Tag Archives: STC

Living and learning: 2016

Merriam-Webster picked surreal as its 2016 word of the year, and…yeah. At times this year I’ve felt like Alice in Wonderland, and I’ll bet you have too.

One thing remains as true as ever, though: if you’re not learning, you’re not living.

Here are some things I learned this year:

The future is technical communication

screen-shot-2016-02-25-at-6-07-54-pmTechnology is moving forward at breakneck speed. People want technology. People have different learning styles.

Who can deliver the information people need to make use of, and enjoy, the technology that’s all around them? Technical communicators, that’s who.

That’s the gist of Sarah Maddox’s keynote speech at tcworld India 2016.

I think Sarah is saying that we need continuously to hone the technical part of our job title, while not neglecting the communicator part. And I think she’s absolutely right.

We care a lot about our professional society

STC logoSome of my most popular posts this year dealt with the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and its role in a changing world. How can STC remain relevant when the traditional roles of professional societies are changing? How can it serve a community that’s growing ever more diverse, in terms of the kinds of work we do?

As 2017 begins, STC is looking for a new CEO. Whoever gets the job, and whatever things they choose to prioritize, I hope they’ll appreciate the passion and dedication of STC’s members.

DITA isn’t cheap (but it’s still worth the cost)

DITA logoEven as more organizations embrace DITA for developing their content, we hear that DITA is complex and hard to learn. Overcoming DITA’s acceptance hurdles was one of my most commented-on blog posts this year, as was my plea for greater sensitivity to the writers’ learning curve.

Yes, DITA is powerful. But it didn’t get that way by being simple. I’ve come to appreciate that writers need time to absorb the underlying principles, which happen to align closely with the principles of good technical writing, and they need time to learn the how-to aspects as well. It’s time well spent, I think.

A leader is a storyteller

monsterWe saw it in this year’s political news: for better or worse, people are drawn to the leaders who tell the best stories.

As technical communicators, we’re by nature good storytellers.

Does it follow, then, that technical writers have an edge when it comes to being good leaders? I think it does.

Don’t take things too seriously

The year truly has been surreal. Many of our deeply held beliefs — about leaders, about governments, about the course of history — have been challenged if not overturned.

Yet my most-read post in 2016, by far, was a collection of jokes. That taught me not to take things too seriously, and especially not to take myself too seriously.

It reminded me that we’re all human beings. We all need to connect with each other and, sometimes, share a laugh.

I hope I’ve connected with you, at least a few times, in 2016. I hope we’ll continue to connect in 2017. And even share a laugh or two.

Related: Living and learning: 2015

My hopes for STC’s new Leader

STC (Society for Technical Communication) members received word this week that CEO Chris Lyons will step down. A search for a new CEO will begin soon.

chrislyons

I’ve found Chris Lyons to be a smart and dedicated advocate for STC. I wish him the best.

I know a good bit about the CEO’s role and about the search process, having served on the search committee that recommended Kathryn Burton to the STC board of directors in 2006.

In the hope that our society will grow and thrive under its new leadership, I have some advice for the STC members (search committee and board of directors) who will evaluate candidates to be our next CEO.

He or she will be an association professional, aware of the challenges faced by today’s professional societies and up to date on best practices.

Beyond that, STC faces challenges in growth, in membership retention, and in a perception that it hasn’t kept up with the times. So there are certain skills and attributes that I especially hope our new CEO will bring.

Important note: By listing these skills and attributes I’m not implying that Chris or the existing office staff have fallen short in any way. I’m simply looking to the future. Continue reading

An agile STC?

How well does the Society for Technical Communication (STC) provide value for its members? For others who are studying or working in tech comm?

STC logoWe had a lively conversation a few weeks ago on this blog. I’d like to move that conversation forward.

Today’s news stream brings an article by an Australian technical writer, Swapnil Ogale, titled The ASTC is failing us. In it, Swapnil shares an idea that might breathe new life into STC.

First, by way of background: ASTC is the Australian Society for Technical Communication. Despite the name it’s not part of STC. Like STC, however, it’s a membership organization that seeks to advance the profession through published articles, events and activities, and community building.

