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What you so afraid of? Part II – The Tech Comm Edition

torchwood_jacktorturedI’ve been reflecting a lot, lately, into what makes me continue to pursue a technical career, especially in technical communications. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been doing in the last year to stay on top of trends and issues in the technical communications field, because the last thing that a prospective employer needs is someone who is stuck in his or her own ways, never learning and never progressing. Technology is constantly changing, and both technical communications at-large as well as the e-learning world are both in the flux of a “revolution”–a revolution that reflects that these fields are in the process of changing and revitalizing in order to keep up with modern thought and technological advances. One of the reason I try to stay as active as possible in social media is to stay on top of those trends and have an understanding of the current issues and advances in these fields so that I can go into a job understanding what the needs of a company are in order to help that company move forward.

And yet, it seems like there are so many companies, from my own observation, that are terrified of change and progress. Is it too much too soon? Perhaps it is. I’ve talked about this topic before at length specifically in regard to how the m-learning revolution is trying to make headway in the e-learning field in my post, “What Are You So Afraid Of?” back in July 2012. But as my most recent experiences personally have been more tech comm related, I’m starting to think that this fear of progress extends to the tech comm world as well.

I remember a big part of what was mentioned at the Adobe Day panel was the idea that as technical communicators, we understand the value of our work better than the higher-ups in managerial positions, and it’s our duty, in many respects to make sure that these higher-ups understand that value and the ROI (return on investment) that using structured content and other tools at a technical communicator’s disposal will benefit the company in the long run.  When I’ve gone on interviews or worked at various jobs, I talk about the advances that are going on involving mobile technology and how companies need to keep up with this fast-growing technology. While the interviewers or other people I speak with are impressed with my knowledge and agree the changes need to be made, the argument made is that the higher-ups, who don’t understand this value of technical communications as well as we do, insist on sticking with old ways, and slowing down progress for the sake of comfort levels. It’s a “Don’t fix what ain’t broken”-kind of mentality. I know that sometimes budgets can limit how soon progress is made, because ever-changing technological advances can be expensive, especially if one is always trying to keep up with the latest and greatest. But I also know that spending a lot of money on ancient systems that aren’t keeping up with current technology and even supporting such ancient technology and methods that aren’t even supported today is throwing money away too. Would we even have smartphones or cell phones if we settled for landline phones only? Would microprocessing computers have even been invented if we settled for manual typewriters long ago? Settling for the old doesn’t really benefit anyone, especially global companies that want to stay ahead of the competition.

The photo above is a favorite character on one of my favorite TV series, “Torchwood,” named Captain Jack. Captain Jack is generally a fearless guy, especially since he has some sort of capability where he cannot die. In that sense, when up against some sort of danger personally, he’s got nothing to lose at all. But since he’s lived for so long, he also respects the past and understands the full impact of his actions and how they affect others. Despite having nothing to lose by his actions, he’s actually the conservative one when it comes to making decisions, basing his actions on what he knows and what he researches first. He is cautious, but he’s not against trying something new if it makes sense. If you see him with a facial expression like the one he has above, you KNOW that something REALLY bad is going on, and it has greater repercussions beyond himself.

There are times that I have that same feeling, at least in my own mind.  While I respect that certain systems work and work well, and I know I’m not the most experienced technical communicator out there, I’ve done some due diligence, and again, I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world so that I’m ready to keep up with the latest advances and thought in the field. When I hear that companies are hesitant to budge from an old way of thinking, I feel frustrated. How are these companies supposed to keep their standings as world-class, advanced companies when their communications are not cutting edge, or at least up-to-date? Again, I understand that executive managers have to look at the full picture and work within budgets, but with a world that is going mobile faster than anyone can keep up with, why aren’t big companies even attempting to keep up even a little bit? Just as I had mentioned in the last article on this topic relating to m-learning mentioned above, I see it occurring in tech comm itself as well, with companies not keeping up with the latest version of how documentation outputs have to be changed to keep up with mobile technology. There is little risk with proven methods.

As a global economy–not just in the United States–we are trying to emerge from one of the biggest financial crises in economic history. Looking back at history, it’s usually during these times of economic woe that some of the greatest leaps in technology and business have been made, using great intellect and creativity to push things forward when resources were scarce. This is a time of emergence again. There are so many companies that have taken the leap forward to help take us to the next step. Smartphone and tablet manufacturers have brought us the next means of gathering information and providing communication between us. In turn, software manufacturers, like Adobe with TCS 4 and MadCap with Flare, among others, have provided us with tools to help take the content that technical communicators write to a new level of efficiency and flexibility among all the new mobile devices in the world while still keeping up with desktop capabilities.  If any companies embrace any of the changes that are going on in the technical communications field, they can deliver bigger and better communications thus benefitting from the changes, not being hindered by them.

So, what are you so afraid of, corporate world? Help technical communicators help you. Even the smallest step forward will be step towards a better future for your company.

