[German]On today's October 1, 2023 I'm 30 years as a freelance writer and now as a blogger on the road. And now I actually look back on these three decades quite incredulously.
54 years ago, I would never have dreamed that I would end up as a blogger. Back then, August 1969, the Americans had successfully landed on the moon a few days earlier with Apollo 11. And young Born started as an apprentice in the electrical trade after finishing my secondary school.
Later, on my way to becoming an engineer, I first came into contact with computers as a student and somehow "caught fire", which continued in my first job in aircraft construction and then in large-scale chemistry. The 12 years as a software developer, project manager and head of a software development group enabled me to acquire the "scills" for my later job from scratch. Well, I also studied computer science at the Fernuni Hagen on the side. But I never took it too seriously. Microcomputer design, digital technology, database design, Pascal and some other subjects interested me very much and I did my exams there. But the basic studies in mathematics as well as theoretical computer science (Turing machine, proof of Gödel's incompleteness theorem) and further formal proofs were not my world.
Somehow I got hooked …
Somewhere along the way through life I must have gone off the rails, otherwise I would have stayed as an engineer. But there was this thing, that I was asked to publish articles that about the latest developments of the SCADA software I was responsible for at that time in technical journals. To my surprise, I was even paid 190 Deutsche Mark for the first article.
Get rich and famous quickly …
After it ran with magazine articles and there was money, it could go further. Once, to learn Pascal properly, I borrowed an IBM PC/XT including Turbo Pascal from the company for a long weekend. As a finger exercise, I then decided to port an 8085 disassembler, which I had in self-written BASIC fragments, to Pascal. After the weekend the thing was running and I thought "do an article about it, provide the source code and see if it can be sold". It was published as a two-part article series in a magazine, and there was a fee of about 2,000 Deutsche Mark.
That was probably the tipping point, after it seemed to become nothing with the conclusion in computer science in the foreseeable future, the decision came "hang the part-time additional study on the nail, and look whether you can not become fast rich and famous". Well, the profession of influencer didn't exist back then – we were so poor, we didn't even have internet. YouTube was also unknown, and video is not my world either, as I later discovered as a video trainer. So we had to come up with a plan B. Hemingway, Thomas Mann and the rest of them had at least become famous as book authors. That must be something …
Well, I couldn't do anything literary. But in 1987 I had bought an Amstrad PC with MS-DOS and 20 MByte hard disk for about 2,000 DM, as well as an Epson dot matrix printer for about 500 DM. And the computer came with Locomotive Basic. At that time the idea was born: "Write a book about this Locomotive Basic and finance the new PC including printer with the money".
I somehow managed to write the manuscript, but unfortunately it took me a bit too long (8 months, as I recall) and then I had bad luck. My manuscript, which I had submitted to publishers, generated the feedback "is interesting, we probably want to have", but then probably gathered dust in some drawer. From today's perspective, the market was already dead when I submitted the manuscript.
But I finally found a publisher and my first printed book "Die Basic2 Toolbox" really appeared in 1988 – 247 pages strong, including my disassembler in BASIC. The copy is still in my bookshelf today – and of course in the German National Library in Frankfurt.
Only with a master plan "to refund the purchase price for PC and printer" it didn't really work out. After about a year I had earned about 2,000 DM in royalties, the purchase price for the printer I had to be refunded through various magazine articles. But with the new PC, it was easy and difficulties have never prevented me from implementing plans. And "falling down" is part of life, the trick is to just get up again more often and keep going.
So I redesigned the concept of the Basic2 Toolbox for the newly released Borland Turbo Basic compiler, for Microsoft's Quick Basic and for Turbo Pascal and simply made more books out of it. These were then published by Pearson brand Markt+Technik in Germany and brought a bit more royalties.
But the crazy idea of "getting rich and famous quickly" didn't work out. It was similar to what happened with some musicians, who often spent years unsuccessfully touring pubs. So I published another book, and another book – in retrospect there must have been about 300 of them (with translations and corrected new editions). I don't know exactly, but the shelf on the following picture has become quite full.
He who writes stays – or has a full bookshelf
The leap into self-employment
In 1993, the time had come, after I noticed something like a "glass ceiling for advancement into management" at my employer at the time and looming "economic turbulence in this company" (the saying of a board driver "young man, if Mr. xyz becomes our boss, then God help us, he'll go to the cellar to laugh" is still ringing in my ears), it was clear you were doing something else. Hiring a job at Siemens, AEG or other companies was not an option – I knew too many internal details and didn't want to "jump out of the frying pan into the fire".
But at that time I had already written a few books on the side – everything officially approved by the employer as an activity – and during salary negotiations the boss always said "Born, you don't need a salary increase, with your books you earn more than the pocket money we can pay anyway". I didn't say anything about it and thought of my own.
Well, and then my exit plan fell through, and the idea of "doing something completely different" was born. The crazy original approach of "getting rich and famous", I knew, wouldn't work. But I knew that with a little luck, writing would finance your life. Okay, I was also helped by the offer of a new book publisher, who offered me an exclusive contract with an annual guaranteed fee.
