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TechCommGeekMom’s 2013 Year in Review

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TechCommGeekMom visits Multnomah Falls during her Lavacon/Adobe Day 2013 visit to the Portland, OR area.

Okay, I’ll admit this is going to be a slightly self-indulgent (and slightly long) blog post. I read something recently that said that there shouldn’t be so much “self-promotion” in promoting your blog. This has always been a blog that not only encourages community, but it also tracks my own journey through technical communications, for better or worse. Taking the time to do the year-end review of what’s gone on in the past year is a good exercise for anyone.

At first, I thought my year wasn’t all that great, meaning that it wasn’t exciting. I hadn’t achieved some things that I wanted to do; I did not fulfill all my tech comm resolutions for the year. But as I looked through photos of the past year on my mobile devices to come up with something to put in this blog post, I realized that a LOT of good things still happened this year.

The year started off with a bang, as I was finally working full-time after a year of unemployment.  The new job ended up being a good opportunity. I get to work from home, I’m being paid well (a lot better than I ever had before), and it’s doing something that comes naturally to me–content management. I have had the chance to use my UX and web design abilities during this position, too. Things have gone well enough that my contract has been extended for another year.  I know that there’s a good chance that later in 2014, the company I’m contracted to will be switching CMS software, so it’ll be an opportunity to learn a new system and flex those content management muscles. I’m looking forward to it! It’s been a long time since I had a job that I truly enjoyed and feel appreciated for what I do. In past positions, I would offer my suggestions and advice based on what I had learned from my social media connections, graduate school courses, conferences, and personal experience, and I’d be ignored. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t take my suggestion if there’s something valid that will discount it, but using the excuse of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s what the end user is used to, so why change it?” doesn’t cut it for me. There’s always a better way. This was the first position that actually gave me a chance to use my voice and makes some executive decisions that would benefit the end user. My manager supports my decisions 99% of the time, so that’s been a huge load off my shoulders. Stress has not been a major issue with this job, and I know I’m fortunate to have made this employment connection.

Having a job, and a good job at that, would make for a good year. But there’s been more.

2013 was the year that I started to go out on the public speaking circuit. It started with my first conference presentation at the STC-PMC Conference in March, followed by two webinars this past fall. Three presentations might not sound like a lot, but considering that I have only presented to my tech comm peers twice beforehand (my capstone presentation at grad school and an Adobe Webinar that Maxwell Hoffmann helped me with immensely in 2012), and all these presentations were STC-related, I figure that’s a pretty good feather to add to my cap.  I’ve been told that the presentations were well-received, and I have gotten some good feedback, so I consider that a big success.

I also added an additional writing credential to my repetoire.  I started writing a by-line for the STC Notebook blog that started out as a column as a newcomer for the 2013 STC Summit. That column has now turned into a regular monthly column for the STC Notebook called Villegas Views. Again, I feel like I’ve received some good feedback on my writing there, so that’s another success.

I attended three conferences this year, namely the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, the STC Summit, and Lavacon (although I was only at Lavacon for a day–hey, I still need to write about that! I’ll try to get to that soon!).  The biggest one, of course, was the Summit, which was mindblowing for me. I loved being able to travel, considering I work from home day in and day out. (I’m not complaining, but it was a welcome change of scenery.) Actually, all the conferences were wonderful and overwhelming at the same time, and that sense of feeling somewhere that I belonged was never more evident than when I attended these events. I’m SO glad I did, and that leads me to the last thing that I found to be the greatest part of this year.

While I had started to develop some professional connections in 2012 through social media and through my first visit to Adobe Day at Lavacon in 2012, both social media and these conferences enabled me to expand my professional connections exponentially. However, it became more than just professional connections.  I’ve ended up making some fantastic friends along the way.  I know most people don’t think of me as being shy or introverted, but I actually am. I’m horribly awkward socially , and I know it.  Social media helped with the introductions, for sure. A few in-person introductions have helped as well. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but I have found that technical communicators to be one of the most friendly and inviting groups of people I’ve ever met. I have appreciated every person who introduced himself or herself to me in person when knowing me from my blog or a social media connection. I’ve appreciated the friendships that have developed over time from these connections. I’ve loved having some of these friendships with those who are industry leaders develop into mentorships as well. When one of those supportive mentors encourage me or tell me how proud they are of my accomplishments, I want to cry tears of joy. (Heck, I’m crying tears of joy just writing this!) For so long, I’ve felt like an outsider, so to have my professional peers look to me as an equal and show me constant support and encouragment is a huge boost that I’ve needed for years.

