Fancy Footwork

Part 1 of Fancy Footwork

I have put in a lot of resumes over the last few days, and at least one of the efforts may pay off.   I received a call from a recruiter, and I needed to take a test on production printing on InDesign CS5, and the test link would be emailed to me on a Mac.  “Sure I said, just nifty!”.  Aw, crap I said inside, for two reasons.  Although I work on Macs a lot, I don’t own one.   Why not?  Well, when I started way back in the day, PCs were so much cheaper, and even now, it takes extra money to buy a new computer and migrate to a new system.   I don’t usually sweat it, because nowadays, a decent PC can do what a mac does, and vice versa.  There may be some differences, but it really comes down to preference.    As long as one takes the necessary precautions (correct file formatting, embedding fonts in a pdf, or just creating outlines in fonts), it’s all good.   It still makes me smile when someone thinks that one has to work one just one or another, either all mac or PC.   FYI, many times in printing, a file is made on a mac, and pre-flighted and printed from a PC.   It’s dirty little secret.   Sorry to say, purists, the two big systems are in bed with with each other (oh no! what will the neighbors say?).   In any event, my problem was that I needed to take a test, and it had to be on a mac.  Fancy footwork, on at least a couple fronts resulted.

First, I had to find someone who had a Mac I could borrow.  Almost hilarious, you’d think almost everyone would have a Mac in Cupertino’s back door.  Au Contrare, mon frere!   Also, I am new in the area, so my list of friends in the area is very, very thin.   Still, I managed to wrangle a mac off a friend, and get indesign cs5 placed on it, and also make sure I could access the internet on it.  So that part should be good.

Second part of fancy footwork – try to get an idea of what the test is about.

Before a test, I also find it’s good to ask what the test will be about, and on what software, and what kind of software.  I do this because, simply put, there is a lot to learn out there, as well as retain.   I myself have learned, forgotten, and re-learned things so many times in my career it’s crazy.   One day I might be working on adobe CS, the next day CS5.   One moment a pc, the next a mac.   I’ll have the PC shortcuts for Corel Painter XI in my mind one day, then have to turn around and get adobe illustrator CS5 the next day (or next minute!).  But that is the life of a graphic designer.   Luckily, the knowledge is still in the brain, just waiting to be brought out.   But I would hate to fail a test because my mind was juggling shortcuts from 6 different software programs and two different systems.

To that effect, I try to study a bit before I take a test, if possible.  I run through the shortcuts on the system I will be working in. I take little notes, to get oneself familiar again with what I will (hoefully)  be tested on.

It also doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with terms and variations thereof.  In the printing industry at least, there are often several different terms for the same thing.  The terms can stem from regional differences, the use of different kinds of software, or age differences between designers.  Many times I don’t think I know something, but when someone starts explaining to me what they wnat, I think “oh yeah, that means “X”.   Sometimes someone describes a long, complicated and tedious procedure they used in the 1980’s, 1990’s…or even just a few years ago!  Then I look up the process on youtube or an online dictionary, and realize I had been doing different (and hopefully more efficient) method. Sometimes though, it is the other way around. Then I have been given a gift of knowledge.  I incorporate the nugget into my brainpain, making note to use the new method next time I need to use it.

I have also taken note that, during my many years in production, one learns little “cheats” under the hood to get a product out on time.  This is good in real life work.  You get the job done in a more timely manner.   But the test may not offer the solution.   So one has to try to familiarize oneself with another, perhaps more standard way of doing things.

I have come to realize that when I see other people’s resumes with all the wonderful knowledge they have, I used to wonder “how do they know all that?”   I have come to the realization that many don’t know all that, at least not at expert level.   What they do know is a few things really, really well. The rest they know at a level that they can muddle through a bit, and learn very quickly what they need to know and build upon it.  Especially on related software (Indesign to Quark, for instance).   Or maybe they hadn’t used a newer version of the software.  If one uses photoshop CS3 for instance, it doesn’t take very long to learn CS5.  Just read up on the specs, try out the shortcuts, new features, and Viola!  You know CS5.  At least good enough to land the job.  Then you work your first day or so.  See what you NEED to know.  Read it, do it at home, whatever it takes.  Then go to work the next day, and do it better. If you can try pick a few senior work associates brains quickly and efficiently.  After all, most of them want to see you do well.  Otherwise, they get stuck at work doing YOUR work for a lot longer.  People also want you to do well because firing and hiring causes stress and messes up production.  So being earnest and learning quickly can go a long way.

When I go home, if I had any problems think of what I could have done better.  Then I read some more on the topic, and watch instructional videos on youtube or elsewhere.  The great thing about the last 5 years is somebody is doing the same or similar skills you are trying to emulate. And it’s almost a guarantee that the procedure is posted somewhere.  Read it, watch it, and write the procedure down, in as much detail as you need, in your own words.  I find it best to over write the details.  Because what seems easy when one reads or watches may not be when you are in the field, or it’s 6 months later if one has a procedure that pops up infrequently.

The best thing to do in my opinion is to approach work without fear, or at least keep the fear in check long enough to learn something.  I try to keep in mind that without fear (and failure), I’ll never learn what I need to learn.  But each time I fail a bit, I learn a lot more.   Soon, I am equal to the challenge.   This is especially true when working on production art.   After all, in production art while it is possible to struggle once with a particular piece of knowledge,  with large amounts of work for the same client, one gets to practice the same procedure many, many times.   If one just pays attention to the details and remains conscientious, even the most detailed procedures sink in. Before you know it, YOU’RE the Expert. But I digress a bit.

When I or you take a test we still can flub.  There is so much out there to know, the test could be on something totally different than what what expected. For instance, I know printing pretty well.  I can paint, draw, etc with such software with good proficiency.  But give me a test on 3d art, or web design (even in photoshop), my test scores will be very low.  However, when one tries to leverage one’s knowledge, you have a better change of passing than not.

Wish me luck.  And good luck to you in your endeavors!

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About Rhett Kennedy

An east coast transplant living in San Jose CA, and loving it. I am a master of useless trivia (medieval and ancient culture, a smattering of politics, ukulele and fan of most forms of music). I know life insurance, audio visual technology, commerical and fine art nd love to sing scottish ballads. I'm happily strange and enjoy strange people as a result.
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