I’ve reached a point in life where I prefer to spend my hours writing, publishing, or even doing home repair, rather than learning yet another software program or fixing laptops.
That wasn’t always the case. In 1997, I was desperate for a job of any sort in publishing. My kids couldn’t handle a move to Seattle, where TSR staff had gone, leaving no steady work for a game designer.
A friend who was leaving a tech writing job in Chicago (to accompany his significant other, a TSR staffer going to WotC) recommended I apply for his position, saying I’d be a shoe in, and that he thought I could ask for a $20k salary. So I sent my resume and scheduled an interview.
The day of the interview was a series of disasters. Though I left home with a half hour to spare, my car broke down on the highway about 10 miles short of Chicago, I had to walk to a payphone, called just about the time the interview would start, to tell them I was waiting for a tow truck. My friend left work to come get me.
So I arrived hot, sweaty, and definitely short on confidence. The job was as a technical writer for a half-dozen programmers, to turn their documentation into readable instruction manuals. I had the tech writing training, and I had some personal experience dealing with the innards of personal computers, so I knew I could handle the work.
“What salary are you looking for?” I answered what my friend had said, $20k, and the interviewer looked stunned at the audacity, though he covered it pretty well. The interview was over. Needless to say, they never called me back. I vowed I’d never go to another interview without some Web coding knowledge.
To pay for milk and bread, I took a minimum wage job soldering horn parts, while still applying to publishers. One Saturday, two days before my health insurance kicked in, I agreed to some overtime at the horn factory, slipped on ice walking to work, and broke my ankle. Yet more depressing medical debt.
Still, I had scheduled an interview for later that week, with a small, family-owned educational publishing house. I showed up in sweat pants to accommodate my cast, expecting another disastrous experience. But they hired me then and there on a provisional status, I suspect out of pity. It was a six-week gig for a project that kept getting delayed another week, so they kept giving me other work to fill in, until I finally just quit asking each Friday whether to show up on Monday. The salary was $25k. A good six years went by on that six-week project before they finally remembered to have me sign an official full-time contract.
But I digress. One of the duties they asked me to take on, about six months in, was to handle the company’s presence on the new-fangled World Wide Web. “I don’t know coding,” I said. “You’re the most tech savvy guy on staff, we know you can handle it, and we’ll pay for whatever classes you need. We’ll even pay for half your homework hours.”
At the time, outputting HTML to PDF was virtually unheard of, but I’d learned a trick from contacts at a startup in LA. So my employer put me in charge of beginning an epublishing department before epublishing was a thing. On a trip to the Houghton-Mifflin branch that published our books, I accidentally saved them from a $6 million investment in what they had thought was proprietary software for that HTML to PDF trick. (Didn’t think to ask for a cut.)
Part of my enthusiasm with the tech was the knowledge itself; part was that vow to never again apply to a job without it.
Now I’m retired. My interviewing days are over. The Web is no longer the Wild West of code. I’m not getting paid to learn more. And I’m pretty sick of disassembling and repairing or upgrading laptops. Which explains why I’ve been self-publishing with Word as a layout program since 1999. I’ve been dragging my feet about getting an actual layout program, despite having some experience with InDesign from that old job. But to print through Lightning Source now requires PDF/X-1a, which Word can’t manage.
Sitting here, leg propped up post surgery, I can’t work at my desk. I’ve been using a Chromebook in my lap to mirror the PC, to do Scribus and LibreOffice tutorials, so as to dump MS Office altogether. But to do even that, I first had to fix the Chromebook’s malfunctioning touchpad. So here I am, feeling a shadow of that old tech fun, from opening up a machine today to mess with ribbon cables and hardware, and mastering some new software.
Learn or die.
Mainly though, now I can get back to work on the good half-dozen writing projects waiting in the queue.
Publish or perish.