Each month we profile a member of the Pragmatic Bookshelf team. This month it’s Development Editor John Osborn.
John Osborn, Development Editor
I never planned to be an editor; I thought I was going to be a prize-winning reporter, an aspiration of which I was reminded at a recent reunion when a friend pointed to me across a crowded banquet hall and shouted, “Hey, there’s the guy who said we should watch for his by-line in the New York Times.”
So much for that.
Throughout my more than forty years of professional life, I have attended to three loves: writing, teaching, and technology. Out of college, I carried coffee and copy for reporters in the Washington Bureau of the New York Times and covered the Florida State legislature for United Press.
Later, I taught physics and chemistry to high school students in Africa and Maine. I built one of the first Altair computers for my students soon after the kits were announced in Popular Electronics magazine, while devouring news of the microcomputer revolution in magazines edited by the Prag’s own Michael Swaine.
At Digital Equipment Corporation, I wrote the first VAX/VMS self-paced training course and later managed Digital Press, the company’s in-house publisher (later sold to Elsevier). I acquired and published computer books for IDG Books (later bought by Wiley) and for O’Reilly Media (still very much independent, and the distributor of The Pragmatic Programmer Bookshelf).
A list of the titles I have published over the years reads like a history of modern enterprise computing, including Common Lisp, by Guy Steele; VAX/VMS Internals, by Ruth Goldenberg and Larry Kenah; XML Bible, by Elliot Rusty Harold (a Publisher’s Weekly bestselling computer book); X Windows System, by Robert Scheiffler, Programming C#, by Jesse Liberty, and Programming Windows Communications Foundation (WCF), by Juval Lowy.
Now, I’m helping a new generation of aspiring computer book authors compose their thoughts for the Prags. I have to credit Susannah Pfalzer, Pragmatic’s energetic Managing Editor, for introducing me to Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas a year ago. She and I had worked together at IDG Books, and shortly after I decided to go freelance as a developmental editor, she called. It took little persuasion to sign me up.
What I like best about working for the Prags is the deep respect the founders and my colleagues have for good writing. It’s not enough that a book be cutting edge or technically accurate; it also has to tell a good story and engage readers. I have never seen so much time spent on getting a book right. At the Prags, editors are collaborators not gatekeepers.
But there is life outside publishing. When I’m not sitting in the town library with a manuscript and a red pen or wrestling with PML at my homebrew Windows workstation, you’ll find me outdoors with my family, on a bike, in a kayak, on skis, or sweating on a steep White Mountain trail in New Hampshire.
As for that reporting thing? Well, if you’re in Harvard, Massachusetts, pick up a copy of the Harvard Press. You’ll find my by-line there.
LinkedIn: John Osborn