This blog has grown, too. The numbers aren’t done for the year yet as I write this, but I’ve added a lot more readers and had more response to TechCommGeekMom in 2013 than in 2012. I’m sure I’ll be doing more celebrating when the blog hits its second “birthday” in March, but for the calendar year, it’s been great. I know I haven’t always been able to keep up with this blog as much as I liked during this year, but I feel like the efforts that were made to grow and expand have been supported by the tech comm community.

So, thanks to all of you for reading my posts either here, on the STC Notebook, or in social media. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share ideas with me. Thanks for continually teaching me more about technical communication, and helping me to expand my mind and my understanding of this profession, and teaching me how I can continue to grow in this profession.

2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year as well. I will be attending three conferences before the year is halfway done, of which I’ll be presenting at two of them, I believe. I know, for sure, that one of the conferences I’ll be presenting at is the STC Summit 2014! That’s a big deal to me. I mean, think about it–only out of grad school two years, and already presenting at the annual Summit? Not too shabby, I would think.  I’ll be continuing to write here at TechCommGeekMom, and I’ll still be writing my by-line for STC Notebook, and I’m hoping that there will be some more opportunities to do presentations either in-person or in webinars.

2013 has been quite the year for me…time will tell how 2014 will be!

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In Conversation with Adobe: Danielle Villegas–Review of Marcia Riefer Johnston’s “Word Up”

While I was at the 2013 STC Summit, I was asked to talk to Adobe about Marcia Riefer Johnston’s book, Word Up, which we all know is a subject I’m happy to discuss.

Here is the end result–hey Ma, look! I’m on (Adobe) TV!

AdobeTV-STC13 - Danielle Villegas

In Conversation with Adobe
Thought Leadership Interview Series @ STC SUMMIT 2013

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TechCommGeekMom’s Excellent Adventure – A look back at STC Summit 2013

pogueaud-a1OK, I know it’s been more than a month since the 2013 STC Summit ended, but I promise this is the last blog entry I’m going to do about it. No, seriously. I mean it. I was writing up so many blog posts for the STC and about Adobe Day, that I think I got a little burnt out on writing, so I had to take a slight break for a bit, just to catch my breath, so to speak.

Even so, I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy this post which consists of images of me on the trip, just to prove I was there! Sometimes sharing the photos is much more fun, don’t you think?

