Aug 132009

I’ve had a couple of interesting comments on my piece about Coding vs Non-Coding Project Managers; in my case it was the way things worked out rather than a deliberate choice.

After my degree in physics, and a couple of years of post-doctoral work (which involved some computer stuff, of course) I got post-graduate diploma in information management that included all the good stuff such as database design, unix systems administration, transaction processing, C, etc., etc. And then went to work for a small SGML document consulting house doing, amongst other things, the motif interfaces for a document retrieval application, schema design for dictionaries and encyclopedias, and other related work. I ended up doing more of the customer-facing work, and less of the back-room coding, mostly because I was better at it than some of the other people who worked there, good at talking to the customer and taking their requirements back to the developers, and good at translating the developers’ concerns in terms the customers could understand.

When I got to SoftQuad, the idea was that I’d spend 50% of the time coding, and 50% doing other useful stuff. The other useful stuff, as is its wont, grew. As an example, when we localized HoTMetaL Pro, I was the one working with the translators to make sure the strings made sense for the context. I checked the German ones myself since I speak fluent German and worked with a French-speaking person on staff for the French ones. I worked with the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre on ways to make the program accessible, as well as figuring out the best way to incorporate accessibility checkers to encourage users to make the HTML accessible. I represented SoftQuad on many W3C and OASIS technical committees, bringing back the results of committee discussions to the engineering team and trying to make sure the committees did the right thing without making it more difficult for us to implement. I coded demo scripts and taught tutorials on how to use the macro system in XMetaL, but that was the extent of my programming. Everything else took enough time that by the time I left SoftQuad after 7 years, the joke was that I owed my boss 3.5 years worth of coding.

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