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So, what’s ahead in Tech Comm for 2013?

Mathematician working on calculus equationShortly after the obligatory reviews of 2012 come the obligatory predictions about 2013. Sometimes such predictions are on target, and sometimes the predictions are rather ludicrous. One has to admit, though, some of the ludicrous ones do become true, and some can be purely entertaining.

So what are my predictions for 2013? Good question. I don’t really have any idea.

The past year has been a total whirlwind for me. As I mentioned in my last post, so many things happened to me that were unexpected, and there was so much more information learned than was expected that I wouldn’t know where to begin to make such predictions.

It’s also the time of year that one makes resolutions. As we know, most people have a difficult time sticking to New Year’s resolutions. I am no different. If I could keep a resolution, I would look like a supermodel. 😉 Instead, I try to set goals instead of resolutions. Goals are more realistic, because like resolutions, they are usually for some sort of better condition in one’s life, but there aren’t always time limitations as to when this goal will be achieved. I was determined to get my Master’s degree in two years. It took two and a half years, but I still attained my goal. You get the idea.

Most of my goals this year related to doing things around my house that have been waiting for years, such as remodeling my 30 year old kitchen, or putting new carpeting on the stairs. I’m also trying to see if I can try to travel more this year, because that one whirlwind trip to Portland, Oregon for Adobe Day was exciting for me, and it gave me a break from the humdrum of regular life while infusing my brain with new, uselful information.  I am hoping that I can get to the STC Summit this year, but I have to see about that–it’s not cheap if you haven’t been working for a while, and you don’t have a company to pay for it. It’s on the U.S. East Coast this year, which makes the travel itself easier and more affordable, but the conference–even the early bird rates–are a lot for a newbie technical communicator. But, I’m hoping with the new job, I’ll be able to afford it. Time will tell. I’ve also set a goal that I want to go back to the UK for a visit. I love that country, and haven’t been in twenty-one years. I found out that I have a cousin that lives in London who is an educational technologist, so catching up with her in person rather than through Facebook should be fun.

But what about professionally? I start my new job as a Web Publisher on January 3rd. I’m excited, nervous and anxious all at the same time. I’m always like this when I start a new job. It’s that, “What did I get myself into?” feeling that just about everyone gets. Don’t get me wrong–I think this is going to be a great opportunity for me, but after being out of full-time work for so long, it’s going to take some adjustment to get back into the swing of things. I’m sure I can do the job and do it well. It’s just the “newness” of it all that gets me. Some find that feeling exciting, but it’s nerve-wracking for me until I truly understand my role. I want to do well, after all. So since my job is supposed to involve a lot with content management, some writing, some web design, and even a little bit of videography and audio manipulation, it should be good. They are all things I can do well, and look forward to doing. I’ve been told that if I do well, there are other potential projects beyond this one I’ve been hired for, so I want to do well. I am excited to be a full-fledged technical communicator now after waiting in the wings for a while.

So, as far as predictions, I can’t make any, but perhaps I can make suggestions–specifically suggest some technical communication goals for consideration for the next year, based on what I’ve learned in the past year.

First, THINK MOBILE. This is foremost. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for e-learning/m-learning or just for simple websites, mobile is essential going forward. I think a lot of companies are in denial of this, thinking that tablets and smartphones are a fad, but they really aren’t. I don’t have specific stats anywhere (and feel free to contribute them in the comments if you have them), but I feel like I’ve read that smartphones outnumber landlines worldwide now, and mobile devices are used much more than desktop-style devices as well.  On the road, more people are likely to bring a tablet and/or smartphone than a laptop for basic information that they need to obtain. But, as we all know as technical communicators, mobile devices are not laptop replacements necessarily, so we need to write accordingly for this different devices. A huge portion of 2012 seemed to show me that tools like Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite 4 (see more information in the top right column) and other software tools are keeping up with the times, and providing HTML5 support as well as providing single-source solutions for both desktop and mobile content. As technical communicators, we need to push the agenda that these kinds of tools are essential to more efficient workflows for us, but also are an investment in content management as well.

