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TechCommGeekMom’s TechComm Predictions for 2014

Sarah Jane Smith of Doctor Who is gazing into her crystal ball, trying to figure out why the 3rd Doctor and the Master aren’t going at it with more mobile tech.
Happy New Year! Welcome to 2014!

I had set several goals for 2013, and for the most part, I achieved many of them.  Due to finally having a job this past year, I was able to pay for my new kitchen outright (okay, we saved on labor costs because my multi-talented husband installed everything–and I mean everything–except the Silestone countertops), so I have a new kitchen that I love.  I definitely travelled more, as I visited Atlanta for the first time in 21 years due to the STC Summit, and I got to visit Portland, Oregon again for Lavacon.  I didn’t get to go to the UK, however. And I still don’t look like a supermodel yet.

My 2014 goals are still fairly ambitious, I think. I would like to build upon my web publishing experiences at work, and figure out how to become a content engineer, rather than merely a content manager. I’m hoping that attending the Intelligent Content Conference in San Jose, CA this February and attending this year’s STC Summit in Phoenix, AZ will with help with that. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it to Lavacon again until later in the year. I still want to go to the UK, but I think I may have to wait a little longer for that. If there’s a way to combine a vacation and a conference there at the same time, perhaps I can pull it off later in the year instead of going to Lavacon (just to vary things up a bit).  I had hoped to become a certified Muse expert last year, and that didn’t happen. Perhaps I can try this year. I also got the “WordPress for Dummies” book this year, which has inspired me to become more expert at using WordPress. I currently use the version hosted by WordPress itself, but I think it might be helpful to understand how the independently managed version works, too. If I can achieve some weight loss in the process during all of this, I will consider 2014 a success. 😉

As for predictions for 2014 in tech comm, I decided that I would be a little more analytical about it. Two years ago, it seemed that the push in tech comm was that we needed to think more carefully about content management reuse of content, and think in terms of mobile content.  This past year, that was extended to translation and localization of content, taking it a step further. So with those concepts in mind, what’s the next step? In my mind, it’s implementation of all of these with more vigor. Some companies are on top of this, but it wouldn’t be surprising to me if many companies–even large, global companies–are not on top of any of this yet, or on top of it in an effective way. I think about companies that I’ve worked for in the past, and how, despite their size and availability of resources, these companies wouldn’t be cutting edge in distributing content for desktops or mobile, and regional sites were not as localized nor standardized as they should be. So, in my mind, this is the year of implementation.

googleglassAnother thing to consider is technology changes. Over the past few years, we’ve been adapting not only to desktop or laptop interfaces, but we’ve also been adapting to more mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.  Marta Rauch, a technical communicator friend of mine who is part of the Google Glass beta testing, pointed


out that 2014 is due to be a year in which even more portable, wearable mobile devices will become relevent. These devices would include something like Google Glass or similar products, but it also would include devices like Samsung’s wristband device or devices that are synchronized with car components. She’s got a point. Components are getting smaller, and technological portability is becoming more and more mainstream all the time. How do we decide what content is most user-friendly, reuseable, streamlined, and pertinent for these kinds of mobile devices? It’s something we need to start thinking about now.

“Riker to the Tech Comm community–are you there?”

So there you have it. At least in my mind, if we aren’t all wearing Comm Badges like in Star Trek by the end of the year, I don’t know what this world is coming to. 😉 But it’s hard for someone like me to figure out where the future is going. I’m grateful there are those who are on the cutting edge that can help me figure that sort of thing out, and can educate me on the latest and greatest so that I can bring it to my own workplace, as well as talk about it here on TechCommGeekMom.

I’m sure that there will be plenty of surprises coming up in 2014. As I said, I have three conferences that I’ll be attending in the first half of the year, and I know with the continuation of this great work contract I have, I will probably be learning a lot of new things through that opportunity, too. My philosophy is to never stop learning, and I plan to continue to learn a lot more going forward in the coming year.

What are you predictions for the coming year? Am I on target, or off-base? What did I forget to mention? Let me know in the comments.

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How important is a credential in tech comm?

