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So, how was your 2020? Good for you, too?

Let’s face it–2020 was a horrible year for everyone for a variety of reasons. And it was no different for me. One of the things I’m trying to do as I reflect back is understand how lucky I was in so many respects. No one in my immediate family has gotten COVID at this point. No one in my immediate family had died from COVID. My husband didn’t lose his job (since he’s the main breadwinner of the family), we didn’t lose our house, no one got horribly sick with anything that couldn’t easily be treated, no one went hungry–nothing like that. In that respect, I count my blessings.

Things that weren’t so good were included that we lost my father-in-law during this pandemic. He was located in another country, and my husband couldn’t even travel to say goodbye or pay his respects. He had to be on a video call with his half-brother to watch his father be buried. I lost two friends this fall from STC, which made me sad, and one of my best friends lost her mother a few weeks ago. A year ago exactly, I was let go from a job I wasn’t happy with, but the release from my contract was sudden and without much warning and was not handled well. I thought I had something lined up…a friend from graduate school had given me the lead, and I got the job. It would’ve been the most lucrative thing I’d done, and I was up to the challenge, but that fell apart before the pandemic hit. Having missed the new year window of job opportunities (most job listings are around the new year and the fiscal new year in July), I struggled to find opportunities and get interviews. And then…the pandemic hit, and hiring freezes were abound. While I had unemployment insurance funds to get me through for a while, it was a good thing that I am always saving money and conservative with my money, because I had to go into my nest egg for most of the year. I did pick up a few small side gigs–and that helped to not only buoy my finances, but also my confidence when it was at an all-time low.

You see, for most of this year, I was in a deep funk of depression. People would call me “inspirational” for constantly trying to pursue work and keep things going. I can assure you now, there’s nothing inspirational about it. It’s called survival and doing what you have to do, even if you aren’t up to doing it. 

Job hunting constantly is exhausting in and of itself, but constantly getting “ghosted” and rejected takes a toll on you after a while, or getting some big rejections when you thought you were getting close to securing that job that you wanted…it can be a big blow to your ego. Now, imagine doing that for almost a year. I even had one job offer that I was looking forward to, only to have an opportunity–for the second time in the same year–retracted due to no fault of my own. I mentioned the first one at the beginning of this year. It was a situation where I was the sub-contractor, and the client decided that they were not ready to go through the project after all, so they dumped the project, so I had to be dumped in the process as well. No fault of mine.  The second one was the fault of the recruiter. Because of some sort of legal mumbo-jumbo going on with drawing up the contracts for my consulting employment with the client, the deal didn’t go down–after I had already faced some daunting and difficult interviews to secure the job in the first place. I was really starting to lose hope, and I spent a good part of my year trying to figure out the answer to the question, “What’s my next move?” Frankly, I had no idea. Part of that involved reminding myself that I probably wasn’t doing anything wrong at all–it’s just the circumstances of what’s been going on with a pandemic. 

Add to that other stresses going on. My son started college at the local community college at the beginning of the year. He’d had problems with the program he was in during the last quarter of 2019, and he’d been asked to leave–essentially because the educational facility where he was didn’t have any clue how to support his special needs appropriately. It was a blessing in disguise, because now he’s in a good program at this local community college. However, he still has to get general education requirements out of the way, and those have been a challenge. Between his dad and I (mostly me), he’s halfway through the general education classes, and passing with what’s probably a mid-to-low B average.  He was just starting to gain some independence when that was taken away because he couldn’t go into classes on campus. That was a big step for him. and the pandemic set him back quite a bit.

The last stressor was my chapter–STC-Philadelphia. For whatever reason, pulling in new volunteers has been difficult for the last few years, and I knew that if we continued in the same way we have been, the chapter wouldn’t be sustainable for much longer, and it would fold. We lost some money due to the CONDUIT conference we had to eventually cancel due to the pandemic. So, a big part of my year was trying to reorganize and try to keep the chapter afloat, bring in new people, and set new expectations to stay afloat. I couldn’t bear the weight of it all on my shoulders anymore.

