• Prospero Anuforo

Editing Science and Technology.

We spoke to Adaobi Obi Tulton, a development editor with over twenty years of experience working in technology publishing. She is the founder of Serendipity23 Editorial Services, where she offers freelance editorial services. We talked about the intricacies of Technical Writing, Big Tech Industry and the general trajectory of technology from the perspective of a development editor.

Going through your catalog, you have worked on several books in the Tech industry. After working on all these, is there a pattern that you’ve noticed, say, in the progression of Tech?

Truthfully, I don’t follow the trends in tech closely. But I have noticed in my many years in editing tech books, more and more of the books that publishers are bringing in as part of their catalogue are books that are much more pragmatic. They are focusing on books that teach or encourage use of clean, flexible, readable code, and many of the books use Python or JavaScript. I’ve also noticed that data science, in particular, machine learning is a big as well. And, as of right now, I have two books that are focused specifically on identifying and avoiding bias in ML algorithms.

Has your extensive experience with technology and computer programming books made you skeptical or hopeful of the potential that Tech has?

I’ve been more hopeful of late, I think mostly because of the types of books I’ve been seeing. It looks like tech is beginning to see a reckoning when it comes to diversity and inclusion and how it treats its people. As I mentioned there are the two books I’m currently working on that focus on bias in code, and there are also a few books that I’ve completed that focus on the soft skills tech employers, not just employees, need to have to make their offices conducive to the kind of collaboration needed for software engineering teams.

From working on projects on medical device software developers to cookbooks, as a freelance editor, what are some of your favorite topics to explore?

I learn something from every book I work on. And that can be anything from a new fact I didn’t know before or that I just don’t like the topic and I would not want to work on books like that again. I really find I thoroughly enjoy working on data science books and cookbooks. I joke sometimes that every cookbook I work on should come with a grocery stipend, because more often than not, I will make at least one thing from the cookbooks I’ve worked on. For instance, because of one book I worked on, I now own a set of cast-iron skillets. I would love to do more self-help books as well.

Big Tech publishing is one part of the Big Tech Industry. You mentioned, in a previous interview, being one of the very few persons of color in this area. How do you think Tech can become more open and accessible to people of color?

Opening tech up to more people is an issue that I think tech is finally addressing. I don’t think that there will be substantial, immediate changes, but at least there are changes. I think one thing tech can do is expand their outreach beyond just the colleges and universities. Right now tech companies are investing in schools, but mostly to provide them with products to use. Let’s see more investment in training programs where they can then recruit their graduates. And those training programs should not just be for the top, more well-funded schools. There are smart, interested kids everywhere in the school system. Everyone should have the opportunity.

Tech in Africa has some catching up to do with the rest of the world. What do you believe Africans on the continent and in the diaspora can do to even the Tech playing field?

I don’t know a whole lot about this area, but I do think that part of what Africa is facing is the various stereotypes that are so pervasive about the continent and its people. Nigeria has a huge tech sector and there are other booming industries there as well, but if you mention Nigeria to most Americans, all they think of is the “Nigerian Prince” scam. And in the US, we often don’t see a lot of world news, so we’d actually have to put in effort to find out more about what’s happening in other parts of the globe. I don’t know how you’d be able to fix that. The only think I can suggest for Africans is persistence. That despite what other people think, keep going, keep building and don’t worry about the others.

While working on the book Women of Color in Tech: A Blueprint for Inspiring and Mentoring the Next Generation of Technology Innovators by Susanne Tedrick, what did you take away from the field of Tech and the possibilities for both women and women of color?

I learned that there are so many more avenues for women to take to get into the tech field. There’s more than just going to college or a university and getting a degree. Also, I saw that it reinforced how important mentorship and building a professional network is. The old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” rings true in just about every industry. You definitely have to make sure you have skills, but having that person to help point you in the right direction and introduce you to the right people will get you far.

With hundreds of books on your resume, what has been the most challenging topic to tackle/understand?

I found books on the combined topic of philosophy and religion to be the most challenging. There was a lot I had to wrap my mind around just to understand what the author was saying before I could even do something as simple as properly place a comma. It would take hours just to get through ten pages. I vowed never to take on books on that topic again.

Writing about technology, programming and computer technology comes with a lot of jargon. Do you have any method for breaking scientific jargon down?

I usually recommend to authors that they should talk to their audience like they’re talking to a colleague, and especially a junior colleague, and talk to them as if you’re having an informal chat in a coffee shop and you’re explaining something they’re interested in knowing more about. They’re new and they’re going to ask you lots of questions. Anticipate those questions. Explain, explain, explain. If you’re going to say something jargony, explain it.

In a hypothetical universe, if your work only revolved around one field/topic for the rest of your career, what one would it be?

It’s hard to say because I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve worked on. I mentioned before I really enjoyed working on data science and cookbooks, and I really enjoy learning from what I read, so data science might have a slight edge.

If you could liken your job to any science field, which one would you choose? i.e. Being a copyeditor is like being a ….

I guess I could liken my job to being in the software design field. I’m working as part of a collaborative team, mainly with the author, to help create a book that meets the publisher’s, the author’s, and the reader’s needs in the most effective manner possible. The editing is the design, taking the author’s initial “program” and helping them to finetune it. We find the bugs and we fix them. It’s the best part of the job for me.


Find out more about Adaobi here.

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