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Is the STC dying?

Guardians of the Galaxy
Just like the Guardians of the Galaxy, STC members might be a rag-tag bunch, but we get the job done.

I was moved by a series of articles recently written by my friend, Larry Kunz. The most recent of the three, “Why is it so important that the STC survive?” was the first that I read from a series he had recently produced (there are links within the article above that links you to the others).  It seems that Larry has struck a nerve with his article, as while he provided some points to support the continuation of the STC, there were counter-arguments in the comments that it’s not the same organization that had some pull in the field in years prior.

As someone who has only been a member of the STC for about four or five years, and is still a relative newcomer to the technical communications field, I find that there is great value in the STC.  As Larry pointed out, it’s a group that has become my tribe as well. I have rarely been anything but supported within this group at large. As a new technical communicator at an advanced age, I was welcomed with open arms, which is something I don’t think most groups would necessarily do. Others want the young kids to be joining, or they want to hang out with their professional contemporaries.  So, onboarding into this group was easy. That’s a compliment to the group as a whole. I was scared to join a well-established group, and it’s been nothing but good all the way around.

Now, some of the counter-arguments have been that while the STC provides some great networking and other benefits, it boils down to the infrastructure of the association breaking down over time.  That might be.  My understanding is that several years ago, before I joined, there were some serious financial and “political” issues going on with the STC, both at the international level and the local level.  I know for my own chapter, one of our members worked fiercely to keep it up and running during those lean years, and it took time to rebuild it into the Platinum community that it is today.  It was also argued that other conferences that didn’t exist decades ago are now starting to take over.

Here are some of my thoughts about the whole thing:

First, there needs to be an analysis of what these other conferences are offering that the STC is not. Why are people flocking to these other conferences? What do they offer than the STC does not? Are they truly taking away from the STC, or appealing to a different group? I’ve been to a few of these conferences, and they are a little different, but they are usually more specialized–like focusing on content strategy, whereas the STC tries to embrace a broader audience and more topics.  Lavacon and Information Development World, for example, do concentrate on content strategy and content marketing, yet there is more to technical communication than just topics. There is UX/UI design, there is technical writing, there is social media, there is e-learning…there are a lot of things that are covered under the umbrella of technical communication.  I’m sure that the Summit program committee does its best to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and they also offer accessible presentations for all experience levels. The STC Summit was also compared to TCWorld in Europe. While TCWorld might be bigger, it’s also drawing in a different audience. What is drawing people to that? Perhaps we need to figure out what they are offering that the STC is not, and start figuring out how to compensate.

Second, speaking of accessibility, I have found that some of the specialized conferences I’ve attended were over my head. They were so specialized and high level, marketing towards the managers and experienced practitioners, that as a relative newbie I had difficulty keeping up with the presentations.  Does this mean I’m stupid? I hope not, although when I walk out of them, I feel like it.  One of the benefits of the STC Summit, to me, is that it while it doesn’t “dumb down” presentations, it does offer information that’s more palatable for beginners and intermediates like myself while helping those who’ve been in the industry for a long time learn how to keep up with new technologies and ways of doing things.

Third, the technical communications industry is going through big changes right now.  As was mentioned in Larry’s articles, some of these other conferences didn’t exist twenty years ago. Do you know what else didn’t exist twenty years ago? Much of what we do today in technical communication! Yes, we still have technical writing, but back then, it was still mostly paper-based documentation. (I know because many of my positions since then has been converting paper processes to web processes.) The Internet has exploded. We barely had web design, let alone responsive design. There were no mobile devices the way we know it now.  Video, audio, and 3-D animated images didn’t have to be included in documentation back then. Technology and the way we access information has changed drastically in the last twenty years.  Because of this, technical communication has changed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the STC is still trying to catch up with the changes as best as they can, and again, appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Heck, even within the last five years, there have been huge changes, and it’s a matter of keeping up with it. You’d be surprised to know how many technical communicators still aren’t on board with writing for mobile, even though it’s been on the forefront for the past few years.

Fourth, is it possible that prior generations who aren’t as active in STC now or have left are to blame for not bringing in more members over time? I know that bringing in members now is a big push, but what about during those lean times? Could it be that many members were lost during those years?  Also, there isn’t any consistency in recruiting, at least at schools, from my observations. I’m aware of some academic tech comm programs that have great student chapters. My graduate school tried to get a chapter off the ground, but since it was a virtual program, it made it difficult. I can probably count on just a few fingers how many of us are in the STC from my school during the years that I was there. Some were active, some not so much. One of my classmates is a chapter president, and I’m running for office in my chapter. But that’s it.  The fact that the STC is reaching out to other associations on the local, national, and international level is encouraging, because many people do belong to more than one association, and it’s a great recruitment tool. But we need to encourage members in the STC to be ambassadors, and continue to promote what the STC stands for.

