Note – From time to time, we plan to publish articles on the XyUser Group web site which are relevant to today’s publishing. The article below was submitted by Joshua Faigen. Let us know if you have a “story” about your SDL Structured Content Technology experiences.

How Do I Determine Who to Hire for My XPP Team?

It can be confusing to evaluate a potential new employee when you need to fill a spot on your XPP team. The range of skills required can be dauntingly large and diverse and, admittedly, there aren’t a whole lot of people out there – as a percentage of the world’s working population – that have ever even heard of XPP, let alone had experience with it.

So, here is how to find that perfect person … that perfect XPP employee … complete with every necessary skill set and experience to boot:

Um … sorry. That person doesn’t exist!

Before throwing up your hands in despair thinking about how you are going to ask your current XPP team members to work long evening hours and give up desperately needed weekends, read on.

First, it will be helpful to think about what skills your new hire will need, either at the beginning or after a ramp-up period (more on that later). Of course, a lot will depend on the way your XPP business is organized. Are you looking for a generalist, perhaps a new member of a small team in which each employee works across the spectrum of XPP duties? Or perhaps your operation is quite large and differentiated, with each person assigned fairly narrow responsibilities. Whatever your situation, it will still be useful to divide up the universe of XPP function into four main groups:

  1. Typographic and composition skills.
  2. Programming skills.
  3. IT skills.
  4. Personal skills.

Let’s take each of these groups and look more closely at the sub-skills as they fall under a particular category.

TYPOGRAPHIC AND COMPOSITION SKILLS
Many people have backgrounds in graphic design, typography, and layout. They may have come from a job using Frame, or desktop programs like InDesign or Quark Express. Depending on experience, the skills such people bring to the table can be formidable and should not be discounted in an XPP-centric world. We are often too quick to dismiss such work histories as unnecessary; how many times have I heard XPP managers say “Oh, that stuff’s not important … after all, we only use Times and Helvetica!” Well, a deep understanding of H&J, for example, or letterform design, or page layout possibilities, or even knowing what an ascender and a descender are, can be crucial to the success of a new XPP operator.

PROGRAMMING SKILLS
Frequently, people with programming backgrounds quickly find a strong footing when they begin with XPP. It’s not just that these people are often already fluent with Perl or XSLT (or even Java). I’ve seen it happen over and over again that programmers find the XPP work environment familiar and they even grow fond of all the charming little quirks that we XPP veterans are so used to. It’s pretty clear that because of the central importance of XyPerl, having an in-house Perl resource like a programmer is invaluable, and of course if your business is XML-based, the need for XSLT or other ML aware transformation tools is a given. So, in a nutshell: Programmers can make great XPPers.

IT SKILLS
As we all know, XPP requires a great deal of, shall we say, “computer smarts.” First of all, there may be multiple OS environments (particularly UNIX, Windows and Linux). There are usually a number of servers, sometimes scattered across different offices, cities, states or even countries. (As of yet, I have not encountered any networks that include the Moon or Uranus, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone’s working on a solar-system-wide network. Well … it would surprise me a little.) And on the client side, there’s usually a bunch of workstations that have to be set up and maintained. Then, if there’s a Content Management System involved, there will also be some serious integration issues to deal with. So, all in all, someone with IT administration skills would find plenty to do in an XPP environment.

PERSONAL SKILLS
In most operations (but not all), XPP tends to flourish in a strongly collaborative environment. XyView operators need to feel comfortable with style developers. System Adminstrators need to communicate with Perl programmers. And everyone needs to be, to use the current hot term, “transparent” so that everyone else knows what in the world is going on every day. Otherwise, XPP becomes utterly unmanageable. So above all else, a new employee should really be able to get along well with others and, in a perfect world, should be confident and clear-headed enough to continually pass information on to the other members of his or her team in a coherent and logical fashion. I have seen more than one installation court catastrophe simply because over and over again one hand doesn’t know what all the other hands are doing. (re: The Nightmare of Local Styles.)

FINDING THE PERFECT NEW XPP TEAM MEMBER
In the final analysis, no one person will ever have all of these skills. The only answer is to find a person with some of them and provide training for the rest. A Perl programmer can learn style development. A Unix administrator can learn typography. A designer can learn XSLT, And after you arrange for training, arrange for more training.

XyEnterprise offer courses, either in their Wakefield office or onsite, which cover many of the skills we have been discussing. At www.xyenterprise.com/support/training.html, you can find a complete list and description of their training courses.

There are also independent consultants and other external companies that can augment the training process. Some sites prefer to do their own in-house training but in the end the training needed depends on the employee, the employer and the skills required.

No, it isn’t easy for someone new to learn XPP (and it does take time) but it is achievable.

So, perhaps the best possible entry on the resume of anyone looking to work with XPP would be: “I am eminently trainable.” You can be good with that.