In his article, Swapnil airs some complaints about ASTC that might sound familiar to STC members:

  • Not enough effort to attract and retain members
  • Not enough communication from the society to the members
  • Not enough workshops and events, especially for people who aren’t located near major cities
agile_dog

Hey, if a dog can be agile so can we.

Then he makes a suggestion: Instead of relying on the traditional committee structure — a structure he calls “outdated and archaic” — the organization should adopt an agile methodology like software development teams use.

Agile, or “just-in-time development,” is a set of processes designed to make software teams more flexible and able to respond quickly to the needs of their customers. Agile teams produce frequent, small software updates rather than big roll-outs.

Here’s how agile could help STC. Continue reading

Certification for Technical Communicators: Will it succeed?

Now that STC has relaunched its CPTC program, it’s worth asking: is certification for technical communicators an idea whose time has come?

Full disclosure: I studied the certification question in depth as a member of the STC board of directors in the mid 1990s. Soon after I left the board, the leadership decided not to go ahead with a program. (My own position was neutral.) When STC launched the original CPTC program about 5 years ago, I wasn’t involved in the decision or in the deliberations that led up to it.

Will anyone want certification?

cptc_foundationAt the recent STC Summit conference, someone asked me whether I plan to pursue a CPTC certification. I said no, because I don’t think it would benefit someone with my experience and reputation. However, If I were a young professional trying to make a name for myself, I might very well feel differently. Continue reading

Why is it so important that STC survive?

Mark Baker, commenting on my post about STC and its future, asked me a question:

Larry, I have to ask why you think it is so important that the STC survive per se? Is it because it performs some vital function that will cease to exist if STC folds? Or is it sentimental attachment based on time sunk into it, long time association, and long standing friendships?

I’ve pondered that question for a while.

STC logo

Yes, STC has been good to me. But that’s not the only reason I want it to succeed.

Of course part of the answer, for me, is sentiment. My experience with STC has been extremely rewarding. I don’t keep up with friends from high school or college, but some of my STC friendships are going strong after 20 or 30 years. In STC, I feel an incredibly strong sense of belonging. This is my tribe.

I understand, however, that most people don’t share that sentiment. And I know it’s not a reason for wanting STC to survive per se.

So is there, in Mark’s words, a vital function that STC provides? I think there are several — or at least there can be.

The role of a society

What’s the role of a professional society in a field where credentialling — that is, licensing — isn’t a legal prerequisite to participation?

Start with networking and information exchange. Several of the more recently formed communities, like LavaCon and Write the Docs, provide both of those. It’s because of that, I think, that people are questioning whether STC has become outmoded.

Yet a professional society ought to perform other functions as well:
Continue reading

STC: Growing in Numbers and Relevance

STC logoIn the runup to the 63rd annual STC Summit, now underway, I posted some thoughts on how the event has shrunk since the late 1990s. The post drew a lot of insightful comments about the Summit and about conferences in general. (I encourage you to read them.)

Two readers — perhaps picking up on my observation that STC membership has declined along with Summit attendance — suggested that STC itself, not just the conference, is struggling to remain relevant.

That’s the issue I’d like to focus on today: How can STC grow in both numbers and relevance?

First I’ll excerpt their comments. Then I’ll add my thoughts. Then I want to hear what you think. Continue reading

Scaling (down) the Summit

Next week, technical communicators from around the world will convene at the STC Summit in Anaheim, California.

summit16The last time the Summit was held in Anaheim, in 1998, it attracted more than 2,000 people — about 3 times the number that’s expected next week. (For that matter, STC’s total membership in 1998 was about 3 times what it is today.)

I’ve attended more than 20 Summits. I love seeing old friends and catching up on what’s happening in the profession.

Still, I can’t help noticing that the event has shrunk over the years. While the program still features some great speakers and great presentations, I no longer have the sense that in every time slot I’m forced to choose between 3 or 4 can’t-miss sessions.

I’d like to hear what you, my colleagues, think about the Summit and about conferences in general. Use the comments section to share your thoughts:

  • Will you be at the Summit this year? If so, why did you choose to attend? If not, why not?
  • Has the Summit, once the pre-eminent technical communication event in North America, been overtaken by other events? (In 1998, for example, there was
    no such thing as LavaCon— or any of the other events with “content strategy” on their marquees.)
  • Do special-interest or niche events, like DITA North America, draw people away from more general-interest events like the Summit?
  • Finally, when you look over the conference landscape and see how much it’s changed over the last 10 to 20 years, do you think things are better today? Worse? Or just different?

