A memorial tribute to Donn DeBoard, 1954-2020

This past week has been rough. One of my friends and tech comm mentors, Donn DeBoard, passed away.  He was one of my biggest advocates, and I will sorely miss him. 

I wrote a memorial announcement that’s going to be shared with our chapter, STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, which in turn will also be shared with the STC Intercom and STC Notebook publications. However, that version is an abridged version of what I originally wrote. Here’s the original. I’m going to miss you, Donn. 

On August 25, 2020, STC Fellow and longtime member Donn DeBoard passed away. He was 66.

Donn was one of the first people I became friends with in the STC. I had just finished attending my first STC-Philadelphia Mid-Atlantic Technical Communication Conference (now known as CONDUIT) back in 2013. I was a little bit shy at that conference, not really knowing many people, even though I was connecting a few faces with people I had met online. But I really didn’t know how to insert myself into conversations going on there, and after the conference, I remember driving to the post-conference get-together at a local Japanese restaurant, crying my eyes out because of the anxiety of trying to integrate into this new group.

After I had calmed down, and joined the rest of the group for dinner, I ended up seated to a quiet, reserved, yet very friendly individual. He introduced himself, and started to put me at ease and pull me out of my shell. We chit-chatted about our families–his daughter was just about to graduate from college, and he was rather proud of her accomplishments. He patiently listened to me tell him about how I had just restarted my career in tech comm, and about raising my own son. That night, a friendship with Donn DeBoard was forged.

During my short friendship with Donn, I came to learn about how passionate he was about tech comm–as much as I was. The trick was that he’d been doing it a LOT longer. I was among the proud attendees from Philadelphia who were able to see Donn receive his STC Fellow award. It was truly a proud moment for him, for sure! I had also gotten to know Donn for his work within our Philadelphia Metro chapter supporting the academic outreach program. During his tenure, he had built up incredible partnerships with local colleges and universities, but especially with Drexel, his alma mater, and was able to create a viable scholarship competition program for students. He was a force to be reckoned with!

The things that I remember most about Donn was his joy and willingness to help others out in the field–which is probably why he gravitated towards students and new technical communicators. As I shared the news of his passing with others from STC-PMC who had worked with him, several had said that he had helped them get a job in tech comm when they needed it most, or he was a fantastic mentor to them as they got started. He always jumped at the opportunity to serve as a mentor to many new professionals seeking guidance in this field. He was always curious, always open to learning new things in this ever-changing field, and adapt with the times.

For me personally, he was a different kind of mentor. As I ascended the ranks of the chapter leadership, I would often bend his ear and ask for his advice based on his long-standing experience volunteering for the STC and the Philadelphia Metro Chapter, bouncing ideas off of him to get a reaction. He always supported my ideas–even if they seemed risky (and he didn’t have to agree!). He was a huge advocate when we moved CONDUIT to the Franklin Institute, and he regretted that he wasn’t able to attend due to health issues at the time. As the chapter made some big decisions more recently that affected how we operate the chapter going forward, I would have long conversations with him to figure out best solutions and scenarios to protect and continue the chapter. He was dedicated to protecting the chapter that he’d helped to build and maintain over the years.  As he recovered and it seemed that the worst of his health issues were behind him, he came back after a sabbatical from the Philadelphia chapter council to help with our chapter rebuilding, and ran for the new role of Secretary/Treasurer this year. We were so happy to have him back in the fold as we just kicked off our program year. Alas, he was unable to see the changes going forward with his passing.

All those I’ve talked to since passing along the news of his death have said the same thing. Donn was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet–a truly kind, good, soft-spoken person, who was easily amused by the silliest jokes from those around him, and someone who contributed so much to the STC. He was always wanting to help and support those around him, and took every opportunity he could to do so.  He was passionate about his activities with the STC, as it made up a prominent part of who he was. Even his obituary prominently highlighted his activities and accomplishments with the STC.


