8 min read

An Interview with Ruben Schade

An interview with Ruben Schade, a technical writer, solution architect, traveller, otaku, and more.
An Interview with Ruben Schade

Who are you, and what do you do?

I ask myself that every day! I'm a human, traveller, retro computer enthusiast, otaku, coffee aficionado, and verbose list enumerator who's more than a little intimidated at being interviewed on the same site as some extraordinarily talented and interesting people.

Professionally I'm a technical writer and solution architect at an independent cloud infrastructure provider in Australia and the US. The former involves producing tenders, documentation, handover briefs, and validating technical copy for the sales and marketing teams. The latter is a fancy term for sitting on sales calls, asking questions, and translating vague requirements into a codified spec that our other engineers can implement.

How did you get interested in that?

Being a human, and to err like one, came naturally. Travelling was a bug from my parents who were lucky enough to show us the world as kids. Most of my childhood was spent in Singapore, because my dad was a business traveller.

I have a connection with old computers; maybe it's because they could still be interrogated and comprehended by laypeople with multimeters and oscilloscopes! You ask about anime later, so I'll respond there. Coffee is my elixir of life, and a fascinating hobby to explore in its own right.

I've always loved technical and non-fiction writing; my favourite books as a kid were the school's encyclopedia. There's an art and science to distilling data and presenting information in an accurate, relatable form people can understand. Most technical docs and online discussion forums (mostly) satisfy the former but fail the latter, which is more obvious the more you read.

Solution architecture came up entirely by accident. I found myself being pulled into more sales meetings to offer advice and guidance, on account of being able to talk as easily with clients as the engineers. It was a perfect example of dressing for the job you want not what you have: it might not have started had I not been wearing a collared shirt one that day.

What resources would you recommend for people that are interested in what you do?

Being well read is the best thing you can do for yourself, short of sleep, eating, and collecting vintage computers. It sounds so obvious, but read books about topics you're interested in pursuing.

Technical writing and blogging are a lot like programming: a teacher or online tutorial can advise you on syntax and best practices, but you only get good at synthesising it from practice. This is why I think blogging is so valuable, which you ask about in a bit :).

If you make it into college or university, take an active interest in the subjects and your lecturers. Don't be afraid to ask questions. I got my current role after jokingly asking if he had any positions available. Dr Bernard Wong and Dr Asif Gill even took time out to schedule meetings specifically with me to chat. Getting coffee with them and shooting the breeze under the guise of answering questions for assignments was a lot of fun, and hugely rewarding.

You already have a comprehensive list of the software and gear that you use on your Omake, so I won't ask what you use. But amongst the software & gear that you do use, is there anything that you find particularly delightful or worth highlighting?

I'm glad you found that! Omake is a term a lot of anime bloggers and magazines use to refer to "extra" content; I use it to list various things that wouldn't fit in blog posts.

I don't think I use anything special; I'm either in a Vim text editor on my Mac, or a FreeBSD machine. That's true if I'm writing Markdown, HTML, LaTeX, DocBook, XML, or whatever other format a client requests.

I think what's more interesting is where I use them. Coffee shops are my favourite for sitting down and getting through a ton of work or writing. There's something wondrous about that combination of low-level chatter, the clattering of crockery, and feeling like you're a part of something bigger. Also coffee.

Don't skimp on your backpack as well. It doesn't need to be a fancy Crumpler or Tom Bihn, but your back and shoulders will thank you. Ask me how I know!

What routines & habits help you get your work done?

I've learned the hard way that you have to guard your time and set boundaries. It's easy to always say yes, but people will take everything you can give. It's why I live out of my calendar now, which also lets me visualise tasks and deadlines better than any other tool. I also specifically book downtime and focus time, and treat scheduling conflicts with them the same as any other meeting.

I'm a morning person, so I get up early and smash through as much work as I can before the world wakes up and deluges me with distractions! I probably get more done in those first few precious hours than the rest of the day combined.

At work we use an internal task management system similar to Jira for monitoring the lifecycle of a task. It's very visual and easy to track across teams, but personally I find it overkill.

You've written nearly 8,400 entries for your blog since 2004 – 19 years this year (congratulations!). How has web changed for the better in that time? And how do you think it's changed for the worse?

Thanks, it's certainly made me feel old!

My concerns with the modern web stem from this insatiable need to reduce every thought to "content", and every interaction as "engagement". It manifests everywhere, from dark design patterns, user tracking, spam, politics, and mental health. Platforms are broadly built and optimised to deliver short, sharp dopamine hits and to sell us stuff, not to foster meaningful thought or discussion.

But there's cause for optimism. Despite the most dire of predictions, the web is still here. It's more accessible and affordable than ever, and you can still host your own site and publish RSS feeds without anyone's blessing or permission. That's incredible, and perhaps signals a way out of our current situation.