Related to that, as technical communicators, there’s a real need to push the use of better content. There is always some crossover between marketing communications and technical communications, but in the end, from my own experience, technical communicators have a better edge in managing and writing content. No offense, mar comm writers, but there’s a point–in my view–that marketing communications gets a little too fluffy. It’s too much about the sales and gimmicky verbiage instead of really giving customers the information they need to make informed choices about products and services. Advertising is one thing, but if a customer is going to a website or app to get more information, it’s because they want INFORMATION, not a sales pitch. I’m a consumer, and I’ve also been a consumer advocate in my career, so I’ve been on both sides of this, and I have to side with the consumer on this one. A sales pitch can initially draw a content consumer into your website or app, but once that is done, you want that consumer to be either able to come back, or provide such excellent information that they don’t come back. If there’s good support provided on a site with pertinent information, then there’s customer satisfaction. It’s that simple. And yet, so many companies don’t completely realize this. I don’t know how many companies I’ve seen where the writing is…well…not up to par (to be polite), and I didn’t have the permission to fix it to be more succinct and to the point to help the consumer or audience of the content. It frustrated me to no end. And yet, when I’d try to explain to authority figures that the writing going on wasn’t working well because it was too long winded and needed to be pared down for easier reading while still getting the main points across, I was ignored.  There was a Beastie Boys song called, “You’ve Got to Fight For Your Right to Party!”, and it relates to this, as it makes me think that technical communicators need to fight for their right to, well, do their jobs! We have the skills and know-how, and we can help to elevate companies that should be cutting edge to that level. I can think of so many companies that think they are cutting edge and are actually way behind instead,  very much in denial. Or, for whatever reason, companies would not invest in the technical communications of the company when that’s where the money would be well spent.

I get very excited about technical communications because while it’s been a field that’s been around for about 100 years (give or take a few years), it still is working to earn the full respect that it needs. With technological advances, technical communicators have huge opportunities to really show what they can do. Right now, with the huge and quick advances made in mobile technology especially in the last few years, this is definitely a time when technical communicators can shine. We have to exert and advocate for ourselves to carve out our place more definitively. We need to adapt to the changing environments to make sure that we are not expendible, but rather necessities. We need to be multi-specialists rather than specialists.

I’m sure you get the idea by now. These concepts are what have been driven into me by the best of the best in the tech comm business in the last year, and I know this is what need to move technical communications forward.  When I entered my MSPTC program at NJIT three years ago, one of the motivating factors for entering the program and continuing with the program was not only the subject matter, but predictions that the technical communications field was going to have a big surge. I want to be part of that wave, and be one of the movers and shakers of the movement. I’m hoping that all technical communicators reading this will look at the new year as an opportunity to help shake things up in the world using the skills that we have. Whether we promote m-learning, single-source content management, or just emphasize clearer, better writing, our mission is clear. Make content better for ALL consumers of information. Make this your New Year’s goal– no matter how big or small your contribution is, make your content BETTER.

If goals like that can be achieved, THAT will be what’s ahead for Tech Comm in 2013.

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Another one of those 2012 Tech Comm Years in Review? But it’s MINE…

MP900309664It’s December 31st, 2012, and the end of another long year has come. This is the time of year when everyone starts to see the year in review posts and articles all over every media source imaginable. I’m no different– I’ve already posted a Top Ten Posts of 2012 for TechCommGeekMom.  But this post is more about my reflection of the year–and what a year it’s been!

This is not to say that everything has been coming up roses for me this year. Upon reflection, there were a lot of good things that happened over the past year that were never expected and were really great. There were also things that were definitely not so great.

The not as great things included problems that my son was having at school that greatly affected his behavior, me getting pneumonia for a month last winter, losing my full-time job, and being laid off my part-time job. Just those things alone could easily make it a bad year, especially if you knew some of the details of the school problems my son was having.

But there were so many things that outweigh those negatives that for once, I can actually say that 2012 was a pretty good year for me. The first big thing was that I graduated from NJIT with my MSPTC. That was the result of two and a half years of blood, sweat and tears–sometimes literally–to get it finished. It was so much a part of what I did for a while that I actually miss it. The fact that I actually graduated, with honors no less, is surreal. I can’t believe that it’s all finished and done, when I feel like I should still be taking a class or doing something more, like writing up another paper.  I was very fortunate to have made several friends in the program, even through this virtual program, and make connections that I think will benefit me for life. The knowledge I gained from the program will also serve me for life as well, I am sure.  I know that NJIT was proud enough of my recent accomplishments enough to feature me as one of its “poster girls” for the Continuing Education program by featuring me in a promotional video for the school. I’m honored and still surprised that they picked me, but appreciate the nod of approval nonetheless.

The other part of what made this year exceptional was this blog. What began as a combination of a class assignment and something to do on a whim has taken on a life of its own. I don’t think anyone, especially me, would have expected anyone to be reading it with the gathering that I’ve collected over the past year. Social media has truly been key to many of the successes I’ve had this year.  I’m glad that I started to become more involved professionally with Twitter and Facebook especially, in order to connect with other technical communicators. Not only did I seek to learn from other technical communicators in the past year, but I used social media as a means of marketing this blog so that my voice could be heard amongst the many great voices out there. The amazing thing to me is that my voice was heard.