Things didn’t finally start to turn around until the end of October, which was good because I thought I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown by that point. But they started to improve, just in time.

First, I was grateful that I had those smaller gigs, because when I needed a little boost that validated that yes, I do have the skills and experience needed to do something, I had it. Thanks to Kevin Siegel for being one of those people who gave me a chance, even though it was short term. I enjoyed the work very much. But I was also happy for finally finding work that I’m enjoying now and getting compensated appropriately for. I like working for a manager speaks the same content design and UX design language as I do. One of her requirements was that she wanted someone who’s active in STC, and I’ve got that in spades! My suggestions and recommendations are not nixed, and I actually feel valued again. That’s all anyone really wants with their job, if you think about it. They want to feel productive in what they do, valued for what they do and think, and compensated fairly for being productive and valuable. I’m getting that now, so just for that, much of my depression has been lifted.

Next, my chapter is still afloat. We have a new team that’s starting to come together now, and the new chapter president is doing fine. I still advise, but the weight is off my shoulders. In fact, I was able to move into new volunteer opportunities. I was invited to be on the STC Education Committee and the STC Community Affairs Committee (CAC), both of which are high profile groups at the Society level. I’ve been working hard in those groups, and finding my value there, and getting great support from the chairs of those committees.

And…while the deaths of friends and family weren’t due to COVID, COVID did have an impact. I’m hoping that now that the US has a new president and vice-president elected, things will get better. Like many in the US, I was on pins and needles until that final count came in. I cried for joy for hours–something I’ve never done in a situation like that before. Why? Because of the relief that some semblance of “normalcy” and decency is going to be brought back to our government. The US is not out of the woods yet–it’s still going to be ugly for a while, but decency and morality and ethics prevailed in the end. That anxiety was alleviated a bit, too.

So, as 2021 begins, we still have a pandemic. We still won’t be able to do what we want to be doing. Not having a vacation or leaving the state is taking a toll. I need to break away, but being slightly immunocompromised, I really don’t want to take my chances outside my immediate area where most people are generally good about wearing masks and all the other stuff. (Yes, even in hard hit New Jersey.) I was looking forward to going back to conferences and seeing my friends. I’ve seen them online and in video chats, but it’s not the same. I haven’t seen any friends for ages except one and that’s only because she’s my dermatologist, too.

I think when all this pandemic stuff started, it hit me very hard and pulled me down hard because there seemed to be no end in sight. As a person with high-functioning autism, and just as a human being–I needed something that gave me some structure and something to look forward to. I couldn’t look forward to a vacation or anything like that all year. Now that a vaccine is out (even if I am not probably able to get it for another year), that means there’s some hope again–that there is an end in sight. In my eyes, it’s about a year from now. I’m thinking that things will be different this time next year. I will have probably finished up my current contract, and will be sad to go but on the hunt again. My son will have started the classes in his major and gained his newfound independence again. And “normalcy” will start to bloom again, albeit slowly, but surely.

One of my tech comm friends recently was down on herself because she didn’t hit any of her goals this year. Frankly, neither did I, except for one that I made later–stay alive! This is my goal for this year as well. We shouldn’t be hard on ourselves for not always attaining what we want to do. First, we’ve been in a pandemic, so we need to adjust. Secondly, this year, as horrible as it has been, has helped many people–including myself–realize what’s really most important to us. Survival and supportive personal relationships are key. You do what you have to do–physically, mentally, and emotionally to stay alive. Most of us have been on “Red Alert” all year, and haven’t had a chance to back down to “Yellow Alert” (sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek this past year), but I’m hoping that 2021 is that “Yellow Alert” year–where we still have to be cautious and use our heads, but pure survivalist instincts will take over. 

