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Is it a tech toy or an investment?

google-glass-rachel-king-2948When the one-day opportunity to order Google Glass came up recently, I jumped on it. I had tried on Marta Rauch‘s pair a couple months ago, and had seen her presentations about it, and fell in love with them. This was wearable technology I could use, as far as I was concerned! I was able to order the Glass I wanted, and was very excited about it…until I told my husband. I didn’t tell him how much it cost, but I did tell him that I bought them. He totally flipped out, but not in a good way. He felt that whatever I did spend on them, it was too much money for a “toy”. I’m earning some good money now, and I felt it was an investment–I’d like to explore how they are used, and how technical communication and m-learning would be part of the wearable technology experience for myself. But no.  I cancelled the order, as he had a good point about the cost being too high. Even so, I’m really sad about missing out on this opportunity.

Financial considerations aside, it got me thinking about technological “toys”, and what’s truly a “toy” versus adopting early technology, albeit at a high price initially. I’ve heard Neil Perlin talk about how he had some of the earliest portable computers around–nothing like the laptops of today–that cost a small fortune even by today’s standards. Sure, it’s outdated and obsolete technology now, but so are a lot of other technologies that were around just a few years ago. Children today don’t know what a Walkman is, or that telephones used to actually have a cord and you actually used a dial mechanism to connect your phone to another phone. Heck, pay phones are pretty much obsolete now.  What did people think when the first iPhone or the first flip phone came out? Those are obsolete now, too.  So, sure, perhaps Google Glass is a very expensive “toy”, but how does anyone know if perhaps I was really an early adopter and I’d be ahead of the curve for knowing how to make it work and use it for practical reasons if I had actually gotten one?

I remember when I got my first iPad–it was an iPad 2. I had saved up, and asked anyone who was going to be getting me a gift for my birthday, holidays, etc. to give me gift cards to Best Buy so I could purchase it.  I was so thrilled when I got it, and my husband thought that was a waste of money. He insisted that I already had a laptop, and didn’t need an iPad, that again–it was just a toy. I insisted that yes, there were “toy” elements to it, but I considered it “computing lite”, where I could do many tasks that I normally do, but the ones that didn’t necessarily need my laptop to be powered up. Then, about a year later, I was fortunate enough to win an iPad3 so I could upgrade. My husband had insisted that I sell my old one, but for all his moaning that I should get rid of it, guess who’s been using it for almost two years now? Yep, him. It’s still a little bit of a “toy” to him, but he’s a news junkie, and he loves to read different news sources and some light research on it when he’s not using his desktop (nope, he doesn’t even own a laptop). So, it’s not going anywhere. My iPad has gone with me all over the country–on vacation, to conferences, and has entertained me when I don’t need to be in front of my laptop. I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of mine multi-fold. And yet…I feel like this is the same situation.

Of the emerging techologies that are coming out, whether they are wearables or something else, what do you think is a tech “toy” and what do you think could be the next big thing, or a step towards the next big thing? 3-D printers and Google Glass have my attention–I would love to own both of them. What has your attention? Add your thoughts to the comments below.

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Trust your Instincts!

Mind_Blown_AwayIt’s amazing the kind of revelations you can have in the slight delirium of being sick.

At this writing, I’m suffering from a bad cold. I’ve had worse, but this one has still knocked me down enough that I’m not getting much sleep at night, so I’m definitely feeling “out of it”.  Yesterday, after I had finished working for the day, I tried to take a nap to help. Instead, I couldn’t sleep not only because I was coughing, but I had a hundred thoughts running through my head. For some odd reason, I started thinking about a job that I had years ago. In the many years I’ve worked, it was the only job in which I was outright dismissed. I don’t mean laid off or my contract ended. I was sacked. That was about fourteen years ago. Now, granted, I was miserable in that job, and cried every day. I was trying to figure a way out of the job, but they let me go instead. I didn’t like that, because I wanted to go out on my terms, not theirs, and they were really rude when letting me go.

I was a project manager for a global news agency, working on a business project that they had. I was still very green as a project manager, and I know I was their second choice when hiring. I had the option to take another job for an e-learning firm, which in retrospect I probably should’ve taken, but hindsight is 20/20.  It was an industry I was unfamiliar with, and my manager was not exactly very good at explaining to me what he wanted me to do with the project. I was rather intimidated by him, so even if I asked questions, I got unclear answers, and I got the impression he didn’t like to be bothered.

