Developers, Writers, and First Jobs

I constantly try to network locally with Austinites, and I’m meeting more tech writers with diverse backgrounds. One of Austin’s slogans is “Keep Austin Weird” and while our writers aren’t necessarily weird, their backgrounds can be!

For example, I know of one award-winning novelist in Austin who writes manuals during the day and novels at night. Did you know that Sara Gruen was a laid off Oracle tech writer who wrote “Water for Elephants” during a National Novel Writing Month? Those are cool stories of a writer’s path.

At a staff meeting a while ago, we went around the room and answered the question, “What was your first job?” I had de-tassled corn in northern Indiana when I was 14, getting it ready for hybrid fertilization by pulling the tops off of certain corn stalk rows. Another writer had worked a summer in a detention center, and another had been a bartender. Our diverse backgrounds all brought us to the same place and time and careers and meeting room.

Lately I’m seeing more and more need to hire programmers and coders who like to write and are excellent at it. This Microsoft Programming Writer I job has a great section in it:

You are comfortable creating both code and prose. You have a passion for the web and its ability to solve real world needs and create connections between people. You know that there are many technologies that fuel the web, and you’re like a kid in a candy store when you play with new APIs and discover how they expand your abilities. Your real satisfaction comes when you successfully teach someone else how to use those APIs, though, through a blog post or talking at a meetup. You’ve got a knack for coding: you use patterns and practices such as responsive design, you know your way around jQuery and Modernizr, but you prefer to code in adopted standards. In fact, you occasionally read W3C specifications for inspiration. Maybe you hope to someday edit specs…

This feels like the direction I’m moving in, and I hope you’ll come with me as I pick up blogging again. I’m interested in developers and becoming more and more like one. I’m not going after it like this “Don’t be a jerk: write documentation” post, though I do enjoy that style on others. My style is more about exploring, experimenting, trying things, and retrying.

How about you? What was your first job? Did you imagine you’d be in your here and now?


  • Maura van der Linden
    April 8, 2013 - 1:56 pm | Permalink

    My first job was making lunches to order for my father’s work friends 🙂

    I’ve told people before that the byline for my life should be “Where am I and how did I get HERE?”

    I spent 12 years as an SDET and am now, in fact, a Programming Writer at Microsoft.

  • April 9, 2013 - 11:38 am | Permalink

    Hi Maura, That’s a great byline! 🙂 Is SDET a Software Dev in Test? Love these zig-zag career paths we have.

  • Susan Salituro
    April 11, 2013 - 2:54 pm | Permalink

    My first job? Office employee in a grain elevator (weighing trucks, conducting aflatoxin tests, and so on).

    I went through the same progression as you: years spent writing user documentation, becoming increasingly interested in how the programs were actually written. Eventually, I became an API technical writer and now am more of a programmer than a writer, working on documentation tools and web sites.

    I look forward to hearing more about your professional journey!

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