Back in August, we started searching for a staff writer to help with all the TidBITS and Take Control writing that was overwhelming us. We got quite a bit of interest, and ended up hiring Doug McLean, a 25-year-old Cornell graduate once again living in Ithaca while his girlfriend works on her MFA degree at Cornell. Doug's background is in art as well - he has a BFA from Cornell, putting him in the same category as Glenn Fleishman, whose art degree is from Yale.
(For the record, my degree from Cornell is in Hypertextual Fiction with a double major in Classics, Tonya majored in Communications, Jeff Carlson has an English Writing degree, Joe Kissell has a Philosophy BA and a Linguistics MA, Mark Anbinder stuck with Linguistics for his undergraduate work, Matt Neuburg studied - and later taught - Ancient Greek, and Rich Mogull spent 8 years accumulating more credits than most grad students on his way to a History degree with an emphasis in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.)
Much as we seem to attract people with humanities backgrounds, it was Doug's post-collegiate experience that made him stand out. He had worked at several New York City art galleries (which, if you've ever been to any, seemingly all use Macs), done testing for the New York Times Web site, and oversaw Mac support at the Montserrat College of Art in Massachusetts. Most recently, he had been doing freelance editing of graduate school admission essays for non-English speakers, both editing the text and explaining how English works so the students could improve their writing.
It has been truly enjoyable to work with Doug so far, thanks to his indefatigable enthusiasm for learning new stuff. And while he's extremely capable on a modern Mac with current software, since he was in second grade when we started TidBITS, there's a ton of history and context that he's been picking up as he goes. Sometimes his inexperience in the industry is a benefit too, since he doesn't always share our assumptions and preconceptions.
Although it was important to us for this staff position to be located in Ithaca for in-person meetings, Doug and I have been using iChat screen sharing frequently as he learns the ropes of our sometimes idiosyncratic systems and methods of working. Sometimes it's helpful if I can offer suggestions while he's working or guide him in the right direction; at other times it's easier if I can drive while he watches. No matter what, we've found screen sharing to be astonishingly useful, and if you haven't yet given it a try, you're missing out.
So the next time you see Doug's byline under an article you found useful, drop him a note and let him know that you appreciated his efforts.