But as I was thinking about this situation yesterday and how rotten I felt at that job, I remembered an initiative that I tried that my manager thought was a waste of time, but in retrospect I know was actually on the cutting edge.  Since the job I had before this particular job was as a content project manager creating web courses for one of the first e-learning dot-coms out there, I put my knowledge to use.  The news agency was sending me and others out to various clients and newspapers to personally train others on how to use our specialized CMS product used to place advertising information. I got the notion that we could save some money and time out of the office if we created a basic online tutorial that anyone could access. Pretty good thinking, right? I created the course, and presented it to my boss. He had some others review it with him, and they ripped it to shreds. No, it wasn’t perfect, but heck, it was on the right track, but they weren’t going to admit that. Without any guidance or constructive feedback about my own project or any others I was working on, I was eventually let go. The job has haunted me for years. It’s taken me almost a decade and a half to regain some of the confidence I had back then when I first started that job.

As I laid in bed yesterday trying to nap, I realized that in the long run, I had done something right. The news agency was not smart enough to see the benefits. I knew e-learning was the way to go, and the simple tutorial I created would have saved thousands of dollars in travel costs for the company. It was forward thinking for 14 years ago.  Many companies today are still getting on board with online training, yet here I was trying to bring this global news agency into the 21st century ahead of the rest. They missed out.

The point of this story is this: don’t be afraid to be forward thinking when it comes to tech comm. I try to stay on top of the latest trends and thoughts about different tech comm and e-learning topics because I know that this brings value to a company. Whether it’s adopting DITA practices in content strategy, or employing m-learning, forward thinking is what is going to eventually separate the innovation of one company from another.  Granted, not all higher-ups are going to always listen to your forward thinking, but it takes only one time for someone to hear you and help move things forward in a positive direction.  Hanging back in the past and taking the attitude of “This is the way we’ve always done it” isn’t going to work anymore. Technology is moving too fast to keep that attitude. Yes, there’s some risk involved, since no one knows what’s going to work best and be adopted as a standard in the future.  Unless you take that first step, you are never going to find out.

Being a technical communicator these days means being on the cutting edge, and finding new ways to disseminate content, whether it be print or digital. Your customers are keeping up with new technologies and methodologies, so you should too.

I can look back now at that news agency job and realize that while I might have failed at that job, I did some things right. I look back at other jobs as well where I made forward-thinking suggestions that weren’t taken while I was there. I would often find out after I left that I was on the right track, and their inability to act would catch them off-guard later.  Be the one to speak up.

One reason I like the job I have now is that I can speak up and put ideas forward. Some are accepted, and some aren’t, but at least they are considered. In some instances, a company knows they have to move forward, but they don’t have the resources or support, but they continue to push the initiative. I feel better knowing that I’m taking pro-active steps to move in new directions, which benefit both me and my company in the long run.

Have you had any realizations that you were ahead of the curve after the fact? Share your insights in the comments.

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STC-PMC 2014 Conference – Better than last year!

NJIT's MSPTC program in the house at STCPMC14! L to R: Dr. Bernadette Longo, director of the MSPTC program; Jamil Wilkins, current MSPTC student; Danielle M. Villegas, MSPTC alum and STCPMC presenter.
NJIT’s MSPTC program in the house at #STCPMC14! L to R: Dr. Bernadette Longo, director of the MSPTC program; Jamil Wilkins, current MSPTC student; Danielle M. Villegas, MSPTC alum and STCPMC presenter.

In a nutshell, the 2014 STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference was better than last year, in my opinion! A slightly different format, a different day, more networking, and excellent speakers made for a fantastic event.

Okay, now for more details.

First, having been a member of the conference’s planning committee this year, I know that a lot of work went into making this event a success. Kudos to my fellow volunteers! Special care was taken to choose the best proposals submitted, and it definitely was reflected in the best of the best! There were so many great subjects to choose from that even among the presenters, some were saying to each other, “I want to go to your presentation, but I’m presenting at the same time!” I think some of the attendees also had hard choices to make, since sometimes they couldn’t decide between topics during a given session!

