Why I’m in the STC

May 23, 2008

Last month a lengthy discussion broke out on Tom Johnson’s blog after he wrote a post about STC’s broken model. After noting continued low attendance at STC chapter meetings, he suggested that the ability to connect with people all over the world through virtual networks may have rendered the old-fashioned geographic-based chapter structure obsolete.

Commenters chimed in with other complaints about STC as well. Anti-STC laments have appeared on and off for many years on listserves like TECHWR-L. If anyone broaches the subject of STC, the floodgates open and the criticism pours in. You even see this on STC’s own forums and listserves.

An outside observer might wonder why anyone still bothers with STC. As someone who continues to renew her membership each year, I’d like to explain why I still find value in the organization.

Employment networking

    The people I meet through the STC in Atlanta are potential employees, employers, and coworkers. If I have to find another job, I’m confident my STC connections will be a huge advantage. I’ve met people whom I’d work for readily and others whom I would not, based on my experience working with them in STC activities. (Competition judging is a great way to learn about your STC colleagues, for example.) When I first moved to Atlanta, I didn’t know anyone else in the profession and I suffered for it.  

Helping others

    I have benefitted greatly from advice and assistance from others in this profession. Now I am in a position to help others. I can do this virtually through listserves, blogs, etc., but I find it more rewarding to work with people in person. At every chapter meeting at least one person shows up who is trying to break into the field, looking for a job, or is an employer looking for a tech writer.
    We also work closely with tech comm students in our area. Some of these students continue their association with STC after graduation, which brings young people into the chapter — essential for any organization.

Professional assistance

    The STC’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) provide members with a large pool of free consultants. I joined the Management SIG as soon as I was promoted to team lead several years ago. We share a common set of experiences, challenges, and opportunities. When any of us are in a bind, a quick e-mail blast to the listserve returns a wealth of information, advice, and even sympathy.
    I was a member of the Technical Editing SIG, too, for many years and recently I joined the Instructional Design SIG.

Conferences

    When I attended my first STC conference, I thought I was a complete newbie with nothing to teach and everything to learn. Then I attended a workshop where someone asked, “What is FrameMaker?” and I realized that I wasn’t totally clueless. Since then I’ve used the conference to help me to evaluate my team’s performance as a whole, to identify better practices, new tools, etc.
    The conferences are also good therapy — for lack of a better word. Let’s face it, we are a rather obscure profession. Many of us are the only tech writer in our company or part of a tiny group. It’s easy to get isolated and adopt a belly-button contemplation approach. At the STC conferences you are thrust into the midst of several thousand people just like yourself. It’s energizing and fun.
    I also learn a lot at the yearly STC Summit. Sure, some sessions are duds, but several speakers inevitably get my brain buzzing, and I return to Atlanta motivated and inspired.
    I’ve never attended DocTrain or WritersUA, but I’m sure that many of the things I love about the STC conferences are true for them as well. In 2004 I attended LavaCon in New Orleans and found it equally rewarding even though it was a much smaller, more focused event.

Value for me as a generalist

    Some technical communicators may not like STC because they do very specialized work and the Society’s broad scope is frustrating to them. I appreciate the wide range of disciplines under the STC umbrella because I manage a team of technical communication generalists. We’re constantly challenged to use our skills to provide value for the company. I know that I can always turn to resources within the STC to learn about options to choose from.

I haven’t mentioned the local chapter programs, the publications, webinars, opportunities to develop leadership and organizational skills, local conferences, competitions, and scholarships, but this post is getting too lengthy.

In my next installment I’ll weigh in on another side of the discussion — why local STC chapters blossom or wilt.

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Future Doc

May 20, 2008

Last week I attended a talk by Dr. Benn Konsynski sponsored by the Atlanta Electronic Commerce Forum (AECF) called “Digital Disruptions: Emerging Commerce Discontinuities.” Konsynski is a popular instructor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School whose alumni have dubbed themselves “SOBs” (students of Benn)

He stated at the outset that he had 66 slides to present in 60 minutes! It was a lunch meeting and running overtime was not an option (but he did anyway even after skipping several slides entirely). The talk was quite dense — packed with observations and predictions about trends in electronic commerce and communication.
I couldn’t follow everything he said, but I’ll share my notes with you.

  • On predicting the future one of his main points was: “The experts don’t know jack about the future.” He pointed to this video called “The Knowledge Navigator” produced by Apple in 1987 projecting how computers and communications would work in 2010. 
    He also said (tongue-in-cheek): “The key to predicting the future is to predict often.”
    People will remember what you got right more than what you guessed wrong. 
  •  

  • Three elements are needed to successfully leverage Internet technologies:
    Connections (infrastructure), Content, and Context.
    “Content may be King, but Context is Emperor.”
    Without a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, the huge amount of new content available to us on the Internet is useless. We may get a million returns from a Google search, but 92% of us only look at the first page of Google results. 
    Another good example of this is YouTube a few good videos buried under tons of frivolous junk.
  •  

  • Traditional industries such as newspapers, the recoding industry, Hollywood, book publishing are floundering because today anyone can produce, market, share, download, and promote their products. These industries will continue to fail if they try to fight against the new technologies.”Suing your customers is not a good business strategy.”
    Radiohead’s In Rainbows download offer is the future.
    Metallica’s approach is not.
  •  

  • A more successful strategy is putting your customers to work.
    eBay and Craigslist are good examples of this.
     
  •  

  • The cutting edge technologies are not all Web-based, but tend more toward IP-direct.
    Examples include mobile wireless and embedded intelligence.
  •  By embedded intelligence, he was referring to the next step in RFID. Currently RFID is just an electronic barcode. But it’s now possible to plant a chip in a product that sends back data on how the product was used, where it was used, if it has expired or spoiled.  
    “What if things could blog or IM?” he asked.

Our STC chapter might want to consider inviting Konsynski to speak. While we work with technology every day, we aren’t always thinking about the bigger picture or at least this part of the bigger picture.