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Content Content Podcast – Fire fingers featuring Danielle Villegas – episode 3

fast-typing-fingersEd Marsh of ContentContent has a new podcast out, and it features me! Who would’ve guessed? Ed and I recorded this on April 11, 2015, and had a great time recording our conversation. We could’ve gone on for hours! (Or at least I could’ve gone on for hours, LOL.)

Check out the podcast, and be sure to check out more of what Ed has on ContentContent. He’s got good stuff there! Enjoy!

Content Content Podcast – Fire fingers featuring Danielle Villegas – episode 3

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TechCommGeekMom reviews 2014 – So, how was it?

This was part of the Chiluly exhibit that was at the Botanical Gardens while I was at the STC Summit in Phoenix, AZ. It was cool!
This was part of the Chiluly exhibit that was at the Botanical Gardens while I was at the STC Summit in Phoenix, AZ. It was cool!

As the year 2014 winds down, many have summarized the past year, as a reflection of all that has transpired.  When I started to think about the past year, I wasn’t sure that it was all that great of a year at first, but the more I thought about it, I realized that despite some less than desirable things transpiring towards the end, there were actually a few good things that happened that were worth noting.

1) This was the first year that the number of hits my blog received for the entire year topped over 10,000 hits. It was a goal I had hoped to achieve, and I had to work for it. My stats would falter if I didn’t write an original blog post (like this one), and I think, despite the new achievement, my stats didn’t reflect what I had hoped, but I put that on myself. This was a very busy year, and it was difficult for me to keep up with writing original posts. So despite that, I’m glad that so many people still enjoy the content that I share here, whether it’s original content or shared content. I try my best to share what I find interesting in the hopes that others will find it interesting, too, and perhaps learn from that little piece of information as well.

2) I was able to travel to some new places and do new things. I went to the Intelligent Content Conference in San Jose, CA back in February, and went to the STC Summit in Phoenix in May. Not only did I have an opportunity to enhance my knowledge during these conference through the fantastic learning sessions, I also met a lot of new people. I love that I have some wonderful new professional connections as well as new friends. These conferences also gave me the chance to strengthen professional connections and friendships with technical communicators I met in the year before and the year before that. Becoming more ensconced in the tech comm community has meant a lot to me, and I have appreciated every connection I’ve made or deepened in the last year.

3) My writing opportunities changed. While I was writing mostly for my blog this year, I also wrote for other outlets instead. Some of those opportunities folded or didn’t work out, but other opportunities arose from the ashes, including two top ten articles for Content Rules’ blog, and a new opportunity to write for STC Intercom (which will be seen in the new year). I thank those who helped make those opportunities, and appreciate your faith in my abilities when I’ve sometimes doubted them.

4) I gave more presentations this year. I presented at the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Conference, but I also did my first presentation at the STC Summit. I also presented for the first time to a non-tech comm audience at the e-Learning 3.0 Conference at Drexel University this year.  In other words, I pushed myself to do more this year and put myself “out there” more, even though I think there are others who have more to contribute than I do.

5) I had an opportunity to stretch myself professionally at work. I became more confident in my abilities to be a project manager and content strategist working on new websites at work with assignments I was given. I learned a new CMS (Adobe CQ) as a skill I’ll be able to carry with me going forward, and I was chosen to help with the most important part of the company’s new external site–the Careers section. I spread my wings so much in my job this year, and gained myself back in the process. My knowledge and full abilities were suppressed for so many years, that having the chance to truly use them and have people find them to be valuable helped me immensely.

6) In a somewhat unrelated topic, while I stretched my mind, I shrunk my body. To date, I’ve lost about 40 pounds this year. For once, I kept to my new year’s resolution, even if didn’t actually start until May or June! Part of my success was due to the tech comm community. Many have supported me or taken this journey with me. I love that the tech comm community’s reach goes beyond tech comm–and with this support, I know I will be able to continue to lose another 40 (or more) pounds into the next year.

I took a quick look at last year’s year in review, and in some respects, this year’s review isn’t that much different in overview.  What makes this year different was that many of the events were new experiences, new faces came into my life both online and in-person, new relationships were forged, and old relationships became deeper and stronger. Networking connections have become friendships, both professionally and personally. For a person who lives a highly isolated life as I do, this is so incredibly valuable to me.  I’ve always supported social media because it supports connections between people all over the world. Social media keeps me connected to all of you who support me–whether it’s through this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or LinkedIn.