What advice do you have for people that want to start blogging, but don't know where to begin?

Firstly, congratulations on taking the first step! Writing for yourself is a rewarding hobby, a great way to meet people, and can even help advance your learning and career if you want it to. Most of all, it's just a lot of fun.

Don't overthink it as I always do; grab a free WordPress.org blog, or give Drummer a try. Best of all, because you own your words, you can easily move it elsewhere if you change your mind.

And most importantly, keep the web weird! Write what you want to. Enthusiasm is infectious, and I'd love to read yours.

I particularly enjoy your anime posts. What interests you about it as an art form vs. other TV shows, movies, etc.?

Thanks! I thought you did a great job on your cosplay essay too, which I encourage everyone to check out.

I wish I had a more profound answer, but it boils down to novelty. I watched series like Sailor Moon as a kid, and it was so different to anything else I'd seen. Even today, anime surprises and delights me in ways that Western media doesn't; even the most predicable slice of life or shonen action flicks.

My university anime club is also how I met my partner of ten years, and most of the friends I still keep in contact with today, so there's a lot of fuzzy feelings associated with it.

Hololive Vtubers are my latest guilty pleasure. I love that people have discovered new ways of expressing themselves and playing a character, and they're all so wildly creative. Ninomae Ina'nis of Myth is still my oshi, though I love them all.

You also collect figures. How did you get into that?

My first anime figure (Kallen in her academy uniform from Code Geass) was a gift, and it snowballed from there. Photos didn't prepare me for the level of detail in these things; they're works of art in their own right.

I've recently had to donate a chunk of my collection to make room for more vintage computer stuff, but Clara and I still take the time to check out the stores for them in Denden Town and Akihabara. My most recent was a second-hand Summer Jeanne from Fate/Grand Order who's super cute.

It's a dangerous hobby. Don't collect these things. They'll consume your entire existence, or at the very least every available metre of shelf space. Don't say I didn't warn you.

What're the essential qualities of a high quality figure?

I think there's only one: whether you love the character.

I have several SEGA "game prize" figures with visible injection mould seams, imperfect paint, misaligned stickers, flat hair, wobbly dispositions, and boring bases... and I adore them. I've also had expensive, detailed figures I subsequently resold because I didn't have an attachment to them.

If you after the best quality, keep your eye out for anything Alter puts out. They're head and shoulders above the rest, which I suppose wouldn't be hard given how much smaller anime figures are to real people.

You've also been podcasting – and listening to podcasts – for a long time. How do you think podcasting has changed over the years?

Podcasting has an interesting history. People like Frank Nora and Jim Kloss had been publishing their own internet radio shows long before the term existed. If they were the spark, the enclosure element in RSS and the invention of "podcatchers" were what propelled it into the mainstream. I think I mixed my metaphors there.

A lot has changed since. The top shows have become commercial with ad reads and regular schedules. There's nothing wrong with that, but I do miss the rough edges, spontaneity, and optimism from the early days, especially before celebrities and other big names had a chance to suck the oxygen out of the room. Schedules mean some shows are fantastic, and others are phoned in. It's human nature.

But podcasts are also an enduring success story for RSS and the modern independent web, despite the best efforts of certain streaming platforms, and journalists quick to say that silos have won. Text coagulated onto social media, and video is only watched through a handful of narrow services, but every show signs off with "wherever you get your podcasts". That's beautiful.

How do you relax or take a break?

I hadn't, which has taken its toll in recent years.

Hustle culture convinces us we should want to sacrifice our health for our careers, but mortgaging your future isn't sustainable. I regret every time I put work before my own mental health, and people I care about. Life's too precious to spend every waking moment wondering how you could monetise a hobby, or feeling guilty for taking downtime.

I've been trying to get back into nature hiking I used to do a lot as a teenager. It forces me to disconnect, and the exercise and fresh air certainly help. I'm lucky in Australia that we have so many gorgeous places within commuting distance.

If anyone figures out the trick to not feeling guilty about taking time out for hobbies though, I'm all ears, feet, and hands.

Whose work inspires or motivates you, or that you admire?

Everyone on my blogroll. I see their words each morning over coffee, and they're a never-ending source of inspiration and joy. I'd call out each and every one of them by name, but then this Q&A would be even longer than it already is.

People think that blogging and writing are solitary activities. While I take great comfort in writing alone, you're putting your thoughts out into the world for everyone to see, some of whom send feedback, or quote you in their writing. It's a community, of which I'm honoured to be part.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I would, but I don't have a calculator on me. Thank you, I'm here all week.

Thanks for letting me ramble, and for all the conversations you've facilitated here. I'm relieved to see more people interested in independent writing again. If you've made it this far, and haven't ever thought about putting your voice out there beyond the latest social network, consider it. We'd all love to hear from you.