Installation is not a user task featuring Andrea Ames – Content Content podcast episode 21 – Ed Marsh

Andrea Ames and Ed Marsh discuss the evolution of the technical communication field, the number of job titles for technical communicators, the frustrations of proving your value, and laugh a lot. Andrea is the CEO of Idyll Point Group, after a long stint in content strategy and content experience strategy at IBM. Mentioned during this … Continue reading Installation is not a user task featuring Andrea Ames – Content Content podcast episode 21 →

Source: Installation is not a user task featuring Andrea Ames – Content Content podcast episode 21 – Ed Marsh

Hey y’all! Ed has another episode of ContentContent up! And it’s with Andrea Ames! If you’ve ever met Andrea, yes, she as bubbly and fun as her photo portrays her to be. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her not smiling. And if you haven’t heard her speak at a conference, then this chat will be a treat! She’s super smart, and very engaging.

Take a listen!


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Confessions of a first-time graduate instructor

Valkyrie says that teaching is not for the weak. No kidding!

Valkyrie says that teaching is not for the weak. No kidding!

I just finished my first semester teaching a graduate technical communications course. And boy, it was an experience. And crazy me, I signed up for another semester teaching another subject within the program, but it was cancelled due to low registration. What was I thinking?

This first semester, if nothing else, was a learning experience for me. I was never a fantastic student, and while I did really well in graduate school, I expected that anyone who was putting in time as a part-time graduate student while working full-time, and paying a lot of money to do it (yes, even at a state-run university), they would be putting their best foot forward, just like I did. Boy, I was wrong about that.

I will say that there were students who definitely did give it their all, and it showed in their weekly responses and their final projects and papers. They got it. They understood what I was trying to teach. And there were some who struggled, and I really tried to help them in the best way I could if they reached out to me. And then there were those that I could not help, because they chose not to put the effort in the same as their classmates. It was a mixed bag. I suppose I expected it, but in some cases, the resistance I was getting was more than I expected.

So, there was definitely a learning curve for me as well. Do I feel like the semester was a success? Yes and no. Let me start with why I thought it wasn’t, and what I learned.

I started at a disadvantage, as I had only been given the course about 5 days before it started. I had no confirmation that I was definitely teaching the course until I was signing the paperwork to be employed by the university five days before classes started. I knew I wanted to follow a similar curriculum to what I had for the same class several years before, but that was hard to develop quickly. I had to research and update the resource materials quickly, and it wasn’t a quick process. In most instances, I wasn’t that much farther ahead of the students than where they were in the class, so that was added pressure for me.

One of my objectives was to keep the class a little lighter by providing professional articles more often than academic articles. While I know this is the kind of course that should still prepare students who would go on to PhD work, most of the students most likely won’t be going to doing doctoral studies, so I wanted to provide as much practical information for the “theories” part of the class, and get the students talking among themselves to discuss issues. Compared to the work I was given, I gave them less, and I tried to give “heads-up” when big projects were going to be assigned and tried to give as much time as I could for them to do it.

One of the things I discovered was that I needed to be much more specific on my expectations. Because time was a factor in trying to whip up a curriculum and get pertinent readings found and posted, I didn’t come up with rubrics for which I’d based grading some of the bigger projects. While I thought that I was fairly clear with my instructions, it wasn’t surprising if some students clearly missed the mark. Sometimes that was on me, and I own that. But often, if they asked questions, and if I heard the question more than once or even when it was pointed out that I wasn’t clear, I would clarify for the entire class, and I’d still not get what was expected in some instances. It frustrated me to no end.

Part of that clarification was that I wanted the students to put themselves into their work–I wanted to hear their voices, not a neutral voice. This wasn’t meant to be a PR course, and it was important to me that for a social media class, they needed to employ social media by posting on various outlets and revealing something of themselves. I didn’t want their blogs to be news feeds, but rather something that provided at least some sort of personal reflection on the topic. Even when speaking neutrally, there’s a way to do it, and fortunately, some of my students understood it. I didn’t understand students who didn’t want to cooperate with instructions that asked for them to put that little bit of their voice in their blogs and their projects, again, since this was a social media class. I think I needed to be more up front about that, clarify where I was coming from so they had a better understanding of what I expected. Much of social media is about having an opinion. Even clicking on “like” is having an opinion, or supporting an internet article because of A, B, and C. You see that on this blog all the time. I didn’t expect them to bare their souls (unless they wanted to) like I do, but I wanted them to express a point of view. I evidently didn’t stress this enough, even though we spent weeks talking about personal branding through social media.