I’m sure the next pSTC Logo-Onlyoint is, “What does the STC stand for?” I don’t know the answer to that. But perhaps that’s the point–as the body of people who represent it, we need to vocalize what our needs are more to the STC main office so that they can better serve our needs and advocate for us.  There are still walls to be knocked down in this field, and advances to be made, but they can’t do that from inside their bubble in Fairfax, Virginia. Part of the reason that I’m in the STC is because I live in a bubble, too. There are very few STC people or people who identify themselves as technical communicators in my area. I need STC events to help me meet other tech comm professionals, but also see what’s going on in the tech comm world. Unless the STC office is told what our needs are, it can only do its best at making educated guesses as to how to help us. After all, it is an advocacy group, and that’s what it’s out there to do–advocate for us, and help us get the resources we need to be better technical communicators.

I could go on for pages more, but I think you get the idea.  The STC is like a church, in the sense that the church is made of up of the people–the community–and its beliefs, not the building. The STC is made up of many bright, resourceful people, and its survival depends on the support, participation, and belief in the technical communication industry as a community.  I chose to get involved with the STC, and while my bandwidth is limited, I am always open to helping others and supporting others in their tech comm endeavors. I wish I could do more, and in time, I will.  But rather than criticizing the STC, do something about it! If you feel that not enough emphasis on DITA practices is given in presentations, then tell the STC! If you feel like you’ve heard more than your fill about content marketing (like I have), say something! Don’t sit there and complain about it. Be the change.

What do you think? I suggest reading Larry’s articles first, then mine, then please (respectfully) include your comments below. Be part of the conversation.  Perhaps based on the comments, we can draft something to address to Chris Lyons, the CEO of the STC, to help their efforts.

P.S. If it weren’t for the STC Summit, I wouldn’t have actually met Larry Kunz in person for the first time. Larry’s been a fantastic supporter of TechCommGeekMom for a long time via this blog and social media, and it was an opportunity to strengthen our connection by meeting in person at a shared beloved event. I look forward to both of our blogs continuing to provoke conversations within the tech comm community.

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Congratulations to the winner of the Information Development World All-Access Pass!

"May the odds be ever in your favor!" It looks like they were for Ed Marsh!
“May the odds be ever in your favor!”
It looks like they were for Ed Marsh!

Remember the little contest I ran recently to win a chance at a free All-Access Pass to Information Development World 2015? I didn’t forget! A random drawing (not by me, to make it fair) was done of the tweets submitted for the free all-access pass to Information Development World 2015 in San Jose, California.

Our winner is…Ed Marsh of ContentContent!

Ed was notified last week about winning the pass and the opportunity to attend.  When informed of his win, he had this to say about it:

Ed Marsh of Content Content Photo by Arclight Images Corporate Executive Portraits Commercial Photography NYC NJ New Jersey's premier Executive Portraits and Corporate Photography Studio serving Bergen, Passaic, and Morris counties in NJ and Rockland, Bronx & Orange counties NY.
Ed Marsh of ContentContent
Photo by Arclight Images

“All I had to do to win a free conference admission was send a tweet? I do that for free! I didn’t realize until recently how important conferences are to my career, so I’m excited to see different perspectives on content at Information Development World.

After narrowing down to three great choices, I finally decided to go with Lisa Welchman’s ‘Understanding digital governance’ [for my workshop day], because it’s probably the biggest issue we’re dealing with now.

I’m most looking forward to meeting new people, for sure. And I have to say that I plan to attend a variety of topics, not just one particular track, to get the most from my experience.

Having been on Ed’s ContentContent podcast, I know him well enough to know that even as an attendee, he will contribute a lot to conversations at the event.  I know he’s excited about going, and he’s going to have a blast.

If you are going, make sure to say hi to him and congratulations at the event! Congrats, again, Ed, for the win! The odds were ever in your favor, evidently!

There is still time to register to attend this great event–sign up now!

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TechCommGeekMom’s New Adventure: Do you DAIR?

Dair Communications launched July 4, 2015.
Dair Communications launched July 4, 2015.

I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that with the completion of my contract at BASF, I would have to figure out what my next move would be.  Job hunting is something that I dread, especially since the region where I live doesn’t have much opportunity unless I go out of my way to travel far to the cities. I’m in a position where I can’t move due to my son’s education for now, so I had to figure out what the best move for me would be. Thanks to my husband’s support, and my mom setting the example for me when I was younger, I decided that perhaps I’d make a go of it on my own. I’m tired of working through agencies or “the man”.

Let's celebrate!
Let’s celebrate!

So, on July 4th, 2015, I officially launched my own business. I figured that it would be appropriate to declare my status as an independent contractor on (American) Independence Day.   While many of you have read on LinkedIn that I’m working as a Content Marketing Strategist for Information Development World, that is my first contract, which started a big before my official launch.