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My first night in Atlanta was spent with a college friend of mind whom I hadn’t seen in person in at least twenty years! She took me to the oldest and largest drive-in restaurant in Atlanta called the Varsity. First-timers had to wear the hat! I made the best of it.
This was the greeting I had on the TV in my hotel room. I just thought this was cool. I was already feeling rather welcomed!
This was the greeting I had on the TV in my hotel room. I just thought this was cool. I was already feeling rather welcomed!
The Grand Hyatt in Atlanta was huge! This structure in the middle of the hotel's main lobby certainly captured one's attention!
The Grand Hyatt in Atlanta was huge! This structure in the middle of the hotel’s main lobby certainly captured one’s attention! My son even thought it was crazy seeing it through Skype while I was there.
On the first day of the Summit, I had the privilege of doing the Twitter feed for Adobe Day for Adobe. Thanks,  y'all! I'm there in the center with the light yellow shirt on.  --Photo courtesy of Maxwell Hoffmann
On the first day of the Summit, I had the privilege of doing the Twitter feed for Adobe Day for Adobe. Thanks, y’all! I’m there in the center with the light yellow shirt on.
–Photo courtesy of Maxwell Hoffmann
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I spent my afternoon with fellow STC Summit attendee, Kim L., and we visited the World of Coca-Cola. Here’s an old bottle from my home state of NJ!
Later, on the first night of the Summit itself, all the first timers were asked to stand up during the Summit opening. Again, can't miss me standing in the middle there.
Later, on the first night of the Summit itself, all the first timers were asked to stand up during the Summit opening. Again, can’t miss me standing in the middle there.
–Photo courtesy of  STC
I was shocked, in the middle of the opening presentation, to see my name "up in lights"!
I was shocked, in the middle of the opening presentation, to see my name “up in lights”! Thanks to STC’s Kevin Cuddihy for sending this to me.
The keynote speaker, David Pogue, was fantastic. I really enjoyed his presentation.
The keynote speaker, David Pogue, was fantastic. I really enjoyed his presentation.
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Here’s the entrance to the vendor showcase…which to me, was more like walking into a tech comm wonderland!
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If I only had the supermodel figure to match…Me doing my best presentation pose of the cool typewriter that Adobe was giving away.
–Photo courtesy of Maxwell Hoffmann of Adobe.
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Here I am during one of my many pitstops to talk with my friends Connie and Al from TechWhirl.
–Photo courtesy of Rachel Houghton.
On the last night of the Summit, I took a "field trip" on my own, and went to see a talk by documentary filmmaker, Joe Cross. He used to weigh 100+ lbs more than he does in this photo, and the film he made was about how he lost the weight through juicing for 60 days. If you are looking for inspiration for healthy eating, find the film, "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead." It's an awesome movie. And yes, I got to meet Joe in person, obviously.
On the last night of the Summit, I took a “field trip” on my own, and went to see a talk by documentary filmmaker, Joe Cross. He used to weigh 100+ lbs more than he does in this photo (he’s a hottie now!), and the film he made was about how he lost the weight through juicing for 60 days. If you are looking for inspiration for healthy eating, find the film, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” and check out RebootWithJoe.com. It’s an awesome movie. And yes, I got to meet Joe in person, obviously.
Oddly enough, people would come to talk to me not about being TechCommGeekMom, but rather because of my notetaking set-up that was color coordinated! It's just a regular iPad3 and Apple wireless keyboard, but the iPad cover is by Brookstone, and there's a matching "skin" that I got for the keyboard from either Amazon or eBay very cheaply. For whatever reason, it captured a lot of attention! Hey, at least I kept my word that I would use mobile exclusively at the Summit, and I did!
Oddly enough, people would come to talk to me at the education sessions not about being TechCommGeekMom, but rather because of my notetaking set-up that was color-coordinated! It’s just a regular iPad3 and Apple wireless keyboard, but the iPad cover is by Brookstone, and there’s a matching “skin” that I got for the keyboard from either Amazon or eBay very cheaply. For whatever reason, it captured a lot of attention! Hey, at least I kept my word that I would use mobile exclusively at the Summit, and I did!

I will close this with another surprise I got, which I think is appropriate. Jamie Gillenwater did a lightning talk about 101 things to love about tech comm, which included a few quotes of mine. I was honored that she actually used some of the feedback I had sent her! Her last slide was a quote of mine, too, and considering I had forgotten that I gave her this tidbit, I thought it was pretty good, if I do say so myself! I was especially honored that she used this one, as I still find it to be true, especially after my experiences at the 2013 Summit. 

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little photo essay. I really enjoyed my time at the STC Summit, and I really hope that I’ll be able to go next year to the conference when it’s in Phoenix!

Things have been very busy for me at work, to the point that it’s been difficult to keep up with things here on the blog. But fear not! There is always more to come on TechCommGeekMom! Stay tuned!

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Recap of the Adobe Day “Coachella” – Tech Comm Rock Stars abound!

KSM ROTHBURY packing up 5Adobe Day at the 2013 STC Summit was really great. It took me a while to digest all my own notes and relive the moments promoting the rock stars of tech comm. But like all good music festivals, the “Coachella” of tech comm had to end, but with great memories of fantastic information that will stay with me for a long time. Hopefully you enjoyed this “magical mystery tour” as well!

