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Category Archives: Technical Writing

Early days as an entrepreneur….

Very many years ago, in 1995, we started TASC; one of India’s first technical writing and training companies.

We started not in the proverbial garage, but in a beauty parlour that belonged to a close family close friend of my business partner. We were given the place on a “pay when you have the money” basis, no questions asked. The only condition was that we had to use the place “as is, where is.” So here we were, in pink sandblasted 200 square feet room with mirrors on the walls and the classic parlour countertops. It took some ingenuity and a few curtains (yes, curtains) to camouflage the surroundings. Visitors, the few that we had, were very mystified by our “office”! 🙂

And oh! there was the cat that we inherited. For the first few weeks, it was a ghostly presence that left behind a dead rodent as a tribute at least once a week! **Shudder** We soon discovered how it got in and put an end to that.

The location of our office was also very unique. Bang opposite us was St. Michael’s Church (Mahim Church), one of Mumbai’s most famous churches and a few meters down from there was the famous Mahim Dargah.

We were also cheek-by-jowl with a “dance bar” and a few doors down on the other side was a small traditional eatery. Being an all girls team, we were persona non-grata at both the eateries that were within reach. That was a problem because we often worked till 11 PM and stayed over ever so often (the parlour had cubicles at the back with benches on which we could sleep).

We tried, once and once only, to get a takeout from the traditional eatery, but our very presence at the door was uncomfortable to the owner and patrons. An old “chacha” who worked at the place realised our plight, and took our order and sent us packing back to the office. He personally delivered the food, and since then would drop in ever so often through the day to see if we needed anything. I will always remember the roti-dal fry, egg bhurji, and chai-bun-maska we lived on in those days. And bread pudding, Mava cakes, and assorted “puffs” from the nearby Crown Bakery.

On a day we needed a treat, we used to take a taxi down to Shobha, the Udipi Restaurant on LJ Road aka Cadell Road or get Biryani from one of the local eateries.

The bar would start its day at about 1 PM with a thorough cleaning accompanied by the melodious voice of MS Subbulakshmi. They played the most divine selection of music till about 6 PM, when regular business hours started. That was the time I learnt several stotrams and popular dance numbers all in the space of a few months. And we could do without our watches because of them! When the storams started, have lunch and when the dance music started, go home.

Though I did not know it then, I was the unwitting subject of classical conditioning. 🙂

But the bouncers and waiters at the bar were ever so considerate of our finer feelings and protective of us girls. They would ensure that the bar’s patrons did not disturb us, call us cabs, …. So typical of Mumbai!

But boy, did we work hard those days. Our first contract was to develop documentation for a RDBMS developed in India. We had to write 11 huge manuals in about 7 months, with one DTP operator for support. We had to shuttle between Mumbai and Gandhi Nagar, where the development team was based.

In the middle of all this, we were also training individuals on Microsoft Windows 95, Microsoft Office 95, PowerBuilder, C, and C++. You see, we were a technical writing and training company. Do note the “and training.” In those days, very few in India had heard of technical writing as a profession. Our task began with educating the companies we visited on what technical writing was all about, how we could add value to them, and more specifically they had to pay us to “just” write. It was tough going, but fun!

I have lost count of the number of times people asked my parents, “Okay, your daughter writes. But what does she DO (aka what is her JOB?)?”

My abiding memory of those days the tremendous support we got from people around us; family, friends, and complete strangers. And everyone had tremendous faith in us and our abilities, as other instalments of this saga will show.

 
19 Comments

Posted by on June 16, 2013 in Musings, Technical Writing

 

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Our First Technical Writing Contract

As I mentioned earlier, we started TASC as a technical writing and training company. Our early days were occupied in training individuals on Microsoft Windows 95,  Microsoft Office 95, PowerBuilder, C, C++, Microsoft Visual Basic, and the like. It was after a couple of months of starting the company that we got our first technical writing contract; and what a contract it was!

It was from a company based in Gujarat that was developing an RDBMS. They were looking for comprehensive technical documentation for their product. One of the directors of this company knew us from the time we authored some books on PowerBuilder and he approached us to create the documentation for the RDBMS.

We had to create some 12 manuals on topics ranging from installing and configuring the RDBMS to SQL commands and functions. We had 7 months to do it in. The development team was based in Gandhinagar while the headquarters were in Mumbai. So we travelled often to Gandhinagar (fly to Ahmedabad and travel by road to Gandhinagar by road) for meetings with the development team and for review meetings.

Aldus PageMaker (now Adobe PageMaker) was the mandated tool. At first, we decided to directly author in PageMaker, but soon realised how painful that was. So, we employed a DTP operator to layout the manuals while we swtiched to the easier Microsoft Word for authoring. FullShot was the screen capture tool.