Technical communication in India: a story of progress

The 17th STC India Annual Conference starts on Friday, with a great program and a great list of speakers.

1350px-Flag_of_India_svgThe enthusiasm for the event reminds me of 2011 when I presented a workshop at an STC India conference. Here, paraphrased, is what I wrote then:

India’s flag features a wheel that symbolizes three aspects of the national character: self-reliance (the wheel was originally meant to represent a spinning wheel), duty and propriety as embodied in the law of dharma, and movement.

The last of the three — movement — sums up a lot of what I’ve seen so far in India. On the street, everything is constantly moving at different paces and in different directions. But it’s moving, and somehow it all works: people get where they need to go, in one piece. Movement, or more precisely progress, also describes the many new buildings and office parks that house many of the world’s great technology companies.

Amid this progress, and certainly part of this progress, are India’s technical communicators. I’ve met several of them through social networking and in person.

STC’s India chapter, and the people in it, are definitely on the move.

Since then, the progress has surely continued. Continue reading

Defining what you and I do

I remember trying to do this in STC without getting too far. Now tekom, the European professional society, has taken a stab at defining the job duties of technical communicators.

Graph showing 7 major areas of competency

Source: tekom

I think they’ve done a pretty good job.

Start with the 7 areas of competence (pictured). These aptly describe, in broad terms, the tasks associated with each stage of the content lifecycle.

Then look at the 27 fields of competence. For example, Content Creation — one of the 7 areas of competence — breaks down into identifying information sources, acquiring and selecting information, using tools to create content, and so forth. You can see these 27 fields in the Profiling Tool, a self-assessment that anyone can take.

Why a competency model?

All of this is a lot to digest. But by and large it reflects our jobs pretty well. In cases where I might quibble with the tekom definitions, it could be because I’m steeped in my own industry and tekom has tried to make the lists industry-agnostic.

Tekom identified four major stakeholder groups for the competency model:

  • Company managers and personnel departments, who draw up lists of job requirements
  • Educational institutions that develop training programs and curricula
  • People who want further education in Tech Comm
  • Practitioners who want to enter the field or enhance their skills

But that’s not all. Continue reading

Five reasons you have to vote in the STC election

Forgive the clickbait headline. But, dear STC member, you have to admit it worked. Here you are reading this page.

Election_header_2016.pngNow that you’re here, without further ado:

  1. In 2012 Ray Gallon was elected to the STC Board of Directors by one vote. That’s right: every single person who voted for Ray had a direct effect on the composition of the Board throughout Ray’s two-year term. Everyone who supported the losing candidate, but who didn’t bother to vote, had a direct effect too. Your vote does count. But if you don’t use it, your vote might count in a way you don’t want.
  2. In 2011 Tricia Spayer was elected to the Board by two votes¹. That’s just in case you thought the 2012 result was a fluke. A golfer getting struck by lightning while sinking a hole-in-one. No, it’s not like that.
  3. Here are the percentages of STC members who did not vote in the last five Society elections: 81%, 84%, 83%, 85%, 89%. In an organization that depends on its members’ participation, that’s shameful. Appalling. Pick your adjective. The only way to change it is for each of you to vote, one by one.
  4. I myself have recited the mantra that every candidate is well qualified, and therefore STC stands to gain regardless of who’s elected. (Sounds like Lake Wobegon, where all of the children are above average.) By expressing that view, perhaps I’ve unwittingly helped tamp down the voting percentages. Why vote, if all of the candidates are equally good? Because every candidate is different. Every candidate comes to the election with their own set of priorities for STC, and their own set of experiences. Take time to learn which candidates’ views and experiences align most closely with your views about what’s best for STC. Then vote for those candidates.
  5. STC shouldn’t be one of those organizations you join just to get the membership card, just to add a line to your resume. It’s an organization where, the more you participate, the more you get back. If you’ve never participated in STC, why not start by casting your vote?

Tell me what you think in the comments. If you’ve already voted, tell me why you did.


 

Note 1: All election results are published on the STC website. Just search for STC election results along with the year.

Updated on 3 March 2016