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Evolution of a TWikiist

I've had a rather eclectic career. Most of the time, I've been a programmer, starting with Unix (shell, awk, and some C), then moving into Perl. At other times, when the mood suits, I've been employed as a technical writer.

I've also been a Quality lead and a Linux sysadmin. I've created web pages, managed mailing lists, provided Macintosh support, and written code in JavaScript and Visual Basic. Regardless of my job title, I've always been happiest when I'm helping other people to be more productive in their work, either by writing code or writing and editing documentation.

At present, I'm the resident TWiki adept in a large Internet company.

Summer 2006
Technical Writer to Document Process and Procedures

In May, 2006, I was between jobs when I was contacted by a recruiter who thought I might be a good fit for a 3-month contract position.

Technical Writer         Duration: 3 months

Technical Writer to document process and procedures for server configurations, release process, application stacks, and other operations-related tasks.

Familiarity with UNIX systems, web-based systems, operations runbooks. TWiki experience a plus, but not required. Self-starter; can take project and run with minimal training. Previous experience documenting complex processes and procedures is required.

The job looked like it had potential. I have plenty of familiarity with Unix and, at the time, had a fair amount of TWiki experience as well. I had worked with TWiki in my previous job and had been running TWiki at home for the previous three years.

I interviewed and got the contract.

For the first few months, I wrote, reviewed, and edited process documentation. I also created Tips and Tricks pages, how-to documentation, and a new-employee handbook. I began to reorganize and clean up my team's TWiki web.

The job and I were a good match. The team liked me; I liked them. Before the three months were over, I was offered the opportunity to convert to a full-time "permanent" employee. I got a company badge in October.

By November, I had made a number of improvements to the team's section of the TWiki. I was beginning to get questions of the "How do I do this?" variety. By the end of the year, I was the team's go-to person for TWiki.

Spring 2007
My First TWiki App

In the early spring of 2007, the team began discussing how we might track all of our ongoing projects in TWiki. I had read about TWiki applications but had not yet written one. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn more.

I proposed that I would build a project tracker as a TWiki application. The rest of the team agreed and I set to work, beginning to investigate TWiki forms. The application was ready for use in May. In June, it was working well and another team asked for a copy.

I quickly learned that the first TWiki application takes over a month to put together, the second takes a couple of weeks, and after that, it only takes a day or two to get a typical application up and running.

I also learned that, once I had written a few applications, I started thinking in terms of applications more often. I created a team directory, with contact pages for each team member. By using TWiki features, I could make every page share the same look, yet update that look for all pages easily with a few keystrokes.

By the end of that year, I was learning more about TWiki plugins and variables. I had put together ten applications and was beginning to convert our operations runbooks into TWiki. I was still doing team documentation work as well as writing general tutorials and "how-to" pages.

By the time I had been with the company for two years, I had asked for, and been given, a wider range of projects throughout our department. I began creating TWiki applications and pages for our program management team.

I had a good relationship with the TWiki server admins. I was been doing more TWiki consulting throughout the company. I was writing tutorials, improving our web organization and navigation, and answering more questions every day.

Summer 2008
TWiki Admin

In August 2008, I was added to the TWikiAdminGroup. I could now handle a wider range of problems, including those involving access or errors in meta-data.

In October, I was asked if I would be interested in taking over teaching the company's quarterly TWiki intro classes. I had already been doing TWiki training within my department. I said yes.

Summer 2009
I Understand You're the TWiki Expert

By the end of my third year, I had begun presenting quarterly classes. I was responding to most questions on the twiki-users discussion list, helping with support requests and bugs. I had created a company "Help" web, seeded with my original tutorials, and I was adding to these regularly.

Although I was still a member of my original team, I had forged a strong relationship with the TWiki server admin team. I was hearing from more people across the company, many of whom began the conversation by saying, "I understand you're the TWiki expert". I had collected a lot of positive feedback.

Spring 2010
Looking Back; Looking Ahead

As I approach the end of my fourth year, I can look back on a lot of changes. Since that first investigation into TWiki forms in early 2007, I've built (or helped to build) more than 50 TWiki applications, from simple "one button" page creators to complex project trackers with multiple supplementary pages.

I've learned the ins and outs of many TWiki plugins and compiled a large "bag of tricks". I've conducted over 60 hours of training sessions. I've answered hundreds of questions and created over 200 tutorial pages.

I've gone from a 12-week temporary technical writing gig to a position as the de facto TWiki expert in my (large) company. Best of all, I'm helping a lot of people be more productive using TWiki... and having a good time doing it.

April 4, 2010 in category Career Center | Permalink


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