Now, I did have some unexpected help along the way. As I’ve explained in the past, it was an early post in which I vented my frustrations about learning tech comm software that someone heard me very loud and clear.  It was someone at Adobe, who not only heard me, but also wanted to help me.  That person was Parth Mukherjee.  It was very early in our contact that he wanted to help, and offered me a webinar. What, me? A webinar for someone just out of grad school? Yes, crazy as it sounded, that what he offered me and I took it. I’m glad I did. Along the way, I got to know Saibal Bhattacharjee, Maxwell Hoffman, Ankur Jain, and Tom Aldous at Adobe as well, and they constantly provided me with more opportunities and support throughout the year–many more than what are listed here. The biggest highlights of this relationship for me were doing the webinar in June that gained me initial greater exposure, and when I was invited to be one of Adobe’s guests at their “Adobe Day” pre-conference event at Lavacon. For a gal who is still new to the field to be invited to “run with the big boys and girls” was a thrill! I learned so much at the Adobe Day conference, and I had a chance to meet and get to know some of the people that I had not only gotten to know through social media, but people I revered and respect in the field.  There have been so many good things that happened to me thanks to Adobe, and I don’t think I can ever thank them enough. As I’ve also said many times before, I was a big fan of Adobe’s before the connection with Adobe’s Tech Comm team, but now they’ve allowed me to become truly loyal to the company with everything they’ve done for me personally that they didn’t have to do. Thank you so much!

I also had an opportunity this year to express my technical communications knowledge in a different way–I was able to teach a virtual class in business and technical writing to Microsoft Korea through the World Learning Company. It was a unique opportunity to present information not only so the students could understand the information, but I truly wanted my students to learn the information so they could use it more often in their everyday business communications. I got great feedback from the end-of-class surveys as well as directly from the students themselves that I made it easier to understand these complicated language nuances, especially since English was a second language for nine of the ten students I had! It was a great opportunity to flex my knowledge muscles to help other people become better writers, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

A big part of this year was all the people I met who helped me along the way. In addition to those at Adobe and NJIT, I met SO many individuals along the way that helped me through this first year of being an “official” technical communicator. I’m sure I’ll be missing someone from this list of tech comm and e-learning professionals, as there were so many, but off the top of my head, they include RJ Jacquez, Mayra Aixa Villar, Miriam Lottner, Toby Price, Barrie Byron, Jamie Gillenwater, Sharon Burton,  Christie Fidura, Shay Shaked, Marcia Riefer Johnston, Colum McAndrew, Renaldo Lawrence, Joe Ganci, Sarah O’Keefe, Val Swisher, Jackie Gerstein, Anita Horsley, Scott Abel, Chad Udell, Alyssa Fox, and Karen Mahon. Each person here, and many others whom I met through social media or in person, contributed to my knowledge base and growth not only as a technical communicator and e-learning specialist, but also as a person. I thank each and every one of you for your support in taking me under your wing, but also for your friendship.

I also want to thank Gary Woodill, who is one of the m-learning gods in my eyes, for retweeting my tweet promoting my Whitepaper, thus giving it his understated blessing. That was a big deal to me for you to acknowledge it and deem it worthy of retweeting the link.  Also many thanks to TechWhirl, especially Craig Cardimon, for promoting two of my blog posts in recent editions of the “Tech Writer This Week” feature on TechWhirl.com. For me, that was a huge indication that I have “arrived” in tech comm.

So, as you can see, 2012 was actually a very good year for me. Sure, I didn’t have a full-time job, and I had illness and issues that were beyond my control at home, but for me, this has ended up being one of the best years that I’ve had in a long time. My first full year of being a technical communicator hasn’t been without some bumps along the way, but through this blog, my school connections, and all the new social media connections I’ve made in the past year, I wouldn’t change a thing. What a whirlwind for a “newbie”! I can only hope that I will continue to have the support of all these wonderful people, and be able to truly practice what I’ve learned over the past year in my new adventures as a Web Publisher for BASF in 2013.

This was the year of building, and I’ve gained a fantastic foundation. Now is the time to continue to grow and move onwards and upwards! I’m anxious about 2013, but having this strong foundation, I have a feeling that it’s got the potential to be another great year.

What are my resolutions for 2013? Well, I don’t know about resolutions, but I know that some of the things that I hope to achieve, other than a firm establishment in the tech comm field, is to go to the STC Summit in May (I hope), and maybe some other conference as well, if I can afford it. I want to meet so many more people in tech comm, and absorb the  information given by the best and brightest in the field. This year, I was the new kid on the block, and in 2013, I want to be part of the next generation of technical communicators helping to take the field further.

Thank you to everyone reading this, and have an incredibly Happy New Year!

