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.


JoAnn Hackos “Best Practices” conference to be held in Atlanta 9/17-19

June 22, 2007

Well, not exactly Atlanta. It’s at Chateau Elan Winery and Resort in the north Georgia foothills.

The 9th Best Practices Conference is for publications managers. This year the theme is  “Building the Information Community.” If you are drawing a blank on what that means, here are the bullet points:

Using experience as a guide, we’ll exchange understanding and expertise to

  • assess the impact of Web 2.0 methods and trends (e.g. peering wikis, blogs) on the information-development community
  • engage with customers in the design and development of information
  • partner with support, training, and other internal colleagues
  • deliver information to handheld devices
  • engage in agile development practices
  • support effective growth and development of staff
  • measure the performance of your organization and your progress toward corporate objectives

Quite wide-ranging! I have not attended this conference in the past, but Hackos’ reputation in our profession is enough to recommend it.

Registration is $1025 and the hotel room is $199. Those of you who live in North Fulton might be able to commute.


Favorite sessions at STC Summit

June 20, 2007

Small turnout at last night’s meeting due to (much needed) rain and a major accident on I-285. I suspect many of our usual attendees simply gave up. Despite that, we had a good discussion of the conference. A couple of visitors came who were interested in getting into the field. It was a cozier atmosphere than our larger meetings.

Robert did a good job posing questions to the six panelists. Everyone had a lot to say about the conference, including the two first-time attendees, Dorothy and Howard. By the way, Robert won a prize for guessing the exact number of registrants. He told me the number last night, but I forgot. It was around 1400 (up from recent years).

Some complaints were that the conference program came out very late making it hard to plan what sessions to attend. Also, many sessions were overcrowded, excluding some altogether, and making it uncomfortable for those who managed to squeeze in at the last minute. Mike Hughes pointed out that many conferences poll registrants ahead of time to get a sense of which sessions will be the most popular, then plan accordingly.

Another complaint was that we still have not received a conference evaluation. It’s easier to give feedback within a couple of weeks of the event. There’s no reason why a conference evaluation can’t be prepared well ahead of time. The list of attendees and the conference proceedings just came out. (I guess this answers my question posed yesterday about the problems with conference organization.)

Overall, the feedback was positive. Jean-Luc Doumont of Principae was cited by several as the best speaker at the conference. Materials from his session, “Road Signs: Making Your Way in the Visual World” and “Effective Layout for the Non-Artist” are available at the links posted here. We’re in discussions with Jean-Luc about presenting at our Currents conference here in Atlanta in March. Stay tuned.

Another popular session was Scott Abel’s “Web 2.0: Understanding the Semantic Web and It’s Impact on Technical Communication.” The link here is to his slides.

Jane Wilson and I enjoyed Karen Schriver’s sessions. I will blog about those soon.

Most of us felt that the networking was as much a  benefit of the conference as the formal sessions. I pointed out that you have to work at networking at a large conference; it doesn’t just happen. Sometimes it’s possible to shoot an e-mail to a member you’ve corresponded with on a listserve and set up a lunch meeting ahead time. Chris McRae said that he likes to collect the e-mail addresses of people he meets in case he needs a quick answer to a vexing problem or simply wants to bounce an idea off of some peers.

We finished up with a brief discussion of the 2009 STC conference in Atlanta. Our responsibilities as a chapter are minimal, but the opportunities are huge.  We plan to set up a task force to set some goals.  Anyone who is interested should contact Al Hood. Or post a comment here and I’ll get in touch with you.
Appropriately, our door prizes last night included some of the swag Robert had collected at the conference Exposition.


Why isn’t STC at ASTD?

June 4, 2007

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) is holding its conference here in Atlanta this week. One of the exhibitors sent me a badge so that I could visit the Exposition Hall. This morning I drove down to the Georgia World Congress Center to check out the booths. I hope we hold the STC conference there in 2009 because it’s a beautiful facility! My pass entitled me to a free lunch, so I reviewed the exhibitor list carefully as I munched my grilled chicken ceasar.

ASTD is a larger, wealthier organization than STC, and it’s about 10 years older as well. The cost of joining is only slightly higher than STC, but their big bucks come from their programs and sponsors. High-powered corporate trainers are likely to be members as well as instructional designers, HR people, and technical trainers. I’m providing this context so that you’ll understand why they had about 5 times as many exhibitors as we did at the STC Summit in Minneapolis.

As I paged through the exhibitor list, I noticed several professional organizations including PMI, the American Society for Quality, and the Society for Human Resource Management. Where was STC? Technical trainers today must be good technical communicators, obviously. They would benefit from membership in STC as much as they do from ASTD. ASTD has a more technical conference that they hold in January each year. STC should be an exhibitor there, too. For that matter, shouldn’t we have invited these organizations to exhibit at the STC Summit? 

STC is still suffering from Tina-the-tech-writer syndrome — a rigid, insular view of who we are and where we stand in relation to others. I plan to write a note to the Society about this. Our strategic goals include more marketing as well as partnering with other organizations and ASTD offered an opportunity to do both. By participating in the events of other organizations, we can learn a lot.

Eventually, it would be nice to work out a sister organization program or partnership. Here’s how it could work: if you are a member of STC, you could also join ASTD, PMI, or a similar professional organization at 1/2 price (or something like that). We could provide discounts to each other’s conferences and programs as well. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but it could benefit everyone if it was handled correctly.