About - Brian Overland


Who is Brain Overland?

I'm a textbook author, sometime actor, programmer, film reviewer, and novelist who believes nothing is more important than clarity of ideas -- along with other virtues such as honesty, generosity, humor, and kindness. I published my first article when I was fourteen, based on my original math idea: a variation on Pascal's Triangle.

Yale University

I graduated from Yale in 1980 with a degree in Economics, which I use today mainly to see through the arguments of talking heads on cable news. One of my professors was a young Paul Krugman, probably the best-known economist in the world today. In the 1980s I was hired to teach myself C programming and churn out hundreds of lines of C code a day. I also mastered BASICA and QuickBasic, writing a translator that converted from one language to another. Armed only with a computer terminal and a manual, I had to learn the hard way, by making every mistake a C programmer could make. And I struggled through painful hours of reading less-than-great documentation.

I decided that even if I wasn't yet the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer I aspired to be, I could at least write better manuals than the ones that had been inflicted on me. I went to work at Microsoft, first as a product-support tech (the hardest job in the entire world); then I got lucky and talked myself into an entry-level job writing programming manuals. There I flourished -- although I met opposition, being on a virtual one-man crusade to make user manuals more interesting, entertaining, and, above all, clear. Microsoft programmers had sympathy for what I was trying to do, but the attitude of many in the documentation ("User Education") area was: "We prefer things as they are." On the plus side, I worked with some of the more interesting people in Microsoft's history, such as Tim Patterson, who created MS-DOS 1.0 and sold it to Bill Gates. That was the deal of a lifetime.

I worked on just about every programming language Microsoft ever supported, but the single most interesting project was Visual Basic 1.0. Working several jobs for the price of one, I informally managed 20+ other documentation people as Project Lead of Documentation -- meaning I had all the responsibility and none of the authority -- while also acting as Lead Writer and a full-time author of the programming guide. But I was happy to do it because it meant playing an important role in the grand scheme of things: introducing the world to easy Windows programming for the first time.


I graduated from Microsoft at the time many people did in those days: the ten-year burn-out mark. By "graduate" I mean I cashed in my options and retired... Microsoft was generous to me; too bad other investments I had did not turn out as well. Since then, I've published a total of nine or ten computer books under my own name -- some out of print -- and have so far completed seven full-length novels. Looking back, I don't think the first five novels are especially publishable, but I'm proud of the last two -- I think they're very good reads, especially after ten rewrites each -- and I'm trying to find an agent or publisher for these two. I may add a section to this site about those novels soon. But otherwise, if you'd like to know more, just contact me.

Perhaps alone among other writers, I don't think technical writing should be boring and confusing just because it's technical... Why can't it be interesting, fresh, and scintillating? Or even, at times, funny? Although I admit that this goal is difficult sometimes to achieve. It's not always possible to make pages and pages of dry reference material as compelling as, say, a thriller or Fifty Shades of Your Favorite Color. But at least it should be clear.