And so it happened that I quit my supposedly secure job as an engineer in lower management to work as a freelance IT writer. Well, the employer at the time was crushed two years after I left – so you can see again what gaps my exit left.
But for me, October 1, 1993 was the start of an incredible professional journey with crazy ups and downs. There was everything from "we are flying to the stars" to "half a year without a penny income, you'll have to think about plan B". Writing has financed me for the last 30 years. However, I always had a working plan B, and have had to reinvent myself X times in the three decades. Only rich and famous, that was once the starting point of the whole, I have never become.
Russian edition of the file format handbook
However, I can look back with gratitude on decades of an incredibly exciting professional life (also as an IT author), including numerous anecdotes. Some day I "collided with world politics and Boris Yeltsin" and did not get any royalties for a book in Russian because Russia was insolvent, there was no foreign currency.
There has been a few highlights so far. My "The file formats handbook", first published in 1990 in German made it to Russian (see above), and later I wrote that 1,200 pages beast in an English edition. It has been published in 1995 and was a standard (the German edition reached five revised editions).
My German edition "Das MS-DOS Programmierhandbuch" (documenting all the internal BIOS and API calls) never made it into English, but my German book covered in many revised editions MS-DOS 2.x up to MS-DOS 6.x – and the last edition (about 1,200 pages) has been published by Microsoft Press Germany.
My books "Inside the Registry for Microsoft Windows 95" and "Inside the Microsoft Windows 98 Registry" has been published by Microsoft Press USA (both titles were first written in German for Microsoft Press Germany, later I wrote them in English for Microsoft Press USA).
The Windows 95/98 registry titles was used heavy inside of Microsoft's Windows developers group, and one day I was asked, whether parts of the Windows 98 registry title may be used "for a Windows developer title". So I came the other day "contributing author" of the chapter about the Windows registry in the Microsoft Press title "Microsoft Windows 98 Resource Kit" – I feelt honored.
The book project Microsoft Windows Script Host 2.0: Developer's Guide went a bit down hill. I've had a German edition of this project, 1,200 pages thick, written for MS Press Germany, that have reached 3 revised editions. My attempt to publish that beast with Microsoft Press USA was made in a time, where Microsoft USA was forced by competition authorities to establish a "chinese wall" between the Windows and Office developers group. First my U.S. editors asked for a 1,000 pages manuscript – after I've finished that "beast" in English, the editors has changed, and one told me, they are not allowed anymore to publish books with more than 600 pages. So we decided to split the book into two volumes, both 500-600 pages thick.
I rewrote the material for the first volume, that has been published as Microsoft Windows Script Host 2.0: Developer's Guide. But volume 2 (with the more exiting material) never made it to the market. Wiser after the experience with the project, I asked if I should begin to write the manuscript for the second volume. But my next U.S. Microsoft Press editor told me that marketing had decided not to publish the title. It then remained with the "unfinished project". Later we have had 9/11 and I decided to stop any attempt to publish something at Microsoft Press USA and focused my writing activities to Microsoft Press Germany and "Markt + Technik", and Addison Wesley, both German branches of Pearson Education International.
A nice memory is the fact that I was able to involve my son from time to time. He was used as a beta tester for my children's computer books when he was 11-12 – and from the age of 14 he was allowed to maintain my website at the time in exchange for larger pocket money. And then there were the famous book projects, where I wrote programming language books with my son. He has just became an engineer, and the book about Visual C# 2005 got him his first job. When asked at the hiring interview if he knew C#, he replied that he had just written a book with me about it.
In 2015 I faded out writing (after loosing some of my publishers and after a heavy sports injury). But I managed to get my blogs "to fly" and fund my life. The background: In 2013 and beyond, Pearson closed the German publishers "Markt+Technik" and "Addison Wesley". A year later Microsoft decided to close German Microsoft Press and grant the book publishing to O'Reilly. I still made it to shift my book projects from Markt + Technik to Microsoft Press Germany and then to O'Reilly Germany. But O'Reilly Germany was closed in 2015 too. Well long story short: In March 2015 I broke my neck and suffered a spine injury during a sports accident. I made it to overcome my partial paralyzed legs and arms.
After 18 months I was able to start writing – but was only able to do that for 1-2 hours a day. So I gave up writing books about computers (only five existing book projects has been published in revised editions for the German market). So I decided to bring my already existing blogs "to life and get it to fly". And since 2016 I'm able to gain my income from my blogs. Since March 2021 I'm official retired, but still blogging – currently I have no clue how long I will be able to do that and and when I'll start phasing it out. Maybe I will still have a couple of years up to this point, who knows.
At this point, I look back with gratitude, but also wonder, at an incredible three-decade professional journey as a freelance writer that I would never have dreamed of as a small apprentice in 1969. At this point, a big thank you to my readership (books and blogs). Without you, none of this would have been possible. I "turned my hobby into my profession in 1993 and have never had to work since". I also see that as a privilege that life has granted me.
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