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December 13, 2010

Dear future intern

Dear Future Intern,

As you, too, will surely be, I was overcome by a wave of panic when I started at Scriptorium. Not the first day, and not the second, but definitely inside of a week.

The assignment was simple enough: make an ePub. I thought, why, an ePub is just a bunch of XHTML files, and I know HTML like a squirrel knows acorns.


articulated skeleton Flickr:adevlinphotography

After exporting a bunch of junk from the original FrameMaker files and printing out the attendant nine-page stylesheet, I thought, At least I tried. I thought I’d quietly be sent home after I was discovered a charlatan, and then I’d just go back to my old job in the bookstore, lesson learned. That didn’t happen, of course. A couple of the folks here (correctly reading the silence in my office as white-knuckled fretting) pointed me in the right direction, and I eventually finished the project.

Which brings me to an important point: you might think it certain, but you will not die. You may phase out, forget what year it is, find beauty in the patterns in the carpet, but if these are the worst of your problems, I’d encourage you to count your blessings. People have it worse in the world. So, if I may offer some suggestions:

  1. Don’t think you’re going to be sitting around writing all day. Seriously, don’t think that.
  2. Get used to TLA’s (three-letter acronyms). You’re going to hear a lot of them. It’s okay if you don’t know them off the bat—nod and look them up later.
  3. Obtain all the O’Reilly books you can, by hook or crook. You’re going to be reading computer-y books deep into the night, and these are the best.
  4. If you don’t know something, look it up, figure it out. There is (probably) an answer, and while it may not be instantly discoverable, it bears rooting out. You’re going to be hit with many ideas you’d never think were within the realm of possibility, and a lot of your job is to try to make them possible (and distributable).
  5. If you get stuck, say you’re stuck.
  6. Know when to quit. If you can’t root out the answer as per #4 above, it may turn out that the answer hasn’t actually been posited yet. Many times will you Google utter esoterica only to find that the top hit is from the Scriptorium Web site. Go figure.

These should get you by at work. Here are a few more for your personal life:

  1. Apologize to your friends. You won’t be seeing them very much, at least not until the smoke clears.
  2. Get your hands on some stand-up comedy. Patton Oswalt and Eddie Izzard are very good.
  3. Take up racquetball (or boxing or drumming, etc.). Kind of self-explanatory.

I suppose I haven’t made it sound like much fun, and it may not be at first, but that will change. And if at any point you get too overwhelmed (like, way overwhelmed), remember the immortal words of the Rooster and go eat yourself some candy.


Past Intern