some experience in this field, he asked me if I would like to take over the responsibility for such a new series of documentation. Another reason to hire me into the team was the wish to increase the visibility of documentation and the importance of it in general, and to help spreading the word about the work and projects done by the engineering teams to the outside. Now I am a ‘Documentation Strategist’, and in this role, I am
- responsible for the SUSE Best Practices
- working with our colleagues from Global Solutions on the Technical Reference Documentation
- helping to standardize technical documents across our company
- trying to find new channels or media for documentation, to make it interesting and easy to access
- spreading the word about the great work that is done in documentation and engineering in general
I really love the collaboration with many different people, be it during my work on the SUSE Best Practices or Technical Reference Documentation where I cooperate with experts (from SUSE, customers or partners), on toolchain improvements with the documentation team, or on blog articles about upcoming or forgotten technologies with our engineers. They all are so experienced, they have so much knowledge to share – we just need to ‘get it out there’. And this is also where I am coming from: Communication, networking, interaction are surely my biggest strengths. I somehow have the feeling that I can still get things moving. We definitely make a difference here at SUSE – we just need to let ‘the outer space’ know! And I am in an especially privileged situation, because my SUSE documentation team is amazing – each and every single one of the team members – which makes it easy ‘going’ to work every day.
Life outside of work
Outside of work, my passion is traveling and getting to know other countries & cultures & languages. We’ve been to Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Latin America, North America, many parts of Europe, Asia – but not Australia so far, and there is still a lot of ‘terra incognita’ on our world map. Quite often I found myself ending up in planning travels for others ?. Of course this did not happen during the past roughly two years, unfortunately. In another life, and if I would not have been working for SUSE, I probably would own a SATA aka Special Adventure Travel Agency. Well – currently, under the pandemic situation, this would definitely not be the job with the brightest future.
Dancing is another big thing for us. Yes, ‘dusty ballroom dance’, both Standard and Latin. Rumba, Cha Cha and Paso Doble definitely drive me to the dance floor. Of course you don’t do it every day. But it is fun, takes the stress away, and helps to keep you mentally and physically fit. I fear I own more technical gadgets than my husband has shoes. I love dogs, I like snakes, and I REALLY HATE spiders! My heart beats for (and with) Queen, The Beatles, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, The BeeGees (yes!), Marc Anthony and generally Latin American music, but also for Björk, Puccini and Mozart (NOT for Wagner though!). I love Star Wars (NOT parts 7-9 though!) and Avatar, but also Who Am I, Forrest Gump, and Dead Poets Society. Currently, my favourite TV shows are Endeavour, Midsomer Murders, but also Dark or The Boys. I am happy when I have time to read books like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Great Gatsby, or Lord of the Rings, but also Boccaccio’s Decameron, de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince“, or a novel from Hermann Hesse (NOT Kafka though!). I am addicted to (good) Musicals, but I also love to visit rock concerts or a good play.
My biggest hobby, however, probably is ‘chilling’ with my family. When we have the chance, we just sit and talk, listen to music, or sing ourselves. My son plays the guitar really well – listening to him definitely relaxes me. And this is exactly what I will do right now ?!
Disclaimer: The text at hand has not been reviewed by a native speaker. If you find typos or language mistakes, please send them to me (email@example.com) – or if you like them, just keep them and feed them. ?