Donn was a member of the STC for almost 35 years, and his exuberance for the STC was with him right up until the end. The STC will certainly miss this bright light, but not more than those of us in his own Philadelphia Metro Chapter who will miss him the most.

Danielle Villegas and Donn DeBoard at the STC Summit Awards, 2016

This is one of my favorite photos of Donn and me back in 2016.

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Work with Persona — Beyond Empathy Map

Step to facilitate the user-centered design process

Source: Work with Persona — Beyond Empathy Map

Kirk St. Amant posted this on Facebook today, and I found it interesting. I’m not sure that I’ve always been taught to include empathy and emotions into any of my technical writing exactly. I think the push has been more about eliciting positivity into the user feeling that they had a good experience trying to find or do what they needed at a digital site, but nothing beyond that. This is an interesting–and short–study on going beyond that.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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How to Prevent UX Workers From Quitting

Solving one issue can clear up so many of the problems user experience practitioners have on the job.

Source: How to Prevent UX Workers From Quitting

If you’ve ever worked in UX or CX or content strategy, this is an article for you that you can relate to. I know having worked and/or dabbled in content strategy, UX, and CX, many of the scenarios presented in this article were things I experienced and was frustrated about to no end.

See if you relate to this article as well, and include your comments below.


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Maintaining Your Principles While On the Job

figure balancing a check in one hand and an X in another hand, showing right versus wrongOoh…she’s going into controversial territory here… (Well, yeah, I am. What’s new?)

I’ve heard some people say that the COVID-19 pandemic and world events really has them looking at life very differently now on a number of levels. One of those levels for me has been dealing with how do a show the world my principles in a positive light? How do I practice my principles through my actions? These are tough ethical and moral questions for anyone, but this time period in my life and our world’s history is truly bringing this to the forefront, for sure.

As there’s a good segment of technical communicators out there who are looking for work due to the pandemic, it’s a good time to be thinking about those things. For me, it’s not only doing what’s right for me and looking for jobs that appreciate what I can offer and that I can enjoy my work, but also what they are doing. As I get older, sticking to some of my principles gets to be a bigger issue, and how I can apply my values within my work and still stay true to my beliefs and sleep at night knowing that I hopefully did the right thing through my work.

Now, looking at my work history, I didn’t always work for places that always had a good reputation. At the time, I kept a blind eye that as long as I wasn’t part of that segment of the business doing the “dirty work” thinking I was okay. As I’ve gotten older, I can’t do that so much anymore. I have to feel okay that what I do serves a better cause overall, and that I can agree with the company’s mission and ethics. We all have different levels of where we stand on issues, so in some instances this can be hard. For example, if you are a person who is strongly against fossil fuels, but the industry where you live is primarily gas and oil, then there are going to be difficulties. But if you also knew about the things that the company is doing to make cleaner fuels and other earth-positive products, you might not be quite as strict about where you work. It’s a slippery slope.

It also applies to the people you work with as well. I’ve been fortunate that most of the people that I’ve worked with hold the same values that I do, and that makes work easier as well when dealing with others. If you come from the same or a similar perspective on something, interpersonal relationships with others is easier. You don’t have to agree with everything, but you generally know that if someone’s holistic ethical approach is the same as yours, you’re going to be fine.

As I continue to find my next gig, this becomes important to me. I don’t want to apply to a company that supports causes that go against my standards. I don’t want to work for a company that cheats people or treats them poorly–whether they be their employees, consultants, or even their customers. I prefer to work for companies that do look out for those who work for them and their customers, and make it a point to make it part of their internal conversations.

Like I said, it’s a slippery slope navigating in this crazy world right now, but it’s something we should all be conscious of. Where do you want to be? What do you want to support? Is where you work a place that supports the betterment of others and helps elevate us all? Our principles and ethics can slide. What might be a deal breaker for you isn’t for me, and vice versa. And that’s okay. But we should all be conscious of this, especially in tech comm work. Why? It’s actually part of our job, if you think about it. We write manuals, how-to guides, policies and procedures, training, and a host of other forms of content that are meant to help others get things done on an equal level, or at least provide a means of balancing things so things can be equal. Localization and globalization is part of that. It’s built into what we do.

