Roger is a hardened veteran from Red Gate’s SQL Tools division, where he championed the cause of clear technical communication and information architecture. He has stared down development teams, and menaced project managers into doing what they know in their hearts to be right for their users. He’s also been tied to his chair using Christmas lights, which he’s not very pleased about…
What’s your background?
I was Red Gate’s first graduate technical author four years ago, and I’ve spent most of my time since working on the SQL Tools. Primarily, I’ve been looking after the documentation, user interface text, user assistance, and bits of marketing for SQL Compare and SQL Source Control, though I’ve done bits and pieces for most of the SQL tools over the years. Before that, I was pushing invoices around for a large chain bookshop, and before that I was doing an English Literature degree.
It’s not an obvious techy trajectory, but I’ve always messed around with computers. I wrote my first lines of code on a BBC Micro, way back when, and taught myself HTML instead of revising for my chemistry GCSEs. In hindsight, that last part proved to be a poor judgement call.
What are you working on at the moment?
Getting to grips with Reflector, and working with Greg to figure out where to take it. Phrases like “strategic marketing planning” smell of oleaginous corporate double-speak, so let’s just say I’m working out what to do next. It’ll involve giving the website a sound kicking, but the first big deal is going to be to talk to a bunch of our users and find out what they actually care about.
Right now, as in, today, I’m looking at some tech comms bugs we’ve got raised against Reflector. There’s plenty of stuff we should be able to make easier to understand.
If you could make one change to the .NET Framework, what would it be?
If I’m honest, I’m only just wrapping my head around it after a few years immersed in SQL, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.
One thing I will say is that it would be nice if .NET languages were taught wider, earlier. IT education in schools is basically just teaching people to use Excel and Powerpoint. It’s tragic. I’d like to see more kids coding, and coding in richer languages. It doesn’t have to be .NET, I guess, but I’d love to see more people with basic coding skills.
What’s the most interesting / satisfying project you’ve worked on, and why?
I’ve had a chance to do quite a lot of varied stuff here, so it’s hard to choose, but it’s probably been SQL Source Control. I was on the project from the beginning, when it was a couple of back-of-a-napkin sketches, and it’s been deeply nifty watching it turn into a big, successful product.
That said, the borderline-unhinged, pony-based gamification project on SQL Prompt was pretty good fun (if you’re interested, ask about it in the comments thread)
What do you do to relax?
I do a lot of cooking. I’m sure plenty of people would think that’s the opposite of relaxing, but it definitely helps me unwind. Making things is always satisfying like that. I read a lot, too, and I’m not averse to a spot of scuba diving.
What’s your favourite book (technical and / or non-technical), and why?
My favourite technical book isn’t very technical, I’m afraid, but it’s bloody useful. Human Factors for Technical Communicators is a really thorough introduction to the underlying cognitive psychology and learning theory for UX and tech comms. It’s a pity it hasn’t been updated in a while.
Non-technically, it’s Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves. I could bore you for hours on why, and once wrote a long and deeply pretentious paper on the way it explores collective consciousness and identity creation. It’s also beautifully written (the book, not my paper).
Do you have any advice / suggestions for other product marketing specialists or technical authors?
Umm… get out of the latter and into the former? That isn’t going to make me any friends, but the days of “old school” tech comms are decidedly numbered. Seriously, the paper-manuals dinosaurs need to look up and see the incoming asteroid. For the rest, it’s all about point of need assistance, and wider content strategy; and frankly, tech comms and marketing are blurry now, and are only going to get blurrier.
Even if you don’t much like the sound of that, there’s something deeply applicable to both fields I’ll share: it’s basically impossible to do too much user research.