Why I’m in the STC

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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6 Responses to Why I’m in the STC

  1. David Farbey says:

    As another one of those people who keeps on renewing their STC membership, I have to agree with much of what you say. I’ve gained a greatd deal from my STC membership, so whenever I see things going not quite right my first impulse is to step in and try and gethings fixed. As you may have noticed. 😉

  2. hharkness says:

    Hey, David,
    It was good to “meet” you on the phone today for the LCR call.
    See you in Philadelphia?
    Holly

  3. Michael Hughes says:

    Like Holly’s first conference experience, I find STC provides a benchmark about how much my company and I are “in it” and where I still need to learn. Current score: DITA: way in; Web 2.0: way out.

  4. Kathy K says:

    I think employment networking is the number one reason to keep a local branch going. Sure, I can network electronically with tech writers all over the globe, but the ones who are most likely to employ me live in my local region. I can’t get that kind of focused “face time” over the web.

  5. Craig Haiss says:

    I have to agree with Kathy K’s comment above. The STC needs to consider what benefits it can offer that technical writers can’t get from Web 2.0, or at least start using Web 2.0 to its advantage.

    Networking, helping others, conferences, etc. are now possible without an STC membership, so they offer little incentive to pay dues. As more technical writers find out how to communicate efficiently using online tools, fewer will see the benefit of the STC. In fact, the STC could possibly be perceived as a “middle man” that should be circumvented. (For example, why publish a helpful article in an STC newsletter instead of on a blog, especially if the blog has a potentially wider distribution and can therefore be of use to more people? Paper publishing is essentially dead, especially for a tech-savvy audience.)

    That said, here are a few ideas for revised STC offerings.
    * Local networking and employment opportunities (as Kathy K mentions above).
    * Social mixers, for venting and having fun with like-minded people.
    * Introducing members to Web 2.0 communities and tools (like Tom J.’s new Writer River site).
    * Filling in gaps in the existing Web 2.0 communities, until competing resources emerge and make the STC offerings unnecessary. (I can think of lots of gaps.)

    The structure and marketing efforts of the STC should then be examined to see if they reflect this new list of benefits.

    Perhaps some of the lost revenue from dues can be offset by the reduced need for paper communications, or by replacing physical meeting space with virtual. (Web 2.0 can be an advantage to the STC, not just a threat.) Also, if the STC becomes the source of useful Web 2.0 tools, they can replace income from dues with advertising income, donation links, and pay-per-item sales and services. (Why use an old-school business model to compete in a high-tech environment?) For example, if Tom J.s Writer River site was an STC offering, I imagine it could scrape in a nice chunk of change, especially if the STC could do some hand-holding and get a significant number of its members using such tools.

    When all is said and done, getting people to pay dues will be a hard sell. In the past, professional organizations were necessary to reduce isolation. We’re just not as isolated anymore.

  6. hharkness says:

    Craig,
    Thanks for your thought provoking comments!
    I’ll address them in an upcoming blog post.

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