So, as you continue, just think about how influential technical communicators can be in this respect. And make choices that are right for you, and right for the world that you want to leave behind.

What are your thoughts? Include them below.

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What is UX Writing? | UX Booth

There’s a new job in town. Google’s looking. Amazon’s looking. Dropbox, Paypal…many of the big players in tech are now looking for User Experience Writers. This week, Kristina Bjoran explains how writing-focused user experience designers will be a critical part of the way we design for experiences from here on out.

Source: What is UX Writing? | UX Booth

I can’t remember where I found this or who originally posted this, but I thought this was an excellent article about UX writing. I’m starting to find that UX writing and UX content is starting to emerge as something that is greatly sought. I’m fortunate that I’ve had experience with doing this over the past few years. I agree with the author that often employers trying to find a UX writer by looking towards copywriters first, and then sometimes they look for technical writers. I think UX writers fall somewhere in between those two disciplines. They are still technical communicators, but it’s a slight niche of knowing how UX and content should work, and how user interface (UI) should work. Copywriters might understand how to use the punchy marketing language needed to incur action, but technical writers understand how to use plain language and the technicality of directing people on how to navigate digitally to allow the user to get to where they want to go.  So, really, in many respects, a UX writer is both a copywriter and a technical writer, with a little something extra built in.

What do you think? Is UX writing becoming its own discipline? What’s your experience with UX writing? Share your comments below.


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A plea, to everyone – from content designers, everywhere

Content design is an actual thing It sounds obvious, but content design is a real thing. Before trying to advocate what content designers are, it’s probably easier to explain what they’re not.

Source: A plea, to everyone – from content designers, everywhere

Thanks to Rahel Bailie, who retweeted this article on Twitter.

In the ever-changing world of technical communications, resource needs morph constantly. It’s not enough to be just a technical writer or just a–anything anymore. It’s bad enough that other professional disciplines have co-opted job titles from the tech comm world like “content strategist” when they really want a marketing strategist. Or calling us something that isn’t right. For example, I had the title of “Senior Copywriter” when I either did content strategy or UX writing, not really copywriting.

I like this title of “Content Designer” based on the description. I would like to get more involved in a position that’s like this. However, how long will it be before UX designers or even visual or graphic designers start to co-opt the description for themselves?

One of the difficulties of being a technical communicator is that job titles or descriptions aren’t always clear–especially these days. Something that’s a little more succinct would be nice. For example, it’s usually pretty clear what the requirements for a doctor, a mechanic, a financial advisor, or even a programmer. It used to be clear what various technical communicator positions were. It doesn’t seem to be that way anymore. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good in that we are not limited in doing just one thing–we’re allowed to go out of bounds and explore and be multi-disciplinary. At the same time, it can be bad because those multiple disciplines can be endless, and sometimes finding what fits your multiple disciplines doesn’t align in many places, making it hard to find work.

What do you think of the concept of “content design”, or the idea of tech comm job titles having…issues? Include your comments below.


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How Can a Company That is Largely Remote Be a Great Place to Work? – LinkedIn

fist bumps in a group circle of multiple ethnicitiesWhile going through my LinkedIn thread today, I found this article, and discovered that it succinctly tells what’s needed for an effective and positive experience in having a remote workplace:

How Can a Company That is Largely Remote Be a Great Place to Work? by Carlos N. Escutia

The author, Carlos N. Escutia, makes his main point that it’s not about location that matters, but rather how you communicate and work as a team.  Based on my own experiences of working remotely for most of the past ten years, I agree with his perspective, and his approach to how leadership demands are different, yet the same as if you are in an office. The idea is that trust is a big part of things, and feeling connected to what you do and who you work with matters more than the physical location. I have found that to be very true. Over the years, I had developed some great working relationships with people I’d never met in person. Why? Because we kept our lines of communication open, discussed things with each other as frankly as we would had we been in the office–sometimes more so because we didn’t have to worry whether our conversations were private or not–and having people who were dedicated to the work that would put their full effort in. 

