Re: Intern Advice

Subject: Re: Intern Advice
From: Jason Deal <jason-deal -at- vertel -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2000 16:06:44 -0700

I'm currently an intern, so forgive any mistakes/misjudgements due to
inexperience. As I've observed, it's tricky to structure an internship
program effectively, especially with a peer, so the question really seems
to lie in his goals, particularly in your company. Does he (or you) view
this internship as training for a permanent position, or as a stepping
stone for a career elsewhere?
For the high school or college student, the technique is simple. Avoid
anything that you could do in five minutes (interns constantly question
their worth to the company, even if they are learning valuable skills), and
change things periodically, every month or so. Allow them time to grow
familiar with a doc, then rip the carpet out from under them. Not only
does it keep things fresh, but it simulates, in the shortest time possible,
the real meat of techwriting -- learning products and manuals as fast as
possible so you can document or rewrite them even faster.
For a peer, I suppose I would recommend simply being more diplomatic when
editing his work. The average student is used to his papers being ripped
to shreds, and that being the only feedback he gets; the average employee
thinks more in corporate politics. But other than that, keep things the
same as for someone younger. Remember that he fills a role in the company
that is not defined by age and experience, but rather pay and
responsibility. He is coming in as an intern, treat him like one.

Maybe this will help more, what I did as an intern:
August: Came in, started with reading about techwriting practices.
Started one week later translating Word docs to HTML using HTML Transit (I
already knew HTML). Had no part in content.
September - January: Started dealing directly with engineers regarding
edits to manuals. Had no part in content generation. Was given some
charge of other intern here, and was responsible for making sure that the
docs were up-to-date with whatever small edits were needed, and made sure
they were ready for delivery. Large edits went to my boss for proofing and
February - March: Kept previous responsibilities, but was given small
project to document from the engineers (one facet of our product,
relatively simple and isolated), which involved generating content, but
mostly was making sure the engineers communicated their content clearly.
Other intern left.
April - May: Hired another intern, began transition to Frame and pdf. I
was given charge of most manuals (all but the main User Guide, where the
conceptual info about are product lay), and making sure they were up to
snuff for delivery. Was given short, 1-page of original content to write.
June - given first substantial project, transitioning to full-time.

Now, I don't want to toot my own horn here; at NO point was I autonomous.
The great thing about being an intern is that you don't have to take any
more responsibility than you want. I talked to my boss every day, often at
length, about every aspect of both my work and the industry I could think
of. Everything I wrote myself passed her desk before it went out, and she
only gave me independent work after I proved that I could handle it. On
her side, though, she never gave me anything that she could do in five
minutes that would take me weeks; I always knew that my contributions were
of worth, because I was taking a significant workload off of her shoulders.

Before any company decides to hire an intern, they really should look at
whether their structure and processes allow one. An intern is NOT an
employee on severely reduced pay, he is a potential gold mine, since you
usually have the advantage of shaping the way that he writes for the rest
of his career. So try to think if there is any work to be done that you
could have done with no experience, and give that work to the newbie.

Thanks for caring,
Jason Deal

At 02:08 PM 6/16/00 -0400, you wrote:
>Hi, there!
>I just got the good news - I'm getting an intern!
>But I've never had an intern before and I don't know what I'm going to do
>with him!
>Our group has never had a TW intern before so I need advice on how to
>structure the program for him so that he gets the most out of this. He is a
>Secondary school English teacher who wants to get into technical writing. So
>to me he's almost like a peer and he's probably also a few years older than
>me. I don't want to offend him and I'd like to help him break into the
>I'm on digest so please cc me on your responses.
>Thanks in advance!

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