Re: FrameMaker Required

Subject: Re: FrameMaker Required
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 17 Mar 1996 09:07:37 PST

Janet Valade writes:

>It's not clear to me why you are assuming that most of the GREAT
>technical writers would not have experience with your tool. Perhaps
>the GREAT writers are the one with more varied experience and therefore
>are MORE likely to have experience with your tool. I don't know this
>is so, but couldn't it be?

I don't believe that there is any correlation at all between skill
in a particular tool and skill as a writer. Many excellent writers
can't even touch-type -- why would you assume that they're proficient
in a particular piece of software?

Tools come and go, and there are far more of them than most people seem
to realize. If you talk to a lot of writers, you will find many who have
never used Interleaf, FrameMaker, Ventura, WordPerfect, or even Word --
they've spent their careers using proprietary stuff with no name
recognition.

The people who are most likely to be skilled with the tools du jour are
the job-hoppers, because people who change employers frequently are exposed
to more variety. But this "varied experience" is not necessarily an asset.

>A more like scenario, it seems to me: You place an ad for a technical
>writer. You get 100 resumes. I don't know if this is reasonable; my
>hiring experience is with programmers. But assume it is. Suppose you
>throw out 80 of them because the senders can't seem to write well or
>have no writing experience or can't spell. Or whatever "writing"
>reasons. It seems reasonable to me that 20% of the people who apply
>for a writing job are actually competent writers. So now, in this 20
>resumes of good writers, why not look first at those who have
>experience with the tool you are using. It would save your time.

This is not my experience, which goes like this: you place and ad,
get 300 responses, all but four of which are totally unsuitable. None
of the four have experience in either Interleaf or FrameMaker, but
one of them is exactly what you need on the team. You thank your
lucky stars that you found someone so easily, pray the job offer
is accepted. If it is, you send your new writer off to training,
and heave an immense sigh of relief.

Mind you, a lot of hiring managers would look at the same resumes
and do things in exactly the manner you described. It's all a matter
of standards. By accepting random amounts of prior experience in
DTP packages as an important criterion, and by lowering your expectations
to the point that you get a 20% hit rate rather than a 1% hit rate,
things are much simpler. Heck, you might luck out to the point of
getting a great writer who really knows the DTP package! It's not
impossible.

But screening for DTP experience doesn't screen for DTP proficiency. Most
DTP users are hacks, no matter how many years of experience they have,
because they've never been trained in using DTP packages properly.
You're better off sending everyone off to training, even if they
know the package already -- maybe ESPECIALLY if they know the package
already.

So, in my opinion, you are requiring that candidates have a kind of
experience that I personally wouldn't give spit for. It's easy to
train people in DTP; it's hard to train people in technical writing.
I've always been successful in training people in DTP, while my
record in training writers is spotty. Thus, I select for the hard-
to-find, hard-to-train skill, and disregard the easy-to-train skill
when screening candidates.

>In other words, I don't think it is a question of a choice between a
>good writer or a good tool user. Why would you assume that someone who
>is good with a particular tool cannot also be a good writer? I think
>employers are looking for a good writer who is also a good tool user,
>and in this job market, I think they can probably find someone.

Finding good people in today's market is extremely difficult. Anyway,
prior experience in one tool does not correlate to being a "good tool
user." There are plenty of WordStar users who are good tool users,
and plenty of Interleaf users who are hacks. The toolset is normally
dicated by management, and few writers are such tool snobs that they
will only work for employers who use one specific tool. So where's the
mechanism that would forge a link between good writers and good Frame
users?

-- Robert
--


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