What is your reaction and your thoughts after reading this article? Include your comments below. 

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Is remote work finally back on track in tech comm?

Photo of woman doing remote tech work from home/Photo by Microsoft.Today, I was reading Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post about remote work, and how Facebook is realizing that a lot of people like remote work. Surprise, surprise! They acknowledge there’s some down-sides to working remote in some cases, but they want to figure out how to resolve those issues and make it a viable option for more employees (not all, mind you).  You can read the entire post on Facebook, but the paragraph that caught my eye the most was this one:

This is probably overdue. Over the past few decades, economic growth in the US has been quite concentrated, with major companies often hiring in a handful metropolitan areas. That means we’ve been missing out on a lot of talented people just because they happen to live outside a major hub. Creating opportunities beyond these cities could also be part of the economic recovery, especially if more companies hire remotely as well.

No kidding, Zuckerberg! This has put a lot of talented people out of reach of you and other companies with the same practice. You’re just figuring this out now?

It also made me think about where we might be today if remote work hadn’t been disrupted several years ago. When was that? It was when Marissa Mayer of Yahoo ordered all positions had to be connected to an office, and there was no remote work for Yahoo anymore. That set a BAD precedence that other tech leaders decided to follow. I said that when it happened back in 2013, and it still applies now. That move set back remote work in the tech world at least a decade or so, and it’s taken a pandemic to force the issue now.

I’m glad to see Facebook and Twitter and other big tech companies start to realize and embrace that remote work is viable. Yes, there are still some issues to work out, especially for those who are not used to being without a physical office dynamic. But for those of us who have been almost begging for more remote opportunities, especially those in tech comm where being in person isn’t always a necessity all the time, it will hopefully expand our job opportunities so that technical communicators can finally work in places where we know we can without having to relocate if we don’t need to. (I’m one of those people who need to stay put because of services related to my son’s special ed education.) Hopefully these changes that are happening will be the new precedence that will have many more companies–even those outside of tech–realize that remote work IS viable for so many of us, and that it should be supported and embraced in order to attract the best talent out there. It doesn’t have to be for everyone, but those who prefer that work should have more opportunities and be supported in those opportunities.  Who knows? Perhaps we’d have a better environment with fewer commuters, more local community participation and support for the local economies, more affordable housing options, better interconnectivity infrastructure, and companies could save money while workers could actually find work!

What do you think? Include your comments below.

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A reflection: Finding work during lockdown….PFFFT.

Tina Fey doing an eye roll in disbeliefAs I write this, we’ve been under shelter-in-place for almost nine weeks where I live. Where I live, we are very much near the heart of where the worst outbreaks are in the United States. With the exception of leaving the house only to go grocery shopping, a couple trips to home improvement stores (my husband wants to renovate our master bathroom), and a few trips to pick up takeaway food now and then, we’ve stayed home. We haven’t left anyplace outside of a 20-mile radius of our home. We wear masks everywhere we go now. It’s our new reality.

Many have now adjusted to this new reality of working from home or doing school from home. At my house, this wasn’t much of an adjustment. We were homebodies for the most part anyway, and both my husband and I are used to trying to work from home. It took some adjustment for my son to get used to doing his college class from home, but with the help of his tutor (also known as me, his mom) to help him navigate through online classes (since I’m a veteran online student), he actually did better than attending his online classes. He got a final grade of a B for the class, which was a huge relief for his father and I, since we hoped that he’d at least pass with a C so that he didn’t have to take the class over (he was actually failing the class before classes were pushed online).  We also had a death in our family–my father-in-law passed away at the beginning of April due to complications from prostate cancer (not COVID-19), so that really affected us strongly for about a week or two that it was difficult to concentrate on things. But we made it through a rough April, and now it’s May, and I keep hoping that things will get better.