MP900341500I was recently involved in an online discussion on Facebook with some friends about the benefit of having a Masters degree in this day and age. A friend of mind had posted this article which argued that having a Masters wasn’t worth the expense or time:

My Master’s wasn’t worth it

A big problem I had with the article is that it seemed like people weren’t focused enough, in some respects, when it came to what they were doing with their degree. For example, I agree that MBAs are a dime a dozen, and people often get them thinking it’s going to provide some sort of “magic bullet” in their career. I’ve never taken a business course, and I’ve done just fine in business without one. I’m sure there are certain jobs and specialities that it’s warranted, but some get it just to say that they earned it. MBAs seem to be losing their value.  Another chap had the problem that he’d have to do his internship all over again due to an illness during his first one. Without that internship completed, he couldn’t graduate and get his license to become a practicing psychologist. He tried to get a job without the degree, but he couldn’t, but he also didn’t bother to try to get another internship either.  The main theme I seemed to see was that people went into Masters programs with only half a plan–that they only had a Plan A on how to use their degree, but no Plan B, C, or D.

Part of the reason I waited so long in my own life to get a Masters degree was that I didn’t know what major I wanted to do for my Masters degree. Ironically enough, many years ago I had looked at a communications program somewhat similar to the one I did, but at the time more than twenty years ago,  I really didn’t understand what the degree was about, and I didn’t get into the program, or else I just didn’t apply. If I couldn’t explain the degree to my parents, then how could I justify it for myself? A lot changed in twenty-plus years, and it was just timing, circumstance, and a better understanding of knowing what my skills were and the need to enhance them professionally.  I started out with a somewhat plan, but by the time I graduated, I had a much clearer idea of what my options were, and there was a Plan A, B, C, and D. In fact, life took a slightly different turn for me than expected, and I ended up following a combination of Plan C and the unknown Plan E. 😉 And I do that with no regrets, but I still had a plan, and I knew my options in getting my degree.

The ironic thing that happened to me this week, also related to a Masters degree, is that a fellow graduate of my program contacted me through LinkedIn, and in the e-mail conversation we had, she started to question whether it was worth getting the degree that we both had earned. She was working a retail job, and turning down full-time jobs because they were paying less than her last full-time job from several years ago. From the conversation, I could tell that the problem was that she didn’t know how to promote the fact that having her MSPTC gave her an advantage over many people, thus making her a stronger candidate for a job. (I also reminded her that some of those other tech comm jobs that paid less than her old job probably also paid a lot more than a retail job, not that there’s anything wrong with a retail job.) She didn’t have a plan or an idea how to utilize all the knowledge she accumulated over the same amount of time that I had earned my degree. In fact, she had taken most of the same classes as I had, so I knew the value of what she had learned and earned with her degree.

Between these two incidents, it got me to thinking about the value of having a credential in technical communications. How important is a credential in tech comm, anyway?  I can only speak from my own experience, but I think it can help a lot, depending on your circumstances. The job market in technical communication-related positions is very competitive these days, so any advantage is a plus. One of the arguments of the article above is that getting a Masters degree is expensive. I won’t lie–it IS expensive. But spending over US$ 100,000 to get a degree? Anyone spending that much for their MA or MS is getting ripped off. After doing some research after the fact, I found I went to one of the more expensive programs out there, and yet I know that I’ll be earning that much more with my new job because of the degree in my hand. In other words, I’ll be recouping my investment within the first year or so. So, I’m not too upset in that respect.

But financial considerations aside, is it worth the time and effort? Again, I think it’s only if you have some semblance of a plan of what you want to get out of the program, and what you plan to do with the knowledge you gain. Additionally, you need to know how to promote why the credential gives you an edge over others, or perhaps even puts you on par with others in the field.  You also have to understand what flexibility that education can provide you, even with a plan in place. But do you have to be limited to only getting a Masters degree? I don’t think so. Looking back (and I knew this when I started this tech comm trek), that even if I had only earned my Tech Comm Essentials graduate certificate, it already gave me an edge over others that didn’t have something like that. It did help me get two jobs during the process of earning my full Masters, after all, and even if I hadn’t completed my Masters, I felt that I had a more solid foundation to move forward in the career direction I wanted.

One of the great advantages of being the technical communications field is that it’s very broad. There are SO many specialities within this field that having a broad enough exposure can allow one some flexibility if a credential is earned.  With my degree, I felt that I had the ability to get a good job in technical writing and editing, user experience/strategy, web design, content management/strategy, social media, corporate communications and e-learning design. Others in my program went in other directions with health communications, and web analytics, for example. And yet, there are so many other specialties that are within technical communications that we, as technical communicators, should theoretically have the most flexibility in the job market than many others out there. (This begs to argue my specialist versus generalist debate again.) So, in my view, unless you’ve already been involved in technical communications for a very long time, getting any kind of training, re-training or credential only adds to your professional value.

