TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:What tools to learn... From:Bob Handlin 1331 <BHandlin -at- CHIPCOM -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 27 Feb 1995 10:48:00 PST
When we hire people, we request tools knowledge. We are not stupid, and we
are not a bad company. We also look at writing samples, give a writing test
(I hated this idea until I learned how incredibly revealing it can be!!),
and try to assess the candidate's technical aptitude.
When a pubs department uses a desktop publishing package, a LARGE percentage
of the writer's time (as much as 40-50 percent at times) is spent on the
production of the book.
We use FrameMaker here. Used as a typing tool, FrameMaker is no easier or
harder to learn than any other package. Used properly, FrameMaker is an
elegant and powerful tool that requires knowledge and skill to exploit
I have observed the following levels of ToolSmithery in new hires, with the
1. Experts in the package (FrameMaker in this case). These people
assimilate faster and become productive sooner. One reason is that during
the new job phase, when we all feel a bit incompetent, these people have an
important skill to hang their hats on. It allows them to lend a hand
getting books out the door while they are getting up to speed. Finally,
they don't have to interrupt their co-workers with elementary questions.
2. Experts in another DTP (NOTE: This does NOT mean word processing)
package. These people have a knowledge of concepts, and can say "Oh, I see,
this thing in Frame is like that thing in Interleaf or Ventura." These
people benefit greatly from training classes because they have a frame of
reference. Their knowledge gaps are usually filled with light peer
3. People with no DTP experience. These people take a long time to become
fully productive. They have no frame of reference, so they don't get the
full benefit from the $350 a day, four-day class we have to send them to.
They tend to spend a lot of time asking elementary questions, thus
interrupting their co-workers respective trains of thought. We have a very
helpful culture here, so we're willing to spend a lot of time getting
someone up to speed, but it's only logical that peer training time comes at
the expense of other projects.
Tsk-tsk to some of you. Posting to this list that "writing skills are
paramount" is the ultimate platitude. A Tech Writer who can't write won't
even get through the door here. The reason that we ask for tools skills
here is that we ASSUME, and then VERIFY that the candidate can write well.
A solid writer who also has solid tools knowledge saves the company
THOUSANDS of dollars in training and lost productivity.
Also, here in high tech land, it's not unusual for writers to change jobs
every 2 to 4 years. Can we really afford to spend six months of that time
getting you up to speed on the tools?
Here's my .02 on the marketability of various DTP packages:
1. FrameMaker. This package is optimized for long documents and seems to
be winning market share.
2. Interleaf. Very popular. Some say it's overkill for basic tech pubs
3. Corel Ventura. Was the first long document package and is still very
common. Careful, it's fading fast (as evidenced by the many "Hi, I'm going
from Ventura to Frame" posts on this list)!!
4. PageMaker. Optimized for short documents, though some use it for longer
5. Word 2.0/6.0. Not a full-fledged DTP package, but there are MANY who
act as though it is. We use it as a complementary package here.
bhandlin -at- chipcom -dot- com
(P.S. - We're hiring, so e-mail me if you're looking. I'm more than happy
with on-line resumes.)