One of the most difficult things I’m trying to get through right now is not working. Now, remember, I haven’t really been working all year, and right now with the pandemic, a lot of people aren’t working.  I am constantly reminding myself that I’m in a good place–my husband is still gainfully employed and busy, and I’m receiving unemployment for now. I also have savings–because a smart consultant puts money away because it can be a while between gigs sometimes–to live off of. Since we aren’t going out as much, I’ve actually been saving a lot of money, and I’ve joined the bandwagon of making more homemade food, including being encouraged by other tech comm bakers to learn how to make sourdough starter and start baking different bread products (I’m starting to get pretty good at it).

But I digress…while baking as a hobby is a great distraction, it’s not working. When you’ve been “between jobs” since the end of 2019, you start to lose hope of finding something. I’ve been through this before, where I hadn’t found anything for as much as a year. I fear that this is happening again. Before the pandemic hit, I could already see signs that another recession was going to hit, which often hits consultants and tech comm the hardest, from what I remember in the past decade.  This pandemic isn’t helping at all. I’m starting to see the ridiculous job descriptions where the potential employer asks for crazy requirements, 100 people will apply, and they’ll find that one person that has those requirements. Or they are short-changing people with the rates they are offering for that job.  Or, they’ve just stopped their hiring until this pandemic ends, which is indeterminate at this point.

It’s that last one that’s really hitting me hardest right now.  I was finally starting to make some progress finding work. I had sent out dozens of applications out, and in most instances, I either never heard back or I got a flat out rejection. Some employers would take as much as two months to send you a rejection letter! Or, in my case, it’s somewhat worse. I was called by a few companies, and got past the first few interviews–in one instance, I was even getting to the last stage where they wanted me to come up with a test presentation and we were setting up the date to do the presentation, and it was all cut off. All hiring has been frozen indefinitely until the pandemic ends. At the rate that I see it, that means it could still be several months before things free up and hiring is back in action. Now, I’ve been assured that it was not a reflection of their interest in me, and that once things open up again, they want to pick up where they left off. While I understand that it’s all about business and not a personal reflection on me, I can’t help but still take it personally.

I’m sure I’m not alone feeling like this. Heck, I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been through this kind of uncertainty before–of not knowing when I’m going to secure another gig (contract, permanent, or otherwise). Nobody feels good when you don’t have a job, and you want to be productive and be able to support yourself and/or your family. That’s normal. This applies to everyone who isn’t working right now, not just those in technical communications.

But this is much different. In the past, there were fewer obstacles. It was just time being against us, nothing else. Excuses of budgets and headcounts, and not enough work to distribute (although everyone else would normally be overworked anyway) never flew well before, and with cutbacks now due to the pandemic and economics, it’s worse. There was always a sense that you wouldn’t know when things would improve, but now that uncertainty is heightened. This pandemic is an obstacle. If anything, it’s the biggest obstacle that any of us–again, not just tech comm’ers–have to face while looking for work.  And we have an advantage–we are in a field when we can actually do work from home, and many can adapt to working from home more easily. We’re used to adapting constantly, as that’s part of what makes a good technical communicator. But when your doubts about your abilities are heightened, your fears are heightened, and that uncertainty point thinking that it will eventually end is taken away, it becomes terrifying. There is no end point, no point when you think it might finally turn around. It’s a feeling of hopelessness that consumes you, because when you are trapped inside, and you can’t actively be part of society anymore that things start to crumble.

