Even though I’ve lived in Austin, Texas, for over 14 years now, I tend to say I’m a midwesterner when asked. There are traits associated with the spirit of the midwest that I’ll always identify in myself: hard work, resource creativity and conservation, humility, and a sense of wonder at trends being set somewhere in the world. As a kid in the 1980s I traveled to a shoe store in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to get Kangaroo shoes. These were the latest in Velcro technology! Complete with a hidden zippered pocket to hide a key, loose change, even dollar bills or notes to classmates. These shoes are my first memory of a cool, disruptive technology applied to an old problem — mobile storage.
Fast-forward to having kids of my own and trying new solutions to an age-old problem: How can I get focused, quality time with my kids before they grow up, while still doing meaningful work and solving interesting problems in new ways? In my case, a solution was flexible work hours and an introduction to open source software.
I worked thirty hours a week writing proprietary traditional software documentation. The schedule offered a great time-split for me. Work-shift during the day, mom-shift starting in the afternoons. Even so, I kept seeking new solutions for technical documentation outside of my work day. Open source projects were making their own documentation tools and blending book and wiki writing and publishing techniques.
On further investigation, I decided an apprenticeship was the best way to learn more about open source documentation — it was practical, creative with resources, and appealed to my midwestern self. What open source was doing with documentation seemed like an innovative application to solve another age-old problem: How can you write accurate technical documentation quickly with the limited resources you have? I felt like the best way to learn was to practice, and open source lets you practice a lot.
FLOSS Manuals was the organization I found and they welcomed my help. They were willing to work hard on a common cause. Adam Hyde, the founder of FLOSS Manuals, rallied teams to do the impossible task of writing a cohesive book in just five days. I joined a team who was writing a book for teachers and parents for the One Laptop Per Child project.
Fast-forward again to four years ago when I landed a job at Rackspace, working on OpenStack documentation in the community using open source techniques. How can you produce quality technical documentation for two fast-moving software projects that integrate selectively and release every six months? I bet my career on harnessing the power of community to produce technical documentation.
Fast-forward again to over 20 projects, and I continue to adjust techniques while practicing my craft in the open.
OpenStack itself can be as amazing as those velcro-fastener Kangaroo shoes with the hidden pockets.
The features are remixed in innovative ways. Storage, computing power, networking solutions have all been done and redone over the years. This time the cloud way offers shared resources, flexible provisioning, pay-for-use and resource conservation that feeds my Midwestern sensibilities. With OpenStack we write documentation collaboratively in the open source community for docs.openstack.org. The “treat docs like code” vision remains fresh and exciting to work on while we fast-forward cloud solutions.
Rackspace is a sponsor of The New Stack.