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Hard Work and Persistence (Who Says OCD Is a Bad Thing?) Pays Off! : How I won an iPad

As someone who participated in Adobe’s TechComm Conundrum contest on Facebook, I can confidently say that it was not for the faint of heart! It combined one of my favorite topics—technical communications—with the thrill a researcher gets when hunting for clues. Many of my favorite television shows and movies often combine finding historical facts and clues to find a treasure of some sort at the end, whether it be an “ah-hah!” piece of important information, or some physical prize at the end.  As it turns out for me, it was a matter of having both at the end of my journey!

The TechComm Conundrum, for those who did not participate, was a series of questions and clues to learn more about technical communication history, as well as Adobe’s role in technical communications, on the way to find Adobe’s missing employee, Tina.  Being that I was trained to do research while I was a graduate student at NJIT’s MSPTC program, I knew that sometimes answers would be very obvious, and sometimes I would have to read between the lines.

Like many who did participate, I hit some brick walls along the way.  Many of the answers were right in the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4 videos, blog, and product page. Other answers required deeper searching, and using extensive Google searches, I found the information I needed. Some responses were more obvious than others, and I admit I learned a few new things about the technical communications field and its fantastic history. It made me proud to call myself a technical communicator, and reinforced the idea that I was glad to be a part of this field. It was fun.

For those who got that far but got stuck, like I did initially, the last question was the trickiest of all. Finding a connection between a photo of actors Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, the logo of FrameMaker, and a photo of produce at a market was daunting.  I found a connection between the actors, as they were all in the film titled, “The Kids Are Alright.”  But beyond that, I couldn’t figure out what that had to do with a photo of vegetables or FrameMaker.  I tried so many combinations of ideas to figure out the answer, and wasn’t getting very far. I wrote down all the answers on a sticky note by my computer, and for at least a good week, I would enter all the answers for the questions and get stumped at the last one.

Finally, I decided to look more carefully at FrameMaker’s history to see if that would yield any clues.  It was Wikipedia that finally yielded the clue I was seeking. In Wikipedia’s first line of the history of FrameMaker, it explains that FrameMaker’s original author, Charles “Nick” Corfield, designed FrameMaker to be a WYSIWYG document editor. Wait…WYSIWYG…that acronym stands for “What You See Is What You Get.” My mind started racing, as that’s an acronym I like to often use myself. Was it really that simple in the end? I was told later (after the contest) that Mark Ruffalo’s character in the movie owned a restaurant called “WYSIWYG”, although I didn’t know that since I hadn’t seen the movie. Nonetheless, I tried the acronym as my response, and gingerly hit the “Enter” button on my laptop to submit it.

EUREKA! That was it! The explorer finally had her “ah-hah” moment! There was true joy in deciphering something that was still stumping everyone else still playing. So, yesterday, when I found out that I had actually won one of the “grand prizes”—a new iPad—I was actually thrilled. I was informed that only two people—I was one of them—figured it out. The hard work to crack the code paid off!

Hopefully, Adobe will bring this contest back as a fun game, as I think the quiz is great for new technical communicators to learn about the rich history of the technical communications.  Talk about your active learning exercises through e-learning! (And I’ll bet it was created on Captivate, which is a featured product within Technical Communications Suite 4, too.)

Thanks, Adobe for such a fun ride—and the iPad!

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A bold move into the wild blue yonder, aka the Cloud!

After my recent run-in with scammers, I’ve now come to better appreciate cloud computing and everything that is has to offer. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but in having to restore several items and back up others very recently, I was glad that I had several cloud storage accounts set up, and that much of my software could be restored easily because I had downloaded them from cloud accounts. Some of the programs on my laptop which I didn’t worry about included most of my Adobe software. Why? Most of the programs I use were downloaded through the Creative Cloud 6 subscription I have. I’m glad I made that move, instead of getting the disks. Not that the disks would be bad–they would do the job too, but at least I’d have the latest and greatest on my system, no matter what.

Well, I was just reading on Twitter from @saibalb79, @maxwellhoffmann and @AdobeTCS that the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4 is cloud-bound! I think that’s awesome, really, and rather forward thinking. It supports mobile initiatives for some computers, like the impending Microsoft Surface, to be able to access the information more easily, but also for the rest of us as well. It appears that the subscription is offered either monthly at US$99.00 per month, or when signing up for a one-year plan, it would be US$69.00 per month. That seems like a pretty good deal if you ask me! Since I already have a copy of TCS4, I won’t need to subscribe for a while, but for those who have not upgraded yet, this seems like a great opportunity.

I think what’s also great about this is the fact that it works well with the idea of using Creative Cloud 6 apps in conjunction with the apps in TCS4. Imagine…always being up-to-date because you have subscriptions. I know that Microsoft is starting to promote this concept more as well, but knowing that Adobe is trying to stay on the cutting edge and keep up with technological needs and taking advantage of the cloud more and more is rather proactive thinking, in my opinion.