Thank you all for being there for me through the good times and the bad. It’s because of these connections that this upcoming year, which is going to be filled with a lot of changes, that I know I’ll be okay. I have a support system that I didn’t have a few years ago. And hopefully, I’ve been part of others’ support systems as well.  I know that several people were kind enough to reach out to me after my last blog post, and I felt humbled. I also reached out to a few people who were happy to offer help when I asked. I know that as I go forward in the next year, the tech comm community is one that I can easily crowdsource for feedback in my steps forward. My experiences this year reinforced this for me more than ever, and it’s not one I take for granted.

Happy New Year–welcome to 2015!

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Am I missing the TechComm party?

STC-Philadelphia Chapter members attending the 2014 STC Summit--including me!
STC-Philadelphia Chapter members attending the 2014 STC Summit–including me!

I’ll come out and say it–I like going to conferences. It’s a great opportunity to learn new information that can hopefully be applied upon my return from the conference. It’s also fantastic opportunity to meet–and later reunite with–tech comm friends whom you’ve previously met either in person or through social media. In the last few years, I found that going to conferences were a great way to truly immerse yourself in the tech comm culture. I’ve said repeatedly that when I’m with my fellow tech comm people, I feel like I’m with my “clan” because I belong with them much more than other groups I’ve been with.

But lately, I’ve started to feel a bit critical about conferences. I’m sure you are thinking, “Why would you be critical about them if you like them so much?”

First, there’s the cost. I know there’s a cost to doing anything, but geez, if it weren’t for waived fees due to volunteering, speaking, or other related work for a given conference, I wouldn’t have been able to go to many of them! It’s expensive! I know that some companies will pay for those travel, accomodation and conference fees, but mine won’t. I’m a consultant who works for an agency. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. The company where I consult wouldn’t pay because I’m not an employee. So for the days that I’m at the conference, I lose pay (even though I’m doing professional development for myself that they can’t offer), and I end up spending almost the same amount as I would have earned during that time away–and again, that’s even with the waived fees I’ve mentioned earlier.

Second, there’s time. Conferences are usually just a few days, but when they are all over the country, and very few near me, it’s not only the cost to go somewhere far away, but also the time that’s needed to fly somewhere and back. For me going to the US West coast, that’s about two days right there. I applaud those who are coming from farther distances overseas, who can afford and make it over here, as it’s not only a huge cost, but a huge time commitment as well. Again, being an hourly contractor, I can’t take too much time off, or it affects my income.

Third, perhaps I’ve attended just enough in these years, but it seems like the same stuff is being talked about over and over. Like I said, maybe it just me. I know that sometimes topics need to be repeated because there are always new people who want to learn, and there can be a shift in interests. For me, I tried to delve into almost everything, and where my professional concentrations and interests lie…I’m not finding anything radically new. It’s more about reinforcing ideas I’ve learned before or experienced by trial and error. Nothing wrong with that. I also find that while a big push right now seems to making sure that silos are torn down between different departments and tech comm pushing for more visibility in company culture, it’s not exactly happening from my standpoint. It’s hard to be a one-woman army against a global company (although I’m still trying and am happy when I achieve a small success).  Should I be looking at new topics to learn about at future conferences? Maybe. I’ve also attended sessions where it’s something that I’m interested in, but in the end I can’t apply it, which is frustrating. For example, in content strategy, there seems to be a big push into content marketing, and the company I’m working for is still trying to grasp the basics of content strategy, so how can that help me at this point?Like I said, perhaps that’s my problem, and not the problem of the conferences.

Lastly, the best part of conferences is the worst part too–socializing. There were a few conferences recently that I would have liked to have attended. They were within my field, I’d been to one of them before, and I knew lots of the people who were attending. So many of these attendees are people whose company I enjoy very much, both as professional colleagues and as friends. When I go to a conference, it’s a fantastic opportunity for all those tech comm introverts to hang out together, and feel comfortable being themselves with no one questioning them. I know I can always find someone to hang out with at conferences, and I’ve made so many fantastic friends. So what’s the problem? When they go to the conferences and I can’t, I see all the photos and posts on social media about the great time they are having, and well…I feel left out. I know that sounds childish, but it’s true. I don’t get out much as it is, so conferences are a great way for me to get out an socialize with my tech comm friends, and truly enjoy myself in a relaxed atmosphere with people who can talk about life and “shop” and it’s all interesting to me. When I see everyone else going to these events and I can’t, I’m back to being the kid sitting in the corner feeling left out.  I hate it.  Again, that might be my personal issue, but I got the sense that I have some tech comm friends who also couldn’t go to some of these conferences this year had the same aching to be there too, but couldn’t, and felt left out. I know we were missed, as those who attended told us that they missed us–and I appreciate that, but it’s just not the same.

