Next week, technical communicators from around the world will convene at the STC Summit in Anaheim, California.
The 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?
The 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.
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.
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
Forgive the clickbait headline. But, dear STC member, you have to admit it worked. Here you are reading this page.
Now that you’re here, without further ado:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A colleague of mine is creating a training course for new technical communicators. In it, she includes the definition of technical communication from the STC website. (It’s easy to find: right at the top of the About pull-down.)
“Technical communication,” STC says, “is a broad field and includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics [emphasis STC’s]:”
Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.
I’m good with items 1 and 3. It’s the second item that stops me in my tracks.
According to item 2, this blog post is technical communication. It communicates (at least I flatter myself that it does). And it’s published using a social-media platform.
According to item 2, every article in The Onion is technical communication. And every tweet by @A_single_bear.
It gets worse. A telephone is technology. So every obscene phone call — no matter what vile and/or creepy things it communicates — is technical communication.
STC, by assuming that technology implies technical, has given us a ridiculously broad definition for our profession.
My request is a simple one: Would someone at STC headquarters please fix that definition? Deleting the one bullet would probably do the trick — although you’re welcome to any of the ideas I shared in my first-ever post on this blog: What is technical communication?
That’s all. I don’t think I’m asking for too much. I’d just like to know that “the world’s leading organization dedicated to advancing the field of technical communication” (again, quoting from the website) actually knows what technical communication is.
I hereby propose that we celebrate today, May 13, as the first annual Salute to Technical Communicators Day (STC Day, for short). I trust that all mayors, governors, etc., who read this will issue the appropriate proclamations.
Why May 13? Because it’s the anniversary of the last original episode of Columbo, the TV series in which Peter Falk played Lieutenant Columbo, a rumpled and inquisitive detective.
The patron saint of technical communicators
Columbo’s tag line (“Just one more question”), and the fact that he was always underestimated, make him the patron saint of technical communicators.
Who better to represent those of us who pursue every scrap of knowledge for our readers’ benefit? Who better to represent those of us who contribute so much and whose value is so often overlooked?
Why a day to salute technical communicators? Well, why not?
I’m planning some exciting activities for STC Day. Feel free to suggest others in the comments.
Get your SMEs to bake brownies for you.
Throw a book-sprint party.
Read that favorite manual (RTFM): We all have a favorite piece of technical documentation. Pull it off the shelf and enjoy it all over again. Share it on Goodreads, Twitter, and anywhere else you like.
Hang a big STC banner on your favorite freeway overpass.
Eat lots of chocolate. Because….do you need an excuse?
The Society for Technical Communication, an organization to which I’ve devoted a good bit of volunteer time, has always prided itself on being a professional society. STC has taken the lead in developing and promulgating those things that define a profession — for example, a code of ethics, a body of knowledge, and most recently a certification program.
Yet a recent conversation on LinkedIn started with the question, Is technical communication a profession or a discipline? Continue reading →