I’ve often reminded people of two things– humans are adaptable creatures, so anything thrown our way, we can learn to adapt. This was definitely a year of learning how to adapt! The other part of it is that life is not a race. Only matters of life and death should be rushed–all the rest is nice to have sooner than later. Even earlier today, I was talking to my husband (who is an IDL developer/programmer) about this, especially in relation to IT or tech comm work. Forcing patterns and speed help nothing. Agile is good in theory, but I’m seeing more and more often that good content and UX is sacrificed for the sake of speed getting it up. The “bling” of UX layout and visual design is still overridden over content. We talked about SCRUM and DITA, and where is works and other instances that it wouldn’t work. All of these things are worthy discussions and have valid guidelines for practice. Perhaps in light of what’s going on, it’s time to take a few steps back, take out time, and rethink things. What’s REALLY important? What’s more important to you and your users–that they get the info they want and need, or that your site looks “sexy”? 

My goals for 2021 are simple:

  1. Stay alive
    1. Get the vaccine when eligible
  2. Eat more veggies this year
  3. Move a little more (not exercise or exercise more regularly, just move)
  4. Stay in touch and support the people who I care about and support me in return
  5. Stay flexible and learn what I can in my current position. 

We never know what’s going to happen from year to year–despite the best laid plans. Keeping your plans simple will help you achieve them, and also help keep you feeling sane. Self-care and self-love can go a long way, so do it when you can. 

Here’s hoping for a better year ahead in 2021. Let’s be stealth and jump to Black Alert. (Really–it’s worth it if you watch a lot of the current Star Trek series. Great entertainment as well as mental motivators.) 

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The Nine Principles of UX Design Psychology: Can You Predict the Behavior of Your Users?

You design not a product, you design interaction with the user — the psychology for UX design

Source: The Nine Principles of UX Design Psychology: Can You Predict the Behavior of Your Users?

Thanks to CJ Walker for originally posting this article on Twitter. In this day and age, UX writing and design is becoming more and more important in how we interact with content. Just yesterday, I was working on content that from a UX standpoint didn’t work from a mobile context–it was set up to scroll horizontally for choice in one section, and vertically in another section. It made no sense knowing how people typically use their phones, and in the context of the content that I needed to post. I fixed it to be a better user experience, converting it to all vertical scrolling in this instance.

We can’t always fix these things so easily, but we do need to be vigilant. Users come in for content, but as any good technical communicator knows, if it’s not where they can find it easily, and it’s not displayed in a digestible way, the content is worthless. This is where content strategy/design, UX writing and design, and technical writing all come into play.

This is a really good read–the image in this article lists those rules, but it’s worth reading the details of what each involves.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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LavaCon 2020 is coming up! Get my special discount!

LavaCon 2020 banner

As 2020 winds down, there are still a few more virtual conferences that are scheduled, and among them is the very popular LavaCon.  I have attended them in Portland, and it was my introduction to the tech comm conference scene, and I haven’t looked back!

I’m not able to attend this year, but you can get register $100 off conference tuition if you use my referral code #DanielleM.Villegas.  Select the LavaCon banner above to register and again–use that discount!

I know Jack has some fun things planned–even virtually–so if you can go, do so! And don’t forget to stop by the virtual hall during the conference and say hello to any vendor who you’d might like to meet.

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Why We’re Moving From Content Strategy to Content Design

After over a decade of pushing to make our product experiences simple, straightforward and human, our Facebook Product Content Strategy…

Source: Why We’re Moving From Content Strategy to Content Design

This is interesting, and might help those of us who have been content strategists for a long time finally settle on…something. Finding work has been difficult since marketers have taken over the job title to make it into something that most of us in tech comm aren’t. The explanation in this makes sense, and perhaps going forward in job searches, I can search under “content designer”, with the hopes that those who are putting out the job postings aren’t looking for strictly UX or visual designers (I can do those thing, but on a limited basis).

What do you think of this move by Facebook? Include your comments below.


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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.