Technical writing

HP Knowledge Briefs 

While working as an IT Consultant at Hewlett-Packard I was deeply involved in technical writing – always as a writer, but later on also as an editor. Hewlett-Packard had an extensive and very mature program of internal white papers, known as “HP Knowledge Briefs” and designed to foster information sharing between people and teams.  I wrote or co-wrote many such white papers.  I edited and reviewed dozens if not hundreds more. And because of my scientific background, I became a key internal reviewer, vetting proposed presentations for the yearly Hewlett-Packard technical conference, TechCon. In 2004 I received an award from our Chief Technology Officer for writing the best technical article of that year.

I could show you, but then I’d have to kill you

I’d love to publish the Knowledge Briefs I wrote, but they are all internal property of HP. I think there is no harm is at least giving a brief overview, because (1) it shows how my professional interests may have changed over time; (2) it’s always a pleasure for me to have co-authors, and this is a chance to recognize them; and (3) it reflects very positively on HP, as it should, as a company that values its employees and spends great energy fostering synergy between them.

Here are my favorites (and why they are my favorites)

  • KB0767: The effective use of students in HP projects. With Soren Mohr. To its great credit, Germany (perhaps more than any other country) has a terrific program to ensure that young students receive high-quality internships during the formative years of their lives. It was a pleasure and a privilege for me to be responsible for managing dozens of these interns, and together with my friend Soren, we wrote down our thoughts and best-practices as a “guidebook” or handbook for other people who want to have the most success with their interns.
  • KB2100: Creating software documentation and user manuals. With Manjula Kandula and Dr. Oliver Bonten. In this paper we talk at length about how writing software documentation is unlike other types of documentation.  Even today I am honored to have co-authored this paper with my good friend Manjula, who worked many years as editor of the world-renowned Times of India newspaper; and with Oliver, who today is HP’s top solution architect in Germany.
  • KB1427: Global delivery best practices. With Andreas Steinbach. This was perhaps more fun for me to write than any other KB.  For you see: I am a technical guy, and my friend Andy is a sales guy.  Both of us knew how important it was for our company to win international projects and expand our international business. And when this “odd couple” of Andy and I got together to brainstorm our thoughts and make recommendations – coming from entirely different backgrounds and directions – it was a mind-blowing experience I will never forget!
  • KB1374: An “Installer Manager”for deploying complex software in DaimlerChrysler workshops. I was pretty proud of the work described in this article, but to be honest: for vanity reasons. After being responsible for the installer applications for many years, I got my chance as software architect to design the “next generation” of installer software, and as project manager to develop and rollout the software. As any techie can tell you, when you struggle for years to keep legacy systems alive and current, it is an unbelievable breath of fresh air and privilege to design the next generation!
  • Transbase: a performance optimized, user-friendly database system for distributed data applications. With Falk Seifert. This is an amazing, wonderful topic that the IT industry has (badly) neglected: the various roles that a database has to play. When you think of a database, you usually think of the “one size fits all” models: Oracle, DB2, MS SQL, and maybe MySQL.  But in many cases, what’s crucially important is just a small aspect of the overall functionality: slow update speed but perhaps ultrafast retrieval.  Complicated core installation, but perhaps very easy and fast to update read-only content. Perhaps not friendly for a DBA to administer, but extremely friendly for a programmer to control via specialized APIs. These are the areas in which the German-developed Transbase database really excels, and this KB tries to give a glimpse into the industry need for highly specialized DB technology.
  • Preparing pretty project posters provides powerful publicity. It is a simple idea: if you are delivering something for your customer, such as a business application, then deliver a nice poster that describes the work and that they can hang on their wall. I used this trick in many customer engagements, and always with great success.  If the customer is happy to receive the deliverable (such as a new or modified business application), then a poster can be really useful to them: describes the deliverable, shows the project team. The main goals are to show professionalism, and to provide a terrific advertisement for winning new projects.
  • Prizewinner: KB1877: Darwin meets Sun Tzu, the art of war in the adaptive enterprise.  I worked really hard on this 16-page article, getting lots of help and input from industry luminaries such as John Rhoton, in which I made a detailed comparison of the Hewlett-Packard then-strategy “Adaptive Enterprise” with Sun Tzu’s famous “The Art of War.” Our Chief Technology Officer awarded me a prize for this KB, which after all the hard work really made my day!

And here are the rest!

  • Best practices for application localization. With Michael Haugk and René Morcientz.
  • Application troubleshooting agents for customer support at DaimlerChrysler. With Falk Seifert.
  • Defect tracking systems: a powerful tool for consulting project success. With René Morcientz.
  • Day Communiqué, a content unification (not management) system. With Dr. Michael Haugk.
  • Building a Unicode-compatible framework in Microsoft Visual Basic 6. With Jens Scheffler and Benny Matthew.
  • Design patterns for scientific applications in Java.
  • Creating an automated build and deployment process for applications. With Manfred Heinrichs.
  • Programming scripts in MindManager to automate project management.
  • MindManager to create traceability matrices for project requirements. With Michael Wurster.
  • Turbo-Project-Management, a book review.