There are SO many conferences during the course of a year between STC local, regional, and national events, as well as independent conferences like Lavacon, IDW, Intelligent Content Conferences, GALA, TC-UK and so many more, nobody could possibly have the time or money to attend all of them.  Heck, so many are popping up these days, it’s even a struggle to choose which ones to attend! Being a working mom, I definitely don’t have time for all of them. The two that I missed this month were not only because of time and money in general, but because of the big project I’m working on at work needs my undivided time during my work hours because of an upcoming due date, and the load of work that needs to be done. I couldn’t break away even if I wanted to unless I wanted to fall severely behind in my work and work weekends and nights once I got home.  Even the few I went to last year had consequences for me going away when I did.

So what’s a person to do? I think the social aspect of it all gets to me the most right now. I truly enjoy the company of technical communicators, and I wish I could spend more time with them. I can’t even attend the local STC meetings for my chapter each month because of distance and time (not so much the cost). Yet, I see several of my tech comm friends always out and about at various conferences during the year, and I wonder how they can pull it off based on the issues I mentioned above?

I’m still grateful for social media to keep me in touch with all these great people I meet at conferences who have become my friends. But I still have to pick and choose conferences, going forward. I might not make it to the same conferences every year, partially because I want to check out new venues and paths. I’ve only committed to attending my local STC chapter’s regional conference so far , but I’m thinking of checking out another this year. I’ll most likely go to the STC Summit, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m thinking of seeing if I could do one overseas (Europe) instead of two on the West Coast, depending on what I can save up and swing financially.  I like travelling, andt I need to expand my horizons a little bit.

In the end, maybe it’s my inexperience that makes conferences tough for me. I’m always wanting to learn new things, and I know conferences do their best to bring new information to the tech comm masses. I can easily say without reservation that I have learned things that I could bring back and made me a stronger technical communicator. But how many can you attend before you feel like you’ve heard something before, or because it comes from people who are WAY more experienced than you, you’ll never completely “get it” or never have a chance to experience what they’ve done anytime soon? This is the frustration that haunts me.  For me, conferences are the best option for professional development, and yet it’s hard to get excited about some of them. Personal burnout? Maybe. Yet, I ache to see my tech comm friends, because I enjoy seeing them so much. It’s a dilemma.

For those of you who have been technical communicators for a much longer time than me, how do you do it? How do you choose? How are you able to work with the time and cost issues, as well as finding conferences that will engage you other than socially? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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Plain language always wins. Always.

Businessman Midair in a Business MeetingI love it when I’m inspired to write a blog post due to something that I read through social media. In this case, this morning I saw a Facebook post written by Jack Molisani, author of Be The Captain of Your Career, executive director of the Lavacon Conference, and technical recruiter that intrigued me. His post is listed below with his permission. It stated:

Just read this in a resume:

“Sophisticated, results-driven Program Management professional with a demonstrated ability to successfully lead business or technical initiatives with demonstrated experience in IT Governance, cost and schedule management, leadership, cost estimating, and infrastructure management covering full life-cycle application development & integration, data management, strategy & IT architecture implementations/roll-outs.”

First thought: Sophisticated? He wears shirts with frilly cuffs and drinks tea with his pinky up?

Second thought: Run-on sentence. Can’t communicate well in writing.

Oh candidates, why must thou shootest thouselfs in thine own feet?**

I definitely agree with Jack’s assessment. The run-on sentence is particularly bad.

The thing that caught my eye even more was the language used. As Jack alluded, it initially implies some sort of sophistication or high-intelligence level.  But in the end, couldn’t this candidate have simply said, “I am a successful and reliable project manager with experience in X, Y and Z”?   I mentioned to Jack that I would not be surprised that the candidate wrote this way because many job descriptions for openings are written similarly.

One of my greatest frustrations when I did job searches in the past was getting through wordy job descriptions, as they were written in the same gobbledy-gook language used by this candidate. WHY? Is this done for the purpose of weeding out candidates from the get-go, as if to say, “If you can’t read this, then you must be too stupid for this job”? I’ve often gotten that feeling.  Or, I’ve read many job descriptions that sound much grander than they are–again, much like this candidate’s description of himself–only to find that it’s a basic job with several steps, and it’s not that hard to do. The job description was only made to sound like more than what it really is, which is what this candidate was trying to achieve, I’m sure.

