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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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Adobe Day at LavaCon 2012 Roundup!

This post is just a quick summary of the Adobe Day at LavaCon 2012 series from this past week. As you see, there was so much information that it took six posts to try to summarize the event!

Being in Portland, Oregon was great. It was my first trip there, and being a native Easterner, my thoughts pushed me to that pioneer spirit of moving westward in this country. Once there, I saw a hip, young, modern city, continuing to look towards the future.  The information I gathered at Adobe Day was general information that was endorsement-free, and practical information that I can use going forward as a technical communicator, and that by sharing it, I hope that others in the field will equally take on that pioneering spirit to advance what technical communications is all about, and bring the field to the next level.

To roundup the series, please go to these posts to get the full story of this great event. I hope to go to more events like this in the future!

As I said, I really enjoyed the event, and learned so much, and enjoyed not only listening to all the speakers, but also enjoyed so many people who are renowned enthusiasts and specialists in the technical communications field and talking “shop”. I rarely get to do that at home (although it does help to have an e-learning developer in the house who understands me), so this was a chance for me to learn from those who have been doing this for a while and not only have seen the changes, but are part of the movement to make changes going forward.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts. I still have many more to come–at least one more that is inspired by my trip out to Portland, and I look forward to bringing more curated content and commentary to you!

The autograph from my copy of
Sarah O’Keefe’s book,
Content Strategy 101.
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Missed Adobe Day at LavaCon2012? Here’s the scoop…

One of the “Three Sisters” mountains
outside Portland
(don’t know which one–took this from
my airplane seat coming home!)

As I write this, I am still recovering from quite the whirlwind of a weekend! I flew out to the West Coast on Friday night, and returned to the East Coast on Sunday.  I met SO many people who are not only leaders in the technical communications field in one capacity or another, but they are also nice and SMART people in the field. You couldn’t help but be inspired or feel smarter once you walked out!

Now granted, this was the first time I ever attended a conference-type event within the tech comm field, so I was excited to be there and soak everything in as much as I could. This is not to say that I’ve never been to a professional conference or travelled to this type of event; I just never have done it with the tech comm crowd.

Like I said, for me, at least, as the “new kid on the block”, I didn’t know exactly what to expect of the event, the topics, or the people I would encounter, and I’m glad to say that everyone was very welcoming to me, and I felt included as a fellow technical communicator very quickly. It was a little surreal in some instances, because many of the people I met were those whom I had only met online through Twitter or Facebook–Twitter mostly, so to be among such a collection of established tech comm thought leaders could have been a lot more intimidating, but it was not that way at all.

There was so much great information that came out from the morning that I will be splitting up my report over the next few days. Each day going forward will have my summary about each speaker at the event. And I have some photos as well!

So, let me get started into the Adobe Day event itself –with some photos!

Saibal Bhattacharjee (@saibalb79) from Adobe setting up.

The Adobe Day event started with an introduction from LavaCon organizer Jack Molisani welcoming everyone to the event. Jack, thanks for organizing and running LavaCon! Although I’m missing the main conference, I’m hearing awesome stuff about the speakers on Twitter, so I think you deserve some kudos for helping to assemble all of it!

Jack Molisani

Jack was followed by a short introduction and welcome by Maxwell Hoffmann, who is one of the key players of Adobe’s Technical Communications marketing team. If you’ve ever attended any Adobe Tech Comm webinars, more than likely you’ve heard Maxwell moderating the webinars. He is also one of the bloggers for Adobe’s Tech Comm blog. Having worked with him while creating my own webinar for Adobe, I can say that he does a fantastic job at what he does.

Maxwell Hoffmann of Adobe

One thing I’d like to mention, before continuing, is that the nice thing about Adobe Day was that is wasn’t actually about Adobe or promoting Adobe products. I don’t recall during the entire duration that any speaker promoted any Adobe product or the brand other than possibly to thank the company for the opportunity to speak. All the speakers spoke broadly about technical communications as a whole, so whether one supported Adobe products or not, everyone could benefit from the information being provided.  This really was a collective presentation of the best and brightest in thought leadership, and an opportunity to network and learn from those who are considered top in the technical communications field.

