Atlanta STC On-Site events

August 11, 2008

Like many STC chapters, we have members who work and live all over our metro area.Traffic is bad, gas is high, people are busy — all of these make it hard to attract members to the Atlanta chapter’s monthly programs.

At the STC Summit in Philadelphia, we heard about the Chicago chapter’s successful lunch events. These get-togethers were held simultaneously at several locations throughout Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Chapter members enjoyed meeting up with each other at locations convenient to where they worked.

We thought we’d try that approach this year. Then Rachel Peters offered to hold a program at her office in Marietta to demonstrate how they use a wiki at work. We set a date and worked out the arrangements for lunch and voilà! the STC On-Site event was born. Nearly 30 people have signed up for the August 14 program. You can read the details here.

If you live in the Atlanta area and would like to show your STC colleagues what you’re working on, we can hold an STC On-Site at your office, too.


Why we need technical communicators

August 4, 2008

Tip of the hat to Karen Schriver who showed this video during her talk at the STC conference in Minneapolis last year.


Microsoft Community Clips: Record your own video help

July 30, 2008

I’m struggling to revise a huge Word document that was not only written by a committee, but by a committee under the tutelage of a consultant. Documentation by bureaucracy, essentially. So I made a trip to Microsoft’s Web site to get some assistance on the trickier aspects of my revisions.

That’s where I stumbled upon Community Clips where you can create your own videos demonstrating tips and tricks in Microsoft applications. According to Microsoft:

Community Clips is a portal for viewing, sharing, and discussing informal “how-to” videos (screencasts) on Microsoft Office products. It also includes a client application for easy recording of screen views and voice.

Haven’t tried it myself, but the first step is to download and install the Community Clips application. Apparently, you can use it to record any software application.  You have to register to upload your video and then you are officially part of the “community.” (Anyone else getting tired of that word?)

The Community Clips site has the potential to become a computer nerd’s YouTube. As of today there are only 326 videos uploaded, but as word gets out, this will increase exponentially. Here’s a funny one on entering accents and other diacritical marks in Word.  (Can’t embed it here because it’s not in a format WordPress supports. Arrggh!)

Benefits of Community Clips

Show what you can do. So often people who are trying to break into tech comm ask “how do I get experience?” Community Clips is a great way to showcase your technical communication talents even if you’ve never worked for the man as a technical writer.

Reusable learning objects. As more and videos are uploaded, help desk technicians and technical communicators can search for instructions they might need and send the customer the link.

Free tool. Microsoft doesn’t have many free downloads, so it’s cool to have a free tool that performs this type of task. It’s part of Microsoft Office Labs, which is an interesting development in and of itself.

”  . . . a proving ground for ideas that come from regular employees and interns who work anywhere in Microsoft.  Most of the code prototypes are developed by the Office Labs team in partnership with the teams that make the products.

. . . we thought it would be interesting to present some ideas we are exploring.

It’s fun to try new stuff, but we also have a reason for putting these ideas out here in public.  We want to find out which of these ideas are valuable, how people use them, and generally what you all think.  To measure how effective the various ideas are we collect a variety of data about how you use these prototypes.

. . . these are free and there’s no official support. . . .

Every couple of months or so another prototype may show up.  Sometimes more than one.  Sometimes it’ll be longer.  We hope you become a regular visitor and participant in the discussions.  Let us know what you think!

So c’mon tech comm people! Record something on Community Clips and add a comment here with a link to your work.


New member of the family

July 28, 2008

Four years ago we adopted our sweet dog Abby who has been a continual joy in our lives. Her provenance is a mystery. Corgi? Boxer? German Shepherd dog? Let’s call her a “Georgia brown dog.” She was found on the highway with her nine puppies who were all adopted before we came along and invited her to stay with us.

She likes to smile a lot.

She likes to smile a lot.

Loud noises and furniture moves scare her, and for the first year she was terrified of the television. But she’s a sucker for a tummy rub. Everyone who meets her falls in love with her like we did.

Recently we realized that while Abby was quite fond of us, she needed a friend whose ears she could chew. When we lived in the apartment she had a daily play date with a tireless pit bull named Mac. Since we moved into our house, we haven’t found a suitable replacement for Mac, and Abby has not been a happy puppy.

Enter Roxie.