You can find out more by checking out Adobe’s website at this link: adobe.ly/Qp18q9.

Now tell me, do Flare or Doc-To-Help, or any of those other tech comm software suites offer cloud services like this? Let me know if I’m missing something…I’ll gladly present those to my tech comm readers as well, but I haven’t heard anything as of yet…

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Be a warrior with Technical Communications Suite 4!

One of the things that many people don’t know about me is that I have a first-degree black belt in Songham Taekwondo. I was even a state champion in weapons as a color belt for my age group. I enjoyed TKD a lot, until a knee injury took me out. What I like about taekwondo is that it’s a versatile martial art; one doesn’t spend all of the time studying forms alone, but rather a student learns basic moves that will help in other areas such as sparring and weapons. The more skills one gains, the more adept to changes when sparring or using weapons. This is what trained the ancient warrior as well as the modern day warrior.

This kind of mentality is also needed to be a technical communicator. How, you may ask? Well, like a black belt in taekwondo, one has to have many skills to get the job done. One needs to know a little bit of this and that, like technical writing, editing, and content curation–among many other skills–to produce kick-butt documentation and output.  But it also helps to have the right tools as well.

For today’s taekwondo student, one can wear various protection pads, and learn how to use weapons–including hands and feet–as the tools to achieve the end goal.  For technical communicators, there are various software tools out there.

One of the foremost products out there is Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite 4. With this latest rendition of the Technical Communications Suite, technical communicators have even more options and choices in how documentation and other technical writing output is achieved.  There are reliable standbys like Framemaker and Robohelp–both of which have been updated, but there are also additional tools as Acrobat, Captivate, Presenter, and Illustrator. Combined with the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, it seems to me that there is nothing that can stop a technical communicator from being a tech comm warrior!

Tomorrow, on August 21st, 2012 from 10:00-11:30 AM Pacific Time, one of Adobe’s strongest tech comm warriors, Ankur Jain, is going to be presenting the What’s New in Technical Communications Suite 4 webinar,which is not only going to talk about the strengths of this tool, but also the newest and latest features to make it a more effective tool for technical communicators everywhere, including features that now allow technical communicators to bring finished products to a mobile audience. (And you know how pro-mobile I am!)

Register here: http://www.adobe.com/cfusion/event/index.cfm?event=detail&id=2051812&loc=en_us

Tell Ankur that I sent you by telling him, “I am a TechComm Warrior!” 😉

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Adobe has Tech Comm Suite 4 Superheroes? Find out in August!

Scan of the Adobe TCS4 software cover by TechCommGeekMom
Scan of the Adobe TCS4 software cover by TechCommGeekMom

Adobe has a lot going on this year with, seemingly, many of their major product lines. First, they upped the ante with the Creative Suite package by not only upgrading it, but putting it in the cloud and creating the Creative Cloud service, allowing users access to many more products for a fairly reasonable monthly fee (especially with the starter fee for students and those upgrading from ancient editions like myself). I love having access to more products this way.

Then, some other major productivity tools also got updated in a major way as well, namely the Technical Communications Suite 4, which included the latest updates of Framemaker, Robohelp, Captivate, and now included the latest update to Presenter as well as several other programs.  This is a big deal! I’m so thrilled that all these technical communications tools that I can use for both general tech comm and e-learning uses are the latest and greatest versions now. 

Ever since my Adobe webinar in June, I’ve had a very nice relationship with Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite group.  They invited me to the preview of TCS4 several weeks ago, and they are nice enough to keep me informed of new things going on, and now and then ask if I can pass along information to my readers as well, knowing how much I do like Adobe products in general.  So, it was great to see that the TCS4 marketing department is pulling out all stops to make sure that technical communicators everywhere–whether they use Adobe’s Tech Comm Suite or another product–know what’s going on with the Tech Comm Suite products. Saibal Bhattacharjee, who is a Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, let me know that Adobe is making August their “What’s New?” month within the TechComm Suite products, and they have several Adobe experts (seen as some superheroes to some) lined up to do informational webinars to introduce the new Tech Comm line-up of products in Technical Communications Suite 4.

Having been part of Adobe’s “thought leadership” webinar series back in June, as well as having attended several Adobe webinars myself in the past few months, I can tell you that Adobe seems to go to great lengths to provide quality information in a way that is not only easily accessible (they are done through Adobe Connect), but also accessible in that there’s no fancy talk–it’s real people who actually know and have made an effort to know the products and how users are using them.  So I can only guess that this new “What’s New?” series is going to be just as top notch.

So far, for the month of August, there are three webinars–all free of charge–set up to get technical communicators up to speed on the new Technical Communications Suite 4.  They are the following:

I predict that a lot of great information will be coming out of these webinars that will help technical communicators with these great new products, and understanding how Technical Communications Suite will help them become more productive workers producing state-of-the-art documentation and output, especially when it comes to single-sourcing and mobile projects.

For more information about the webinar series, check out the Tech Comm Central by Adobe blog.