Documenting the Macintosh – An interview with Caroline Rose

Filed under: People,Software

Caroline Rose joined the Mac Team at Apple in June 1982.
Caroline Rose at DevelopAlthough she didn’t appear in any official pictures, interviews or promotional material of the time, her pivotal role in the developing of Mac software is undisputable and has been honoured more than once by her colleagues.

Caroline was the technical writer of the Mac development team, producing most of the first three volumes of “Inside Macintosh“, the official guide for third party software developers. Her systematic approach to clarity also helped internal Apple developers who, thanks to Caroline remarks, sometimes rewrote their software improving it substantially.

Caroline left Apple in 1986 but later returned to Infinite Loop becoming the editor of a journal for Mac developers: in the meantime she kept herself busy managing the publications group at another important (and Apple-related) computer venture, NeXT. After that, in the last 12 years she has worked as an independent technical writer and editor.

We got in touch with Caroline and she graciously agreed to answer some questions about her work at Apple and most of all about the early days of the Macintosh, which this year has turned 25 years old.

Stories of Apple: Can you tell us how did you end up working for Apple?

Caroline Rose: I was working at Tymshare, down the block from Apple, when they called me. They had been having difficulties with a writer who wasn’t technical enough, whereas I had not only writing experience but also programming experience. Someone I used to work with at Tymshare who had left for Apple highly recommended me. I breezed through the interview (and the rest is history ;-).

I had actually interviewed for a job as a technical writer in the Apple II group before that, but, in part because of my experience as a programmer, I was making more money than any of their writers, so they didn’t make me an offer. Unlike the Mac group later on, they didn’t want “hotshots.” That was discouraging; I’m glad Apple ended up calling me rather than waiting for me to call them again.

Incidentally, to go back a little further, I was one of the first people to use a mouse, when I was working with its inventor Doug Engelbart at Tymshare. And I was among the first users of ARPAnet (the precursor to the Internet); Tymshare was one of the first few nodes in the network.

SoA: You worked at Apple twice. What were the differences between working there during ’82-“86 years and later during the 90s?

CR: I had two completely different stints at Apple (interrupted by my time at NeXT). Working on the original Mac team was incredibly intense. The creative energy and the stress level of the team were very high. We really did feel that what we were working on would change the world. Develop logoBy the time I returned to Apple to take over “develop,” its journal for Mac developers [since number 6, nda], the Mac had become an established product (and was in fierce competition with Windows-based PCs). The company had grown much larger, and the thrill of doing Mac-related work wasn’t nearly as strong as in the early days. But I still loved the computer and the company, and being in charge of “develop” was a creative and stimulating job without too much stress.

SoA: How was working at NeXT directly under Steve Jobs?

Caroline Rose in the early NinetiesCR: For most of my time at NeXT as Manager of Publications, I officially reported to Bud Tribble, the head of the software group. But, just as in the original Mac group, Steve was directly involved in everything and had a lot of contact with people in the organization regardless of their official reporting level.

You won’t find many people who have worked under Steve Jobs and are willing to say much about what that experience was like. I think it’s pretty well known that he was (deservedly) both admired and feared. I’ll leave it at that.

SoA: Do you have any fond memories of the work on the Macintosh?
Is there any particularly funny or weird story you were part of or you witnessed at Apple or at NeXT?

CR: The answer to both of these questions is yes, many more than time would allow me to get into here. Someday I might write my own book about it.

SoA: Did you feel a big responsability working on “Inside Macintosh”?

Develop logoCR: It was indeed a big responsibility. Especially given the new point-and-click model, developers were not going to be able to figure out how to write applications for the Mac on their own. It was frustrating not to able to have “Inside Macintosh” ready sooner, but there were a lot of obstacles in the way; mainly, the software kept changing. And, unable to do all the writing myself, I took very seriously my responsibility of ensuring that it was all accurate and clear. I don’t think anyone would have been served well if the documentation had been available much sooner but in much worse shape.

SoA: What are you working on now? Anything Mac or Apple-related?

CR: I edit ebooks for TidBITS, which has been supporting the Mac/Apple community for almost two decades, and I just finished documenting an iPhone app developed by someone else from the original Mac team. Much of my freelance work has been done for former Apple colleagues; however, not all of it has been Mac- or Apple-related, because many of them were forced to move over to what we called the Dark Side. I’m happy that I’ve at least been able to do all my work (as a contractor for 12 years now) on a Mac.

Caroline Rose with Andy Hertzfeld in 2008

I’d actually like to have more work. I’ve been affected by the downturn in the economy; when companies need to reduce their expenses, one of the first things to go is their concern for the quality of their written word. They don’t seem to realize that even a little bit of “polish” will make them look more professional and help them in the long run.

The first four images are “courtesy of Apple”. The last is (c) Caroline Rose and Andy Hertzfeld, which I’d like to thank.

Monday 10 January 2011, 5:00 pm
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    Pingback by Inside Macintosh – an exemplar of good technical documentation | Some Things Are Obvious — June 9, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

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