Those were the days of dial-up internet with a princely 9.6 kbps data transfer rate and our files were gigantic. So we used printouts and floppy disks to deliver documentation for review. This typically involved a late night run to Mulund, a distant suburb of Mumbai, where the client had a sales office for another of his businesses. There were people who travelled to Gandhinagar every week from here, and they would carry printouts to and from the development team.

Those days Mulund was not the upmarket place that it is now. It was known for its salt pans, “desi daru” bars , and industrial estates.

On other days, we used the famed angadia service that delivered anything from documents to diamonds overnight to Gujarat. It was a boon when First Flight Couriers started deliveries to Gandhinagar.

Fun and games aside, it was an exhilarating if exhausting few months. We were given every facility we needed to get our work done. Be it access to people, books, equipment, travel support….

The client trusted us to know what would be required of documentation for such a product. We read manuals from Microsoft and Oracle to understand how manuals were written, what should be included, how should the manual look… We learnt everything there was to learn about RDBMS’s. Everything was a discovery. And we learnt such a lot.

Our first task was to explore SQL inside out. We did that by installing Oracle, and spending days and nights testing queries of all sorts. We soon saw SQL joins, unions, and functions in our sleep. Sleeping Smiley

Even today, I can write the most complex of SQL queries with ease.

While we may not have realised it then, for us, living up to the faith reposed in us became the thing. And we did.

The sense of accomplishment when we heard that the documentation passed a certification process initiated by a major US-based venture capitalist is indescribable.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Technical Writing

 

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Let’s Start at the Very Beginning….

Very many years ago, in 1995, we started TASC; one of India’s first technical writing and training companies.

We started not in the proverbial garage, but in a beauty parlour that belonged to the family of a close friend of my partner. We were given the place on a “pay when you have the money” basis, no questions asked. The only condition was that we had to use the place “as is, where is.” So here we were, in pink sandblasted 300 square feet room with mirrors on the walls and the classic parlour countertops. It took some ingenuity and a few curtains (yes, curtains) to camouflage the surroundings. Visitors, the few that we had, were very mystified by our “office”!

And, oh! there was the cat that we inherited. For the first few weeks, it was a ghostly presence that left behind a dead rodent as a tribute at least once a week! We soon discovered how it got in and put an end to that.

The location of our office was also very unique. We were cheek-by-jowl with a restaurant and bar, the kind where you danced to the tunes of the proverbial Mumbai bar girls and a few doors down on the other side was one a small traditional eatery. Bang opposite us was one of Mumbai’s most famous churches and a few meters down from there was a famous dargah.

Being an all girls team, we were persona non-grata at both the eateries that were within reach. That was a problem because we often worked till 11 PM  and stayed over ever so often (the parlour had cubicles at the back with benches on which we could sleep). We tried, once and once only, to get takeout from the traditional eatery, but our very presence at the door was uncomfortable to the owner and patrons. An old “chacha” who worked there realised our plight and took our order. He sent us packing back to the office and personally delivered the food. Since that day chacha-ji would drop in ever so often through the day to see if we needed anything. I will always remember the roti-dal fry and chai-bun-maska we lived on in those days.

The bar would start its day at about 1 PM with a thorough cleaning buoyed by the melodious voice of MS Subbulakshmi. They played the most divine selection of music till about 6 PM, when regular business hours started. That was the time I learnt several stotrams (hymns) and popular dance numbers together in the space of a few months. We could set our watches by them! When the stotrams started have lunch and when the dance music started, go home. Though I did not know it then, I was the unwitting subject of classical conditioning.

But the bouncers and waiters at the bar were ever so considerate of our finer feelings and protective of us girls. They would ensure that the bar’s patrons did not disturb us, call us cabs at night, accompany us to the railway station…. So typical of Mumbai!

But boy, did we work hard those days.  Our first contract was a huge documentation project for a RDBMS developed in India. Two of us had to write 8 manuals in about 7 months, with one DTP operator for support. We had to shuttle between Mumbai and Gandhi Nagar, where the development team was based. We were flying by our pants. We did not have any training in technical writing; we had not heard of words like style guides, templates, and audience analysis; had no internet access of note…. We wrote in Microsoft Word and the  DTP operator designed and layout the manuals in PageMaker. But our instincts were dead-on. And our manuals were appreciated by one of the largest consulting firms in the world.

In the middle of all this, we were also training individuals on Microsoft Windows 95, Microsoft Office 95, PowerBuilder, C, and C++. You see, we were a technical writing and training company. Do note the “and training.” In those days, very few in India had heard of technical writing as a profession. Our task began with educating the companies we visited on what technical writing was all about, how we could add value to them, and more specifically they had to pay us to “just” write. It was tough going, but fun!

I have lost count of the number of times people asked my parents, “Okay, your daughter writes. But what does she DO (aka what is her JOB?)?”

My abiding memory of those days is that we got tremendous support from people around us; family, friends, and complete strangers. And everyone had tremendous faith in us and our abilities, as the next instalment of this saga will show.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Musings, Technical Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
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