If you are still working, consider yourself blessed. Yes, it might not be the most ideal situation working from home if you aren’t used to it, but you still have the ability to put your brain to work doing what you do best and get paid for it. There are a lot of us who are like me now, looking for work, and finding it harder and harder to find anything, despite reports that there are more technical communications jobs out there. I don’t see them. They are disguised as programmer jobs and marketing jobs. Some can do those, but I’m not one of them. I’m not a programmer who can write; I’m a writer who understands some bits about programming. I’m not a marketer who understands content; I’m a content strategist and manager who understands how marketing can fit into that.  I know I have a good mind, good ideas, and if I’ve learned anything about myself during this pandemic, is that as much as I like to work alone and at home, I also can’t work in a vacuum. I can’t be the only one working on an idea. I feed off of other people and their ideas, and work to incorporate bits and pieces from different sources into something more collectively derived. But I can’t even practice that because everything has been put on hold indefinitely, with no end in sight, and that’s incredibly destabilizing. You can only keep up for so long without feeling like you are losing your edge.

About a year ago, I had a talk with someone about trying to figure out what to do next, and was trying to figure out what additional training I might need (and this was just as I was starting yet another certificate course) to try to get ahead. Her advice was to stop trying to take so many courses. Yes, keep up with what’s going on out there, but I already had the know-how, and it was just a matter of finding the best place that I could use it, and that I should stop trying to waste my time trying to get additional credentials to bolster my position. She said that I have what I need already.  I’m looking at things a year later, and going through the same questions still. Really? Are you sure that I have “it”? Because if I had “it”, would people be clamoring to bring me into their companies? Wouldn’t I have several offers laid out before me and I’d have to choose? I haven’t had many choices for years. Sometimes a step back in order to take one forward later doesn’t work. I’ve been stuck and I need to move forward, yet I feel like I keep moving backwards. For an “old woman”, I’m ready to move forward and “chomping at the bit” to learn and get ahead instead of being stuck where I am, which is unemployed and stuck in my career.  I still like tech comm, but it’s continually difficult when the unspoken rules keep changing, and I can’t keep up, especially in being something that I’m not.  And again, I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels like that right now.

All I can do is hope that this pandemic ends sooner than later. It infuriates me to see people not following the basic guidelines or rules in staying home or the limitations in going out in order to flatten the curve so we can get back to more normal business soon. This affects everyone, obviously, but those of us who are out of work feel it the most. Again, I remind myself that my day will come, I’ll find work and feel like I’m worthwhile and participating in life again, even if it’s from home in a shelter-in-place circumstance. But it doesn’t feel like it’s anytime soon. There will be a new normalcy when this is all over, but I can’t wait for that normalcy to start, and I wish we had even a slight clue as to when that will happen, even if we don’t have an exact date. It’s hard when you don’t know when you have something to look forward to.

If you are out of work right now, how are you handling things? Include your comments below.

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How Gen Z can succeed during a recession, from a millennial who’s been there – Forbes

The current pandemic is unprecedented, but there are some clear economic lessons to be learned from the 2008 financial crisis. – Elizabeth Segran

How Gen Z can succeed during a recession, from a millennial who’s been there

I found this article on LinkedIn today, and while it’s geared towards the Gen-Z generation looking for work from the perspective of a millennial, I could relate to it. As many know, I’m clearly and proudly a Gen-X person, but my career was on hold in the early 2000s as I took some time off to be a stay-at-home mom. When I went to rejoin the working world, I had a hard time getting back in, and just as I was about to make some headway, that same “Great Recession” described in the article hit. So, me restarting my career coincided with the millennials, and unlike the 70% of millennials who have eventually gotten permanent jobs lasting 5 years or more, I’m still stuck in the gig economy–not by choice.

That said, ignore the bit about the generational stuff in this article, and focus more on the rest of it. It talks about the benefits of having to steer a career through a gig economy then and now, and that we will emerge from it. It’s not going to be easy–it hasn’t been easy so far–but there are some good takeaways from this article that could benefit everyone who is fearful about losing their job due to COVID19 right now.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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