My perspective hasn’t changed much since I wrote my blog post, The Meaning of Graduating with a Masters Degree in Technical Communications, almost 9 months ago.  Once I actually had my degree in hand, I just did my best to take off with it. Yes, it still took me six months to find a job, BUT I found that having both my grad certificate and Masters gave me a lot of credibility in the eyes of potential employers as well as opened some doors that I don’t think would have opened if I hadn’t pursued the degree.  I initially concentrated on e-learning and m-learning in the last few months, but it was falling back on my knowledge and experience of content management/strategy and web design that ultimately helped me gain employment. And so far, I like my job, which is good.

I realized that the ID/TC Education Resources section of this blog doesn’t have as many tech comm credential programs listed, and recently I was asked for some help in identifying some schools that had tech comm programs. I was able to expand my list for the requester, but I haven’t posted that research here yet, and I hope to do so soon. I’ll post something to alert everyone of the update once it’s done.

But in the meantime, do some Googling on your own, or visit the STC Education website for more information. I know that the STC not only offers many webinars and certificate programs, they also have a special certification program as well. That would be a good place to start. As I said, unless you are already a very well-established technical communicator, getting any kind of credential, whether it be a certificate showing completion of a single course, or a full graduate degree, can only help one’s career in providing professional value to what one can offer. But, you should only get that credential if you can justify and plan a way to use it and promote it for yourself.

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Video Killed the Radio Star – @TechCommGeekMom Style

I’m really excited about this! I’ve been waiting to tell y’all about this, and now I can!

A few months ago, the director of NJIT‘S Master’s of Science in Professional and Technical Communication
(MSPTC) program asked me if I would be willing to do a video about my experiences as an MSPTC student and graduate, and some of the opportunities the program has afforded me. Of course, I was honored that she asked me, and I said yes! So on several particularly hot days in late June and early July, a fellow graduate from the program who works for NJIT’s communications department came down to my hometown and filmed this video.

Yes, that’s really me in the flesh. Yes, those are my own words. I was just asked to talk about certain topics, and nothing is scripted at all (well, it’s scripted from my head, but nothing was memorized). I thought I was stiff during the filming, but my–I admit I’m rather animated! Just imagine what it’s like when I’m up doing a regular presentation! LOL

You can click on the image in this post (a still from the video) or you can click on this link:

Or, if you’d like me to speak in person–contact me! (See the “About TechCommGeekMom” tab above.) Hey, if I can get some more speaking gigs, that would be good, wouldn’t it?

Let me know how I did in the video! 🙂

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Hurrah! The ID/TC Education Resources Page has been updated on!

Hello everyone!

It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here, but it’s only been a week. I do try to post something original here at least once a week as best as I can.

But right now, I’m mentally wiped out, so it occurred to me that now is a great time to update some of the pages here as best as I can.

So, for easier reading, I’ve updated the Instructional Design/Technical Communications Education Resources Page (otherwise known as the ID/TC Education Resources Page). If you click the link above in the navigation, that will take you directly to that page.

Now, upon first inspection, it will look pretty much the same, with the same links to helpful articles.

But now after a few additions and some reorganization, all 158 credentials are listed and organized by credential. Specifically, they are split up between Bachelor’s degrees, Certificates, Specialist degrees, Master’s degrees, and finally Doctorates.  I’m hoping that this reorganization will help anyone who is looking for that next avenue themselves. Many of these programs are online too, so be sure to check them out. Even my own alma mater, NJIT, is listed in the Master’s programs. 😉

As always, if you have a suggestion for a higher ed program related to technical communications, e-learning or m-learning, please let me know so I can add it to the list!

Enjoy, and thanks for continuing to support!

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The Meaning of Graduating with a Masters in Technical Communication

NJIT MSPTC Class of 2012

Today was a big milestone day in my life. Today, twenty-two years after I received my Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Mary Washington (Mary Washington College back then), I received my Masters of Science in Professional and Technical Communication from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Let me tell you, if you had talked to me at the time of my Bachelors degree and told me that a) I’d be getting a Masters degree and b) it would be in a program that involved computer related stuff and technical writing, I would have thought you were insane.

I put two and a half years of my life into this degree. There was blood, sweat and tears that were involved now and then (literally, in some cases!). My husband was a weekend widower for most of that time, and my son understood that Mom had to do her homework too, and it was way more than he had because she was anywhere from in the 17th-20th grades (compared to him being in 5th grade).