I tried my best to be fair at all turns, but sometimes it was difficult. I think better planning and better clarification of my expectations through clearer instructions and rubrics would’ve helped.

What went right? The parts that went right are the parts that let me know that I wasn’t a total failure. I got notes from a few students that they said they liked my class, and that it sparked an interest in social media with a new view they didn’t have before. Students said they appreciated me taking the time to answer questions or give them encouragement and support. Students also said that this class made them want to continue with the projects started and see it through further, and they felt they were better prepared going forward with a new viewpoint. Many of my students were total cynics and down on social media when they started, but I think I helped them look at social media in a positive way where they could be empowered to change it for the better. One student even told me that they were so inspired with one week’s topics that they want to study it for a PhD thesis (and this was a student who was originally talking about dropping out of grad school, and I gave some advice about how to keep going). Getting the positive feedback helped me get through the days that I doubted that the lessons I had learned over the past few years and my overall positive outlook of social media being a force for good if used correctly were ones that could be transferred. I had students who took that knowledge, and took it to the next level, much to my relief.

Will I teach again? Time will tell. As I mentioned at the outset of this post, I was supposed to teach a new class that was a combination of foundational web design and foundational instructional design, but it was cancelled due to low registration. I was a little disappointed, as it would have been an interesting challenge for me to do it. My supervisor was generally happy with my performance this past semester with the social media class (or so he told me), and assured me that when these classes become available again, that he’d have me do them. For now, it’s a little bit of a relief, since I’ve started a new job that’s starting to take off a bit, still juggling a second long-term freelance job, and I’m doing a lot for the STC-PMC right now. Getting something off my list was actually good timing, and I have some personal time back to resume some other projects.

But given the opportunity, most likely, I would take it on, time permitting. I am a teacher’s daughter, so teaching runs through my veins. I remember even having a conversation with my father when I questioned whether I was handling things correctly with students, and his 40-year career validated that yes, I was doing fine.  I do like helping people learn, and that’s also why I’m a technical communicator. Even if you aren’t into instructional design, that’s really what technical communication is all about.

What do you think? Would you take on teaching a graduate level tech comm course? Include your comments below.

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Never, Ever Take A Job Unless It Passes This Test

How should Brett decide which of his two job offers to accept — or whether to reject them both and keep looking? Here’s the test every new job offer must pass — or else you don’t want the job!

Source: Never, Ever Take A Job Unless It Passes This Test

While this article is written to be generic and apply to almost any job, it definitely applies to technical communications jobs.  I know, from experience, that sometimes you might only have one job offer, and you question whether you should take it, only because it’s something rather than nothing.  But I think some of the author’s big points hit home, which include whether you are going to enjoy doing the tasks expected, learn something, have opportunity to grow, and if you get along with the people you’ve interviewed with. Now, the last one is tricky. I had interviews with people, and then never worked with them, and ended up working with someone else I didn’t get along with as well.  And sometimes, all of it will not align. For example, I walked away from some other potentially lucrative opportunities that I was being considered for to take the one that I’m at now. It’s been three months since I was given the job offer and said yes, but I am still having serious connectivity issues to company network systems so that I can do my work. Do I blame the people who hired me? No. They have been honest and transparent that much of the work to set me up is out of their control, and they’ve gone to great lengths to get me set up as much as they can and keep me working. I finally met them the other day, and despite the computer networking issues, I’m glad I took this job. I like the people, the work sounds exciting, and I think there will definitely be room for growth. Doesn’t hurt that I got an hourly pay raise out of it as well.

It’s not easy making choices in today’s job market. The “perfect” job isn’t out there. But, I think that the guidelines listed here in this article are good ones, and they are ones that I had to learn organically from experience.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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Five Workplace Issues We’ll Be Talking About In 2018

In a year filled with hot-button issues, we look forward to seeing where 2018 will take our workplace conversations.

