This question was posted on the dita-users mailing list last week. “I understand what DITA is, but have not found any employer who is willing to let me get experience in it via OJT, which is how I learned all of my other technical writing skills over the years. Any advice?”
The response that follows was posted by Troy Klukewich, Manager, Information Development, Fusion Payroll Localizations at Oracle. I’m posting it here with his kind permission.
I’ve hired numerous writers with varying degrees of DITA, XML, and structured documentation experience over the years, so I can provide some feedback.
I don’t know where you are located, but if you can, take JoAnn Hackos’ classes. She regularly holds them throughout the US and abroad. I greatly appreciate her work in structured documentation and DITA. I’m always impressed when I see that writers have taken her courses whether or not they have formal DITA experience on the job. A number of my employees have taken her courses and reported back that they are great, even when they have prior hands-on experience.
It would be worthwhile to see what classes might be available via the local universities. For instance, I know the University of Santa Cruz has a great program with a number of IBM experts driving the DITA curriculum. I’ve hired people with no prior work experience who took these courses with great results.
If you happen to have any structured documentation experience apart from DITA, this is also valuable, as I’ve found understanding how structured content works more important than the technicalities of DITA. In other words, there are people who may have DITA experience and yet still have very little understanding of the structured part, which is independent of implementation. (I worked on structured content for SAP implementations before DITA even existed.)
For those people who want experience while still at a non-DITA company, if at all possible, try to get on a skunks work project to test DITA, possibly adapting existing content as much as it pertains to any number of freely available trials for DITA tools, such as Arbortext, XMetal, and oXygen (the usual subjects in my view). In some ways, this is more valuable than working at a company that already has DITA as you have to get down into the weeds more and really think things through. (Companies can implement DITA in any number of different ways, some better than others.)
Check out DITA.XML.org for any volunteer opportunities. Also, OASIS, the standards body, unfortunately is generally too expensive for individuals, but if you can join grass roots or open source initiatives using DITA, you’ll get hands-on experience.
If all else fails, at least play with the trials yourself and maybe check out the DITA Toolkit, though the toolkit is a little bit like being exposed to a car parts factory as opposed to the completed car (in other words, great for mechanics and engineers, though it is somewhat accessible to a general audience).
The main thing that managers driving DITA projects want to know is are you beyond The Book model, in other words, thinking in chapters. If you are wedded to the chapter and book model, no amount of topic-based training is going to change that preference. I’ve found that writers either get it or they don’t. If you can prove that you get it, you’re in.
Manager, Information Development
Fusion Payroll Localizations