I’ve recently started a new technical writing job; it’s the sort of job where there’s a bit of hanging around to start with because some things aren’t ready and because I’ll be part of a new team that hasn’t all arrived yet. I was chatting to one of the other guys in the nascent team, talking about software tools – Word, Framemaker, Ventura, InDesign etc. Framemaker is, more or less, the industry standard for technical writers. My experience with it is a few versions ago, but that shouldn’t matter.
“It’s not difficult,” said my colleague.
“No,” I agreed, “It’s like riding a bicycle.”
Now, it was evident that my colleague wasn’t the sort of man who would willingly get on a bike, but I used to be quite fond of cycling. We watched another colleague riding off on a hub-geared example.
It struck me that bicycles were rather a good analogy. If you’re not used to hub gears – say you’ve got a friction-controlled derailleur chainset on your ancient road bike* – then the hub gears are a bit strange. Something to get used to. Then maybe the new bike has straight handlebars, too, instead of the drops you’re used to. Ooh. That feels different. And, oh, look, it’s got a bell. That’s nice.
But pedalling’s the same. Actually moving forward, joining the traffic. It doesn’t depend on the bike; it depends on you. And you know how to do that. You never really forget.
That software’s the same. You don’t forget how to write. You don’t forget how to put a document together, how to format it. Maybe some of the gadgets are new; maybe they’re in a different place; maybe, especially if it’s a different program altogether, it does the same things in a different way – but, just like the gears on a bike, you figure it out and get on with the job.
It’s like falling off a log.
*That’s me, that is. It’d be kind of nice to upgrade to a fancy new one.