She wandered into a backyard in McDonough about ten days ago with no collar and no microchip to identify her. She, too, is a mix of some sort. The people who lived there had two dogs already and couldn’t keep a third one. They posted a sign “Found: Black and Brown Puppy.” They contacted the local pound to see if a distraught owner was searching for her. No response.

So they sent out an e-mail through the dog lovers viral network that eventually reached my administrative assistant who forwarded it to everyone in my department.

Long story short: Roxie is now chez Abby.

We’ll have the vet check her out tomorrow, but she’s about 7 months old, 37 pounds, and full of spunk.

Abby and Roxie spent the last day and a half tearing around our yard, rolling in the leaves, and chewing on each other’s ears. Abby does get a little cross with Roxie from time to time, but Roxie takes it all in stride.

Last night when we sat down to watch a movie the two pooches curled up together for a pre-bedtime nap. First Roxie used Abby for a pillow.

Somebody to lean on.

Somebody to lean on.

Then they shifted comfortably and fell fast asleep.

Two peas in a pod.

Two peas in a pod.

Looks like the beginning of a beautiful relationship!


Surviving the recession

July 21, 2008

Technical writers are a hardy bunch when it comes to finding work. At last week’s Atlanta STC Chapter meeting on “Surviving the Recession” the audience had as many suggestions as our speaker Frank Harper

Attendance was double this month over last, most likely because so many are worried about what’s ahead. But the picture wasn’t as bleak as you might think. Several people announced job openings, and Robert e-mailed me about two more the following day.

I haven’t been searching for work lately, so Frank’s ideas were a good refresher. Everyone nodded and laughed when he said, “There’s no such thing as a permanent job.” He stressed that we need to take stock of our skills and find ways to acquire new ones — now, not later.  For those actively seeking work, he pointed to community- and church-sponsored career centers such as Career Quest at Catholic Church of St. Ann in Marietta. Others recommended the program run by the United Methodist Church in Roswell.

Margaret told us about Indeed, a search engine for jobs. Here’s my search for technical writer positions in the state of Georgia. 138 listings! Woo hoo!

I like LinkedIn and use it when I’m searching for writers to hire. Other people mentioned Plaxo, so I went out and joined that, too.

One person said that you shouldn’t put your address on your resume because employers will disqualify you if you live too far from their office. I didn’t know that. . . . I still don’t know it. But others swore it was true.

Frank is old school. He didn’t, for example, urge to start blogging to brand ourselves. He mentioned online networking, but didn’t give it much weight. Office 2007 seems to be one of his pet peeves. But overall it was good sound advice and a great opportunity to share tips with fellow tech writers.

What job-hunting secrets are you willing to share with us?


A technical writer’s 10 birthday wishes

July 3, 2008

Yes, it’s my birthday.

Here’s what my cube looked like when I came in today.  Nice.

At my advanced age, I get 10 wishes instead of only one when I blow out the forest fire of candles on my cake. Here they come:

1. My cubicle is filled with birthday cards and gifts from all my SMEs, project managers, programmers, and upper management — including a small box of Swiss chocolates from the CEO “in appreciation of your wisdom and assistance to all the employees you’ve assisted and trained.”

2. My director gives approval to hire three full-time writers and one technical editor who will be devoted to revising our out-of -date style guide.

3. My content management system is not only granted funding, but can be implemented with the click of a mouse.

4. Company-wide memo encourages us to telecommute 4 out of 5 days a week to save gas and the ozone.

5. Second memo suggests we bring our dogs to the office on the 1 day we do come in.

6. Adobe taps me to participate in a technical communication focus group in Paris for 10 days next spring. (All expenses paid, of course.)

7. An IT project manager calls and says, “Holly, I’m heading up a project to roll out XYZ software to the company in 2010. I want your team involved from the very beginning. Can you meet next week to discuss?”

8. My inbox is flooded with e-mails from end-users with messages like this, “I’ve been reading the ABC manual you wrote and I’m lovin’ it! Especially the troubleshooting section.” or “The new Help file rocks! I got stuck in the application and found the answer quickly in the online Help.”

9. My impossible-to-meet deadline is extended a month.

10. Atlanta STC membership doubles during my term as membership manager.

As Ringo Starr (another July birthday person) sang:
“I don’t ask for much; I only want some, and you know it don’t come easy.”


Musical interlude: Technical Writer

July 2, 2008

Thanks to Steve E. for the link!

I heard Steve Jong sing a similar ditty at the STC Open Jam a couple of years ago.