I started this program because I was unemployed. I was being laid off from a job that had certain aspects I liked, namely editing and the use of instructional design. I also had some e-learning and some instructional design from a prior job that I liked, so I decided to “work the system” in seeing if I could find some sort of coursework that would help to update my skills as job retraining through the state’s re-employment programs. By a miracle, there was an ad on Facebook–of all places– for NJIT’s MSPTC program and the grad certificates in technical communications essentials. When I looked at the curriculum, it was exactly what I was looking for, and so many of the electives that I wanted to take! I was able to complete all the paperwork and convince the state to pay for my tech comm certificate. I started with that, because I figured that it was a shorter commitment, I would still get some significant training out of it, and if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t stuck in it for the long haul. And if I did like it, I could always transfer the credits straight into the Masters program.

Well, you guessed it– I ended up loving it. The state ended up paying for my first three courses until I got a job that allowed me to pay for the rest of my education myself, which was an incredibly expensive investment.  I took as broad a range of subjects as I could, but found myself always gravitating towards e-learning and m-learning just the same. I oriented many papers to cover e-learning and m-learning topics over time, yet kept my options open so that I had more opportunities to not only expand my own knowledge base, but provide opportunities in other areas I liked in case the e-learning direction didn’t work out the way I wanted.

And now…I have a Masters degree. I think there was a point in my career that I knew I wanted a Masters degree, and that perhaps a Masters degree would help with my career– but doing what? The problem was that the kind of degree I wanted to do wasn’t around the way it is now when I first got my undergraduate degree. Creating websites was strictly for computer developers and programmers, and I wasn’t that. I wasn’t an English major who specialized in creative writing or journalistic writing either. Not that there’s anything wrong with those majors–not at all, but they weren’t me, or at least not quite me. Discovering the world of technical communication when I did and finding an educational resource when I did was purely fortuitous timing, if nothing else, but I’m glad it’s become part of my life.

I seem to recall that the advisor for the program said something about me in reference to this program to the effect of it being something where I learned about my own voice. I think this is definitely true. Growing up, and even through my undergrad years, I thought being a good writer had to do with being a “flowery” writer, someone who always included all these incredible details in their works. I couldn’t do that. Part of the reason that a History degree appealed to me was that I just had to collect and re-churn out facts in a cohesive manner. Even with that, I didn’t understand that I could do that well until my senior year of college, when my favorite professor motivated me to write some of my best work of my college career. Some of the papers I did for him that I thought were horrible were ones that he thought were my best. When I re-read them years later, I realized what he was saying– they were good. Maybe I really was someone who could write decently.

I think the understanding that I could write well was developed more as I winged my way through my professional life, but it really didn’t become clear until I joined this program. I did find my voice, and I could express my opinion, and…people listened. People understood my message. And people thought I explained myself well, and liked the work that I did.  I sometimes am still surprised that I was able to pull this off. But yes, I found my voice, and I found what makes me excited in the working world, and that’s technical communication with an emphasis on e-learning and m-learning the most. (But get me started on editing “International English“, UX or content strategy as well, and my engines get revved up as well!)

Today is a big day. Today is a day I realized that I can make a big contribution to global society just being myself and truly doing what I love. I know that even with a Masters degree in my hand, I still have SO much more to learn to realize my full potential in the e-learning and m-learning world, and I’m doing my best to take what I’ve learned from my MSPTC program and move forward. And I don’t mean just academically, but what I’ve learned about myself from the experience as well.

In my last post, I talked about how important it is right now in the technical communications world to keep up with skills and teach yourself new things. The world is moving SO fast that it’s hard to keep up, even with a brand-spanking new graduate degree in hand! Even as I write this, while it might seem like I’m done, I’m far from done. I’m trying to take some online tutorials in Adobe Tech Comm Suite 3.5 software, and I’m throwing myself into an instructional design project. I need to get my feet wet in the real world, and I have to keep it moving or else I’ll miss out or fall behind quickly.  Even if your goal is not getting a Masters degree, I highly encourage you to challenge yourself with something new. The ID/TC Education Resources link above is a list of programs that I curated to help others to find additional education to help further their careers as well.  I found that NJIT’s MSPTC program fit my needs at the time I started, but I’ve since learned of some other great programs that are listed on that page.  You might learn some new skills, but you might also learn more about yourself in the process.

Other than teaching myself more software, are there plans to continue with, say, a doctoral degree? While I would love to be known as “Dr. Villegas,” I think I need some time and space to still fully realize this MSPTC degree. It hasn’t sunk in that I have it. It still seems a little surreal.  I also need time to figure out, if I do go on with further education, if it only is a matter of getting another graduate certificate, or if a PhD or EdD is what I want to do. And then…in what, and how? Perhaps, like 22 years ago, the program I want or need isn’t out there yet, so biding my time will help.

Tomorrow is a new day, and a step towards a new future as a master of technical communication. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next!