There were several people from Adobe that were truly instrumental in making this event a success, but I have to “give it up” for the two Masters of Ceremony of the event, Saibal Bhatacharjee and Maxwell Hoffmann.

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Saibal Bhattacharjee

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Maxwell Hoffmann

So many people know them from the Adobe TCS webinars, blogs, and other social media outlets. I know they’ve been two of my greatest supporters, so I want to thank them for inviting me to the event, and as always, making me feel welcome both during Adobe Day, as well as during the STC Summit.

If you missed my series for this Adobe Day event, here’s a recap, so you can relive the day yourself:

 macca

Maybe I’m Amazed I met this Tech Comm legend…

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How does that jagged little pill of content strategy go down?

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Get your motor runnin’…Head out on the [mobile] highway…

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XML Metrics are the Coldplay of the Tech Comm World

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If Tech Comm had its own Coachella, how would it be done?

I hope you’ve enjoyed all the articles. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below!

The next time there is an Adobe Day near you, or if you have the opportunity to go to one, I strongly encourage you to go! I’ve now been to two of them, and both were different.  It’s amazing to see how perspectives change on the “hot” issues of tech comm in a mere few months! I was glad to hear from leading experts on the pressing topics of the day. And I have to say, I’ve learned so much from both visits. I can honestly say, as well, that both provided information that were applicable to my job, even as a new technical communicator.  Keeping up with current trends in technical communication is important, because technology is changing fast, and technical communicators need to keep up with not only the technology itself, but the needs that new technology presents. Adobe does a nice job of bringing the best thought leadership from around the globe to talk about these issues  for free. How can you pass that up?

Thanks again, Adobe, for an amazing opportunity to attend this free event!

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Maybe I’m Amazed I met this Tech Comm legend…

macca“Excuse me, Dr. Corfield, I’m tweeting this event for Adobe today. Would you happen to have a Twitter handle?”

With the apology that he hadn’t one, but that he did have a Facebook page, I had started a too-short yet lovely pre-event chat with Dr. Charles Corfield, the keynote speaker for the 2013 STC Summit’s Adobe Day. In my mind, being the inventor of Adobe Framemaker would easily qualify the tech comm pioneer for the Tech Comm Hall of Fame (if there was such a thing). For me, talking to Dr. Corfield was like talking to the Paul McCartney of tech comm (and that’s super high praise coming from a Macca fan like me!). Just as McCartney is unequivocally deemed as one of the early pioneers who revolutionized how we listen to rock music today, Corfield helped to revolutionize tech comm with his creation of Framemaker, and in the process, created what we know as a software standard for technical communication that still holds up today. I loved listening to Dr. Corfield’s soft-spoken, British accent as he chatted with me briefly about social media and about some of the things he was going to be talking about in his presentation. I was truly having a fangirl moment, and hopefully I kept my cool during the conversation. Awesome!

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Dr. Charles Corfield
The “Father” of Framemaker

Dr. Corfield started his talk by presenting us with a history of how Framemaker came about. He explained that before Framemaker, computing was still fairly archaic, but workstation computers were starting to become more powerful. As a graduate student at Columbia, he was looking to create software that could take things a step beyond word processing, namely make software that could also create unified pagination and page layouts. Framemaker allowed page layouts and paginatable text to work in a symmetrical flow. The software targeted long documents and other paper output done by humans.

Dr. Corfield pointed out that the first content management problems started to occur as a result, and those issues included the need for internal references, such as footnotes, indexes, cross references,  and markers. The power of Framemaker’s ability to create indices to update long documentation was–and still is–more powerful than Microsoft Word even today. He also added the ability to refer to external factors like external references and hypertext.