My company is called Dair Communications, and it already has a barebones website that needs a little tweaking (my husband is helping me set the website up, as he’s a developer and wanted to help, as he should).  I chose “Dair” because it’s Gaelic for “Oak“, and I’ll leave it to your imagination what words are evoked when using that description. There are also sentimental reasons for the use of “dair” stemming from my heritage, so it seemed appropriate. The other connotaction is that the word “dair” sounds like the English word, “dare”, so I’d like to think that I’m doing something daring by breaking out on my own, and that I would dare to try new and creative solutions for my clients. Hence–do you DAIR? 😉

Many of my readers have asked me to blog about being an independent contractor. I will do my best! I know that I will be doing a lot to help out with The Content Wrangler blog and Information Development World for the next several months, and I will share some of those projects and observations with you. You might not see quite as many TechCommGeekMom entries as before as I transition into this new adventure, but I’m not going away anytime soon.

I hope you will support me in my new endeavour!

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Win an All-Access Pass to Information Development World 2015! Here’s how.

Image courtesy of @InfoDevWorld
Image courtesy of @InfoDevWorld

It’s great to see so many of my readers are as excited as I am about going to this year’s Information Development World conference. This event, organized by Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, and Val Swisher, Content Rules, takes place September 30 – October 2, 2015 in San Jose, CA. It’s jam-packed with awesome presentation topics (over 80 presentations, case studies, and panel discussions to choose from), plus eight full-day skills development workshops, and two floors of exhibition space. It’s a content creator’s paradise!

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could attend for free?

You can! Here’s how.
1.Login to your Twitter account.
2.Post a tweet explaining why you should should receive a free ticket to the event. Creativity counts!
3.Include these two identifiers (@InfoDevWorld and #WhyMe) in your tweet.

One lucky TechCommGeekMom reader will win a free All-Access pass to the event. The All-Access pass includes your selection of one pre-conference full-day skills development workshop on September 30 and unlimited access to the conference, October 1 and 2. It also includes light breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks, and snack breaks daily.

Restrictions: The free All-Access pass to the conference does not include transportation costs (airfare, train, car, parking) nor does it include accommodations or dinner at the event.

You can enter as often as you like until 1:00 PM EDT on July 15th. I’ll then tally all the entries, and pick a winner within the next day or so after that!

So what are you waiting for? Commence Tweets……NOW!

(Want to learn more about this event? Check out IDW’s homepage.)


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IDW looks like an awesome event–can’t wait to go!

"It's just a dream to go to Information Development World, so I can learn more about content strategy! C'mon gang, let's go!" says Barbie.
“It’s just a dream to go to Information Development World, so I can learn more about content strategy! C’mon gang, let’s go!” says Barbie.

Last year, I was really disappointed that I couldn’t go to the inaugural Information Development World (IDW) conference in San Jose, CA.  I knew, since it’s produced by The Content Wrangler and Content Rules, that it would be a top-notch event. After reading all the reviews and commentary from my friends and content strategy colleagues about how great the event was, I was even more disappointed that I wasn’t able to go.

But it’s different this year! This year, I’M GOING! I’m pretty excited about this, because I know this is a conference that is definitely geared towards content strategists who are like me–someone who not only does content strategy, but also does content management, web design, user strategy, works with customer experience, and has a love of localization and globalization issues as well. Of course, the event is also covering other topics like content marketing, data and analytics, digital publishing,  and content engineering. The point of this conference is to help those who touch content in any way, shape, or form and want to enhance the customer experience through content experiences.  Sounds like my kind of conference, as if it was custom-made for someone like me who is still building her content-based career!

I like that there are several workshops and presentations–80 in all–to choose from. I’m sure there will the dilemma of which ones to choose at a given time slot! While looking at the IDW schedule as it’s posted at this writing, there are several sessions I will have a hard time deciding between that I’d really like to see. For example, how does one decide between Work Smarter Not Harder – Remove the Guesswork from Content Creation and By the Numbers: Making the Case for Reuse Based on Facts during the same time slot? Or how can this former Barbie aficianado miss the Mattel Case Study: Maintaining Barbie’s Brand Fidelity Region to Region presentation?  I know I’ll have to make some tough decisions between a lot of excellent topics that I’d really like to learn more about. The fortunate thing for all those who attend is that this group of presenters is the “cream of the crop”. I’ve seen several of the presenters and workshop instructors in action before, so I know that this will be time well-spent, and I will come home with my head buzzing with many great ideas and new concepts to digest!

The main focus of IDW is customer-centric–which is something that will help a lot of information developers. Having originally come from a customer service/client services background before I entered the IT/techcomm world, I tend to have a better understanding than most people, so it comes a little more naturally to me. Today, content strategy really is all about personalization and making content speak to customers in a way that it feels like the content is talking to each customer specifically. That’s not an easy task. The goal of IDW is to help everyone get a much better understanding of how this is done, and how to make it work most efficiently so that content works for you, not against you. How could you not want to learn about that?

I’m not going to miss out this year. I’m going, and it would take a lot to stop me from going. There’s too much to learn and great content strategists to meet–why would I pass this up again? I’m not making the same mistake twice! It’s a fantastic investment in ME and what I can bring to my clients.

Have you registered for IDW yet? If so, great! If not, what are you waiting for? Register today!

You can find out more about IDW by visiting their website at