Now, for this post, I’m actually going to start this Adobe Day series going backwards in the day’s event, starting with the panel discussion that was at the end of the morning.

The panel topic at the end of the Adobe Day event was titled, “The Decade Ahead: Opportunities and Challenges for Technical Communications Professionals.” Scott Abel, who is also known as “The Content Wrangler,” moderated the panel.  The panel included several of the leading thought leaders in the tech comm industry. The panel consisted of Joe Gollner, Beth GerberBernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske, Val Swisher,  Sharon Burton and Joe Ganci.

Adobe Day Panel.
L to R: Joe Gollner, Beth Gerber, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske,
Val Swisher, Sharon Burton, and Joe Ganci

As far as the opportunities in tech comm right now, Sharon Burton said it best when she exclaimed, “We are in the Wild West!” meaning that the field is still so very wide open that anything done right now would be in the pioneering spirit. Another point that Sharon summarized was that 99% of the content consumers are not happy with the tech comm content they are receiving, and so a revolution is brewing. It was agreed by all that so many new ways to deliver content are out, such as using audio, video, shared content, personalized content and mobile content. The choices are limitless and there is so much to explore that there is room so that we can all contribute! Interactivity and structured content will be key to communicating information as well.

That said, the group presented the challenges ahead, which included providing technical communicators with an education on understanding all the available possibilities, combating management’s misperception of cost, the general resistance to progressive change, business models still tied to old metrics, and too many tech comm specialists instead of tech comm generalists. An additional challenge mentioned dealt with the relationship that technical communicators have among themselves as well as to the rest of the world. It was suggested that technical communicators are not creating appropriate relationships with other business departments, and need to be proactive in business affairs to prove the value of tech comm as a whole and how it integrates with other business needs, thus providing a good ROI (return on investment). When the panelists were asked what skills were needed to go forward, they replied that the need to create communities to support each other and learn from each other was key, which could be done through such activities like participation in branding and discussion on the Twitter website with other technical communicators.  Bernard Aschwanden did comment, “People are not lazy enough!” which elicited a laugh. However, his point was that in this day and age, people just want more direct route to complete tasks, and community building was part of that.

Nolwenn Kerzreho, another attendee at Adobe Day, noted on Twitter during the discussion  that “[T]ech writers need to change, have to get an education in structured writing and writing for a global audience…Key is that needs to be promoted…everywhere!” Good point that I missed noting on Twitter myself, Nolwenn!

In other words, the panel felt that while this is a time with a lot of changes due to technological advances with plenty of opportunity to use different kinds of content to deliver information, there are still obstacles in the way that prevent those opportunities from coming to fruition. However, those obstacles aren’t anything that can’t be conquered over time. A big part of making these opportunities happen will be adopting the use of structured content and community building.

Now, if this was the caliber of the discussion just for the panel at the end of the Adobe Day event, then you can only imagine that each of the presentations before this were equally great as well, and why I’ve come back with renewed enthusiasm.

I’ll also just add here that I had the chance to meet SO people that I had only met through social media or featured in various technical communications media. It was like a parade of tech comm stars to me, and I was a little in awe to be among them! I enjoyed meeting so many people who really enjoy what they are doing and trying to make a difference in this field.

Waiting for Adobe Day to start!
Me and Kyle Johnson of Rocket Software
(photo courtesy of @barriebyron, also of Rocket Software)

I also have to say that in addition to Maxwell Hoffmann, I met others from the Adobe team as well, including Saibal Bhattacharjee, Ankur Jain (the Robo(Help) Cop!) and Tom Aldous. They did an excellent job putting this event together, and I appreciated their kindness and support in having me there to attend. I felt so welcomed! I was really happy to meet them in person after so many months of corresponding through Twitter or email.

I’ll be going through each presentation given prior to this panel in the next several posts over the next week, and I know you will find the information as educational as I did.

Next post: Adobe Day Presentations: Part I – Scott Abel and Structured Content.

PS– To anyone featured in this post or who attended this event, please let me know if I need to append or correct anything featured in this summary or in the future posts on the presentations. I am working off my “notes” that I tweeted during the event, so my recollection may need some tweaking. 😉