This made me think about plain language use, and how it’s starting to take hold in technical communications. I’m really glad about this shift. Why? To be honest, I’m an idiot. While I have a solid education, and can speak and write fairly well, how often will you hear me using the $10 words? Rarely. The use of “fancy” language alienates people, and in my case, it overwhelms me. My brain can’t always process it sufficiently. I find that technical writing is similar to translating complicated English into simplified or plain-language English.  Since I’ve learned how to do that over many years, it’s become a little bit easier for me to process. But, most people don’t have that internal filter. They hear or read, “Blah, blah, blah,” as Jack implied in his reaction above.

A follow-up comment to Jack’s post by one individual pointed out that this is how business people are taught to write. That’s a good point. I would also point out that legal professionals have the same issue. Have you ever tried to read “legal-ese”? It’s just crazy. I remember an early assignment in grad school required us to look up the local legal codes in our towns, and “translate” the legal mumbo-jumbo into plain language. I remember mine clearly, as it directly related to my house. Put into plain English, the particular housing code from my town stated that if you have a pool in your backyard, you have to have a fence around it for legal and insurance purposes; if you didn’t, you’d be fined. Simple enough, right? Not if you read the original language.

Why are business and legal professionals still writing as they did a century ago? Who are they trying to impress? In our current digital age, it’s a pointless endeavour.  We are a society of instant gratification. We need people to get straight to the point. This is most evident with the proliferation of mobile devices. We need information to be short, fast, and quickly comprehensive.  Writing in the “sophisticated” language used by that the job candidate above isn’t going to help anyone anymore.  We need to be able to communicate with customers and citizens in a way that everyone can understand. This is not the dumbing down of language as we know it, necessarily. As I said earlier, using grandiose language alienates the reader, especially if the reader is trying to find out basic facts. All Jack wanted to know was whether this person qualified for the job.  Instead, he had to translate what the person was saying before he could determine that, and that act in itself turned Jack off to this candidate. It’s not a good reaction to have.

Plain language is not simplifying language for the less-educated. It’s a simplification of content at its best. Technical communicators and universities (and yes, I’ll even say it, all schools in general) have to start teaching their students to have a full understanding of rich vocabularies, yet choose words wisely to communicate the best message possible. Tech comm does that in aces. We need to get the business schools and law schools (among others) on board with this concept.

So, Candidate, if you want to get in Jack’s good graces (or anyone’s good graces for that matter), you’d be better off writing in plain language. If you pick up a copy of Jack’s book, too, you’ll get some other hints that will make you a more viable candidate. Get to work!

**Update: a few hours after I originally posted this, it appears the either Facebook is hiding the post, or Jack took it down. I know that some of the comments he got showed that people misinterpreted his intention and purpose of the post, and perhaps it got too heated to keep the post up, which is a shame. I definitely did get his permission first before I “reprinted” it here.  I support Jack’s intention in sharing the information, because I know that he didn’t publically humiliate a specific person by name or inference, and his purpose was to show how a recruiter really does react to a poorly written resume. Jack’s business, and by extension his recent book, are meant to be guides to helping anyone get a good job. Jack has continually pointed out that many of the steps needed are so basic. This is what he was trying to point out in the post he wrote above. I suppose I understand his position because I’ve been the candidate enough times that I actually know that the smallest things–like what Jack pointed out with this candidate–have made the difference as to whether I got an interview or not. The other perspective I understand is that as a recruiter. While I’m not a recruiter, my mother owned her own agency for years, so I learned a lot from her about what that business entails, and it’s not an easy job. So for that, I understand where Jack was coming from. He wasn’t being antagonistic, but rather it was a remark of frustration. –techcommgeekmom

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Social media is a Dirty Job, and Mike Rowe explains it cleanly.

mike-roweSomeone that I like to follow on Facebook is Mike Rowe. Some of you might know him as the host of the TV program, “Dirty Jobs” and countless voiceovers on other TV programs. He’s an interesting person because publicly, he does his best not to take political sides, and tries to promote the idea that there are a lot of skilled labor jobs out there waiting to be taken, even if they are “dirty jobs”. His big cause is helping people find work, and who can argue with that? He’s the advocate for the regular person doing regular jobs, and living a regular life. He’s incredibly well-spoken, and as such, he’s a compelling speaker (look up his TED talks).

Today he posted something on his Facebook feed which I felt incredibly compelling, and shows the power of social media at its finest. Many of these reasons are what I find to be the best about social media in general, not just about Facebook.  Read Mike’s entry below, as it was posted on his Facebook page. Continue reading “Social media is a Dirty Job, and Mike Rowe explains it cleanly.”