Re: Writing for the Open Source Community (fwd)

Subject: Re: Writing for the Open Source Community (fwd)
From: "Gary S. Callison" <huey -at- interaccess -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 13:55:16 -0600 (CST)

On Thu, 20 Feb 2003, paul -at- kitebird -dot- com (Paul DuBois) wrote:
> On Thu, Feb 20, eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com wrote:
> | The original question was quite simple. Besides portfolio pieces and
> | the altruistic side is are there real money making opportunities? As
> | whenever someone says they are out of work someone almost always
> | says look at the open source community I thought that there may be a
> | little more hope than just altruism for those that are desperate to
> | make a living.

I fell from the sky as a network operations tech and pretty much became a
full-time technical writer after discovering that the overwhelming
majority of documentation I had to deal with was poorly-written or
nonexistant, so I see this problem from the other angle. From the business
IT standpoint, once you have a system in place, it doesn't really make
much difference if it's running open- or closed-source products. The thing
still needs to work, needs to be patched, needs to be fixed when it breaks
- and there needs to be documentation for it. So there's probably a large
number of technical writers who are making money writing documentation for
open source projects, even if the companies that are producing that doc
aren't releasing it back out into the wild.

> As someone who makes my living writing about Open Source software, I've
> been watching this thread with some interest. My impression too is that
> most of the postings have been beside the point.
> Here are my thoughts:
> - Open Source projects by and large are run by people who are donating
> their time and not getting paid to work on the project. Therefore,
> they are certainly not going to pay you to write documentation. No
> money there.

There's companies that do this though: Netscape, Caldera, RedHat, &c. Paid
employees working on free software. Granted, it's not very common, but it

> - Some magazines will pay for articles. Some money there.
> - You can write books (this is what I do). But you'll have to pick
> software that's popular enough to have some following, or you'll be
> documenting something with no market.

Good points, all of those. I'll add this:
- You could use the software. This is the second job where I've built a
debian/apache/samba/CVS box to keep track of my own documentation on. It's
easier to set up than a comparable setup under W2K, can run in less memory
and a slower processor, and therefore is easier to get a 'purchase order'
approved. "Hey boss, can I have a computer that's being EOLed to build a
linux box on?" My first departmental webserver was a 486-33, but it worked
just fine.

Now, suppose you're setting this box up, and you discover a flaw in the
documentation? Why not fix it? Even if a quick redraft of a short HOWTO or
FAQ document takes you a day or three, doesn't that tiny bit of effort
represent a huge foot in the door at a job interview, when you can tell
them "Your company is _already_ using my documentation; grep the
($package) FAQ for my name" ?

- (If you're a coder) You could take over a package, and have
responsibility for the code as well as the documentation. There is no
money in this directly, but (for example) I know a guy who gets flown all
over the world to consult on installations of the freeware version of
Sendmail, and (as in the previous section) Sendmail Inc also has two paid
engineers working on freeware Sendmail.

> I will not comment here on the politics of Open Source proejcts, except
> to say that:
> - Yes, of course there are politics in such projects, just as there are
> in any human endeavor.

"Throughout your life, there will always be stupid people".
--my grandmother, explaining to a 10-year-old Huey why it's not okay to call
your social studies teacher 'Stupid', even if she is. Especially if she is.

> - Nevertheless, I think many the comments made on this list are much too
> negative; a couple of messages in particular make the Open Source community
> sound like a collective den of vipers. It depends on the project. There
> are good ones, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

And, while you're certainly welcome to make parenthetical remarks, or
scan/OCR/edit/reprint your copy of the Microsoft manual, in the open
source community you can fix _everybody's_ broken manual, not just your own.



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