Same mess, different tools – Liz Fraley on the Content Content Podcast

Summary: In her interview, Liz Fraley talks in detail about the history of structured authoring and how her opinions have changed over 17 years in the technical writing industry.

Last month I had the opportunity to talk with Ed Marsh of the Content Content podcast. I’ve known Ed for a couple of years but we’ve never really had time to sit down and talk. It’s funny how much you realize you don’t know when you really get the chance.

We did a series of podcasts several years ago: We interviewed long-term Arbortext users to capture the spirit of the many community members who work to help each other. I interviewed people at all different levels–developers, first time users, experienced integrators, stylesheet professionals, tool masters, and many others. And learned a lot.

Good interviewers expose great information

When Ed Marsh asked me to be on the other side of the interview for his Content Content podcast, I was honored to be included. It’s unusual for me to be the center of attention; it’s just not in my nature. I was the “other bride” at my wedding. I like to learn about what other people are doing. Our customers know that it’s never all about me. Until recently, whenever I presented, the “about me” slide was at the end because I always felt that it was more important to make sure you got what you came for before I advertising myself.

In any event, there’s no getting out of the spotlight when you’re the subject of the interview. Ed’s a good interviewer. He asked all the right questions for a good profile piece. In fact, it was interesting to me as well. We all forget what we know. We take it for granted. We forget that other people don’t know what we know even if we think, “hey, everyone knows this…”

What surprised me most was how much we’ve done here at Single-Sourcing Solutions, how we’re different, and how much knowledge is buried in our own heads.

I’ve been in the technical communications industry nearly two decades at this point. I’ve seen structured authoring develop and change. I’ve seen SGML and XML and DITA rise and DocBook decline. I’ve worked with military documentation and with high-tech software docs with a lot of pre-generated content. I’ve programmed stylesheets and used a lot of tools.

And over those two decades, my perspective and opinions about what to do have changed. A lot.

Where to find the interview

Listen to Episode 19 of the “Content Content Podcast” the podcast about “the people behind the content” for my interview with Ed Marsh.

I hope you enjoy it.

A brief sidebar

I refer to a lot of different topics during the interview. The links are here for your convenience:

Notes from the DITA Best Practices BOF lunch at CMS DITA NA Conference

Tracy Baker and I had a full table and intense discussion on the topics on the minds of the people in attendance. Real time issues and ideas for possible solutions. Topics ranged from reuse strategies to getting started to review processes to getting it all done while still doing your day job. Before we got started, we asked everyone to give us a little information: who are you, what industry do you come from, and what’s on your mind/what brought you to this BOF table. The participants included:

  • Erin (Telecom) who is in unstructured FrameMaker and wants to know how to planning the move to DITA (“it’s exciting and scary”). She’s also interested in contextualized content
  • Eric (Services) says he’s listening in so he can get a better sense of things
  • Cecile (Healthcare, from France) is moving to DITA from XML and she’s wants to talk about reuse strategies given that she expects that her XML modules will become to multiple DITA topics
  • Abbie (Services) is here to learn
  • Liz M (Services, Abbie’s coworker) is also here to learn
  • Bob (Medical Device) is looking for questions
  • Ed (High Tech) is also moving from XML to DITA but he wants to be sure they’re doing it for the right reasons. He’s also got a legacy data concern and seconds the request to talk about reuse strategies.
  • Renee (High Tech) is tasked with fixing a DITA environment. She wants to talk QA, processes, staffing roles
  • Moderator: Tracy Baker from F5, DITA early adopter
  • Moderator: Me, Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions and the moderator of the TC Dojo Mastermind sessions.

Tracy Baker is a regular at the DITA NA conference. She’s from F5 and started her road to DITA in 2009. She’s an Information Architect, a writer, a tools person. She wrote the Information Model that F5 still uses today. In fact, only two elements have been added since she wrote it originally. It’s been a long road and it’s only this year, in 2015, that all the documents published for all the products have been 100% DITA. She’s worn a lot of hats but warns that “you can’t wear all the hats. You can try. You will die.”

Together, Tracy and I moderated the discussion and what follows are notes from the conversation. Tidbits, tips, suggestions, and advice for the folks at the table. One-on-one time for them to get their burning questions answered, their comfort levels…well, leveled. Continue reading “Notes from the DITA Best Practices BOF lunch at CMS DITA NA Conference”

Interview with Bob Thomas, Tagsmiths, DITA tools master

We’re delighted to have had Bob Thomas, from Tagsmiths, join us on the PubWright podcast.

Bob started in SGML/XML in the mid-to-early 90s at Lucent. He transformed from a technical writer to data modeler, DTD writer, legacy data conversion specialist, and stylesheet developer.

He discusses with us a bit of his history, gives some advice for people just getting started, and discusses qualities, qualifications, and profile of folks doing these kinds of tasks. He talks many of the tools he’s used over the years and what it takes to use them.