Nicky Bleiel, who is currently the President of the STC, gave the keynote address for the conference. She talked about flexible content with responsive design. The main message of her talk was that with responsive design, technical communicators can create and deliver a single responsive output that will work on thousands of devices, including new devices, old devices, and even ones that don’t exist yet. She showed us a few examples, such as Microsoft and Lycos websites in which the content remains the same, even though the output in different browsers changed to work with the size of a particular browser size. Many companies started making separate mobile sites, but the content was not the same as the full site. Responsive web design is Google’s preferred configuration when ranking sites. Mobile users want content parity, meaning they want everything that desktop owners have, thus they want one Web. Fluid layouts, fluid images, media queries in the coding, and stacking or collapsing grids are the key to creating responsive design.

During the first breakout session, I gave my own presentation, “Blogging Out Loud: The Basics of Blogging,” so I didn’t get a chance to see anyone else’s presentation during that time, obviously.  I did have a lot of people in my room, which pleased me, and we had a great discussion during the question-and-answer time. It was a great group, and smart questions were asked.

After a lunch break filled with awards, volunteer recognition, food, and networking, I chose to attend Todd DeLuca‘s talk about volunteering your way up the career ladder.  Todd kept the presentation fairly open, sharing some of his own insights about volunteering from his personal experiences and how they were able to apply to his professional life. The group attending participated by sharing ideas and experiences themselves about volunteering, bringing about a great conversation. Todd’s main idea was that it doesn’t matter how big or small the contribution, or if the volunteer opportunity is inside or outside of work. The experience fulfills you when helping others, but also fulfills you by allowing you to gain skills and experience that helps yourself. I think one idea he presented resonated with me, which was that volunteering is an offer to help, but it’s also a promise that evolves, as it’s a commitment that is followed through and builds trust. I also liked his point that volunteering is a safe environment to grow because usually there is less risk and some mistakes are expected, so the environment is often more nurturing than work. That’s a great environment to learn! Todd has been volunteering for things inside and outside of his job for years, related to tech comm as well as unrelated, and felt that he’s reaped benefits that apply to where he is professionally. I know that Todd will be speaking at the 2014 Spectrum conference for the STC Rochester chapter in a few weeks, and he’ll also be speaking at the STC Summit on this topic, so I encourage you to attend to get more details and ideas!

The last presentation I saw for the day was by Neil Perlin. Neil and I have known each other through both e-learning and tech comm social media circles for a while now, but hadn’t met before. It was a real treat to meet and chat with him, but to also hear him speak, as I know he’s rather popular on the e-learning and tech comm circuits. Neil’s talk was about emerging technologies, which is a subject he’s excited about and presents frequently. Neil covered a wide range of topics that are currently in use now and look to be expanding in the future. These topics included more mobile content that needs content strategy to steer it, more use of analytics to understand what our users need and use, using social media extensively, augmented reality, wearables, the use of the “cloud” and cloud-based tools. He also stated that there is a need for standards in order to future-proof our materials to avoid problems as technologies come and go, since it’s so hard to predict what will everyone use. He advised us to stay current by going to conferences and staying on top of general business issues and trends. Business issues can kill a technology, so staying current on your company business is a show of tech comm’s support of corporate strategy. His last bit of advice was to review your tools regularly for environmental change, accept the rise of content and social media, don’t denigrate tools in favor of writing, and embrace and help shape change!

After the conference, WebWorks and Publishing Smarter hosted a nice post-conference get-together at the Iron Abbey, a pub-restaurant down the street from the conference venue. It was a great treat of libations, appetizers, and networking further with tech comm peers.

Overall, it was a great experience. I liked the format this year because it felt more relaxed with fewer breakout sessions. Presenters weren’t rushed as they often are at events like these, and more time was allowed for networking with everyone. Perhaps it’s because I’d had a different experience last year as a total newbie that it was so different to me, but I don’t think so. The topics of the conference, the agenda, and the camaraderie of those hosting at the “City of Brotherly Love” came together into a pleasant Saturday of learning. As a smaller, regional conference I think the more intimate setting helped it be a more personalized experience for all, thus it was a big success.

(To any of the fellow speakers I reviewed here–if you’d like to add or correct anything that I summarized here, please feel free to do so in the comments area below!)

If you are in the Philadelphia area next year around mid-March, I highly recommend coming to next year’s STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Conference. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.