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2012 Top Ten Highlights on TechCommGeekMom

Woman on Computer2012 has been the inaugural year of TechCommGeekMom.com. What started initially as both a class project as well as a personal project with no expectations other than to get a good grade and have a form of expression has blossomed into something else. Who would have guessed? I’ve been blessed that I’ve gained a lot of support over the past nine months that I’ve been writing TechCommGeekMom. Evidently, the combination of both my original posts as well as my curated posts are seen as worthwhile reading! I truly appreciate the support.

Since this is the time of year when everyone does year-end reviews, I thought I’d list the top blog posts of 2012 here (at least at this writing) from TechCommGeekMom. Just to clarify the selection process, these were based on the posts that I wrote myself, not on any curated content (some of that got high marks as well). It also does not include my home page.

So, here are the top ten posts of 2012:

1) Upgrade Time! PREVIEW of the NEW Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4!
I have to thank Adobe for the “Adobe bump” on this article. This preview of the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4 package was made possible by Adobe, as they allowed me to sit in on the preview presentations of the product, and subsequently promoted this article not only on the web, but also for some of their print marketing materials later. Thank you, Adobe!

2) Project Tin Can: Good Communication or just a Tin Can Alley?
Project Tin Can was a hot topic in m-learning this year, and I had the chance to listen in on several conversations and learn about Tin Can highlights myself, and was glad to pass this information along.

3) Whitepaper: The Future of Mobile Learning: Empowering Human Memory and Literacy
I’m especially proud that this particular article was among the top posts this year and that it was so well received. It was originally a paper that I wrote for one of my grad school classes, and I was encouraged by Mayra Aixa Villar (who was my editor for the paper as well as one of my references) to either present at a conference or publish as a Whitepaper. I chose the latter for the sake of ease and time, and really happy that this was so well received.

4) What Hurricane Sandy Taught Me About Mobile Technology and Social Media
Mobile technology is what got me through the hurricane, and got a lot of other people through the hurricane. This kind of technology wasn’t available when Hurricane Katrina hit greater New Orleans area, but it made a world of difference when Hurricane Sandy hit and its aftermath. If anything, hopefully both weather events have taught us how we need to upgrade what we have for continued better communications so that we can minimize all damages.

5) The Meaning of Graduating with a Masters in Technical Communication
This was a big year for me in technical communications, especially because I finished earning my credentials. It took two and a half years of hard work in between both full- and part-time work, running a Cub Scout den, and being a mother to child with Asperger’s, but I did it. Graduation day was a big event in my life. I still miss going to school, and it seems surreal that I’m not still studying, but it was all worth it.

6) Being a specialist or a generalist? Which is better for a technical communicator?
As is often the case, this blog has often been a place where I would explore some of my own concerns about my career as a technical communicator, and I was glad to see that the conundrum I had in this article was relatively universal in the field. I also appreciate TechWhirl promoting this article, because I think it’s something that should be addressed as technical communications continue to change.

7) What did you do to get that Tech Comm job?
This recent posting was the result of everything that’s been done thusfar on this blog and more. I did my best to outline the pointers that I felt would help others, and in the process helped me obtain the new job that I’ll be starting in a week. It was also featured in TechWhirl.

8) Be a warrior with Technical Communications Suite 4!
This was a post that promoted the new Adobe TCS 4 package and subsequent webinar done by my friend, Ankur Jain. I guess a lot of people were excited about the new software to have clicked on it so much!

9) Digital Tablets for Kids–Child’s Play, or should we take it seriously?
My perspective of digital tablets for children and review of some of the latest tablets made especially for kids made this post a popular one. This was an occasion to flex my GeekMom muscles more than my TechComm muscles.

10) My response to RJ Jacquez’s question: Will Tablets replace PCs?
RJ Jacquez, tech comm blogger extraordinaire and m-learning revolutionary, is one of my earliest followers as well as someone who I consider one of my mentors. The sign of a good teacher is having one of your “students” challenge or discuss ideas that have been put forth by the teacher, and that is what this post reflects.

Honorable Mentions:

There are so many more posts that also got some great traffic, but these were all the top ones for this year. I appreciate that so many of you have come to visit this site or follow this site regularly. Please enjoy reading–or re-reading–these posts, and feel free to peruse through the rest of the archives. There are almost 240 posts on this website at this writing, so there is plenty of content to read and enjoy–or hopefully learn and share!

As I’ve mentioned before, with my new job starting in about a week, I’m hoping to be able to keep up with posts when I can, and hopefully the new job will incite ideas for new posts in the next year to come! This blog has literally taken me places I’ve never expected to be, and I hope you continue to enjoy the trip as much as I have. More on my reflections about the year soon.

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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.
Awesome!