Source: Five Workplace Issues We’ll Be Talking About In 2018

Ironically enough, I talked about four of the five issues mentioned in this article in 2017. I did hear more about the fifth items along the way, but having been…underemployed…for most of the year, it was difficult for me to comment on it if I wasn’t too deeply involved in it. The best resource was the Adobe DITA Virtual Conference from this past fall. Lots of talk about it there. But otherwise, all these issues in general were the hot topics of 2017, if you ask me, and the conversations are only continuing into 2018 because they are mostly issues that aren’t resolved.

What do you think of these workplace issues for 2018? Include your comments below.


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The First Women in Tech Didn’t Leave—Men Pushed Them Out – WSJ

Women filled computer-programming jobs in the U.S. and U.K. after World War II, but as government and business professionalized programming, the decline of female coders began.

Find the full article at the Wall Street Journal

If nothing else happened in 2017, this has been a year where women started to assert themselves more into society in a push that hasn’t been seen in decades. In the process of doing so, we are reminding ourselves of where we have been, where we are, and where we should be.  Women in tech has always been a topic of interest here at TechCommGeekMom, because there is a generation (namely mine) that essentially got shut out because our predecessors got shut out.  We found some other ways to work around it, but not always. We need to learn from our history (which is spelled out well in this Wall Street Journal article), and see what we can do to change this. There is no reason whatsoever for the technical field not to be equal between men and women in the workforce doing the same jobs. None.

Think of it like this–they don’t say that “Mother Necessity” is the reason for invention for nothing, right? Women have often been the inspiration for technical advance, and even a few super smart ones were able to break those barriers to the world’s advantage. So why would you want to lock them out?

It is not only up to women to fight for their right to work equally in the tech field, but it’s up to men who understand and appreciate that women are perfectly capable of doing the same jobs for equal pay as well.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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Remote Workers Are Outperforming Office Workers–Here’s Why

Research shows that office workers cannot concentrate at their desks.

Source: Remote Workers Are Outperforming Office Workers–Here’s Why

April Showalter had liked this article on LinkedIn, and I can see why. I totally agree as well! This is an argument that I’ve been making for a long time now, if you’ve been reading many of my postings for the last couple of years.  Most of us really don’t need the flashy stuff. We need an environment that’s conducive to us getting our work done, and we need flexibility.  Just today, my doctor called me and said I had to come over for some overdue tests. I wasn’t doing much this morning, and the doctor is only five minutes away, so I was able to schedule that in. There are other times I need that flexibility due to my family responsibilities or my STC duties (I often have to leave a little early for chapter meetings since I live far away, and usually have to battle rush-hour traffic around Philadelphia.) When I’m working from home as a remote worker, I can usually get SO much more done, because I actually have fewer distractions. I can be here to have lunch with my son when he has a day off from school. I can take a quick break and greet him when he gets home from school. And I still get all the work done.

So, if this article isn’t more proof that companies should seriously consider hiring remote workers, than I don’t know what the problem is, other than backward thinking in the digital 21st century.

What do you think? Include your comments below.



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The Best Technical Writers are Not Techie at All

The job of a technical writer is to translate complex information into words that a non-technical/non-scientific person can understand and use. Now at

Source: The Best Technical Writers are Not Techie at All

Thanks to Dave Gardner for finding this and posting it on LinkedIn.

This is an argument that I’ve made to prospective employers and recruiters time and time again.  Having a little technical knowledge helps, but ultimately it’s hard to find people who have the same super technical knowledge they require AND can write about technical things. I’ve often thought as technical writers almost like translators; we translate English into English. We make the complicated less complicated. We shouldn’t have to be former programmers/developers, post-doctoral scientists, or whatever else requires very specific knowledge to write. We just need to know how to write, to write well, and decipher the hard stuff.  As Dave Gardner, the person who originally posted this on his LinkedIn feed said in his own commentary, “Find a candidate who is a quick study — someone who can ramp up quickly in your technology and who can translate that technology into understandable content for your end-audience.”  I don’t think I could have phrased this better myself. (Thanks, Dave!)

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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