Framemaker created the ability to manage variants of a single document, leading to what we now think of as single source publishing. Variants would be such objects as variables, conditional text, frozen pagination and change-pages. This yielded a new dilemma. As Corfield posed it, do you send out fully changed documentation or only the pages that were changed, especially with super large documents? The problem would be that with big documents, people would say, “Well, what changed?” Corfield pointed out the Boeing 777 project in 1990s needed IMMENSE documentation, so they needed to use retrievable databases. The Boeing 777 project solution was to use SGML (the predecessor of HTML and XML). This project made it the first “web” delivery of documentation. The Boeing 777 project used Framemaker with SGML, using HTML, XML, DITA as well as “structure.” Framemaker provided a server-based generation of documentation.

Shifting his talk a bit, Dr. Corfield started to talk about Framemaker’s impact today.  He pointed out that the original retina display was actually paper! Sophisticated layouts had to be used to maximize the user-experience. The computer came along later to expand on that concept. Displays started out with 72 dpi (dots per inch) displays, which led to crude layouts. Now, retina display is available at 300 dpi, but we need to re-learn what we did on paper yet also include dynamic content from high resolution video and images.  Corfield pointed out that there has been a proliferation of platforms. We have desktop, laptops, smartphones, and tablets that use different platforms such as Unix, DOS, and MacOS (for PC and Mac products respectively) that need different outputs. Technical writing, therefore, is directly impacted by all the different displays and platforms in relation to  document authoring. It is a requirement to produce structure and rich layouts for the output. Documentation needs to be able to support dynamic content (video, animation, etc.) and it needs to manage content for consumption on multiple platforms. The good news is that Framemaker can do all that! While there are other tools out there that can also deliver different kinds of output, many still struggle to manage and deliver to these needs the same way that Framemaker can now. Dr. Corfield is not part of Adobe anymore, nor is he part of today’s Framemaker product, but he seems happy with where the product has gone since he left it in Adobe’s hands.

(I should note, that while this was a talk sponsored by Adobe, this really wasn’t intended to be a big info-mercial for Framemaker, but rather something that puts the concept of tech comm software into perspective, and it happens to be the product of the sponsor.)

So, where does this tech comm legend think technology is going next? Corfield thinks that going forward, voice is going to have the biggest impact. He felt that screen real estate is full, and that much of the visual is about adding a new widget, then removing a widget. Voice, he continued, eliminates how keyboard shortcuts are remembered. How many keyboard shortcuts does the average user know? Touch screens are a slow way to perform data entry. The impact of voice will be the ability to use visual tips, and have voice act as a virtual keyboard. Voice will be impacting product documentation, allowing it to understand how existing workflows can be modified. Corfield’s prediction is that Framemaker, along with other software out on the market, will “assimilate” voice, just like everything else.

Since leaving Framemaker, Corfield has been working with a product called SayIt, using voice as part of workflow optimization, and emphasized that voice truly is the next big thing (you heard it here, folks!). When asked about the use of voice technology in practical office use, Corfield responded that push-to-talk technology helps prevent cross-talk in an office environment. He also pointed out that with voice, there are no ergonomic issues as there are with carpel tunnel syndrome using a mouse and keyboard. If anything, voice will be more helpful!

On that note, the presentation was over. The long and winding road had ended, but has lead to new doors to be opened. 😉

I really enjoyed listening to the history and the thought process behind Framemaker that Dr. Corfield presented. Everything he mentioned made total sense, and it’s to his credit that he had the foresight to think about the next steps in word processing to create a useful tool like Framemaker to help technical writers meet the needs of documentation in the digital age.

There is a certain aura around creative, imaginative and smart people who make huge differences in our lives, whether it’s in music like McCartney, or tech comm software like Corfield. You can’t help but be awed in their presence, and yet understand that they are generally humble people.  When you have a chance to meet an individual like that, you want the opportunity to capture the moment–like have a picture of yourself and that person to prove that it happened. I was much too shy to ask Dr. Corfield for a photo with me to be honest. I felt awkward asking, so I didn’t. Heck, I felt awkward asking about his potential Twitter name! Even so, I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet him and hear him speak.  He’s got my vote as a candidate for the Tech Comm Hall of Fame someday.

(And, Dr. Corfield, if you do ever read this, please feel free to correct anything written here or add any clarification or other commentary below!)