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Pandemic re-emergence? What’s new with TechCommGeekMom…so far.

Exit Darkness, Enter Light” by Fr@ηk is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually updated things. The last few years with this pandemic haven’t actually been that inspiring. And the last year or so has been a whirlwind. As I write this, I just finished giving my husband all my documentation for our 2021 taxes. Wait–it’s 2022 already? There are times my head feels scrambled because there’s just so much going on, and just in 2022 alone, there have been some big changes in my life–or at least how I’m doing things. Let me explain.

First, let’s look at things on the STC front. I’ve worked very hard over the last few years as a chapter leader for my local chapter–doing everything from communications to membership to programming to executive operations (if you want to call it that), and while I still have to do one more transition training after the spring (Easter/Passover) holidays, I’m essentially out of chapter/community leadership for a while. I knew the day would eventually come. I’m still a chapter member, just not in leadership. It was a good run, because the chapter is still going despite a lot of things that went wrong due to the pandemic and just the state of the world right now, and I’ve left it in the hands of people that I trust, so that helps. But this doesn’t mean that I’ve left the STC volunteer schema in any way. If anything, I got lucky as I was elected as a Board Director for the STC Board Director. I will tell you, the process to be a candidate was more intense than any job interview process I’ve ever been in! And I was lucky because there were two spaces and I was one of two candidates…so…you do the math. I really went into it not expecting to be elected at all, and lucky if I got to be on the slate. So, there’s a lot of changes that are coming up this month where I’ll be initiated into the Board. I sat in on an orientation/onboarding meeting this past week, and just had to breathe through it…it’s different, and it’s a lot to take in. I’ve been assured by my friends who’ve been on the STC board that I’ll be fine. I hope they are right. In the meantime, I’m still active on the Community Affairs Committee (CAC) for the Board, so that keeps me busy as well on that front for the rest of the program year. Between Board stuff and CAC stuff, I’m going to especially busy for the next month or so. I’m also presenting at the STC Summit this year, so I have to finish out the slides and such for that. Busy, busy, busy.

The other big thing that’s happened this year is that something that I’ve been seeking since this blog was started was finally achieved. I finally got a permanent placement position that’s remote. While I still had to interview for the position as if I was coming from the outside, I was able to convert my contract position into a permanent full-time employee position. I’m still doing the same job, except now I have the security that my contract isn’t ending at the end of October 2022, so unless there’s a big layoff or I really screw up, I have some job security. That’s taken a huge weight off my shoulders. I finally have employee benefits–better than what my husband had at his long-term position, that we switched it to me taking over medical, dental, vision, etc. Some things that I’m working on, though, is getting out of a contractor mentality. I’m still the biggest advocate for contractors–believe me–but I’m still adjusting to a full-time employee mentality. I haven’t been a full-time employee since 2000–before my son was born! So, it’s a bit of an adjustment in that respect. I also am part of progress checks and performance evaluations, which I’m not used to, and that gives me anxiety. I went through my first one the other day, and so far, so good.

Nonetheless, I’m glad that I’ve found a work “home”, and I generally like the work that we’re doing. Right now, it’s a little stressful as we have a big project going on that is launching at the end of June, and the intensity of getting everything done and doing the due diligence with the content is…challenging. Part of the challenge is me learning to go with the flow of things, and while I know what’s planned for after this project, I can’t think past that project launch. Just so much going on. I will say, at least, that where I’ve landed encourages that I have the opportunity to learn and grow, and I know my manager is happy with my STC involvement, so, that helps.

Some of these things spill over into my personal life, of course. While I haven’t been needing to look for a new position, I had to help my son look for his first apprenticeship/internship for school as he continues his studies to be an auto mechanic. He still struggles with his studies, but I can’t always help him because I don’t know the first thing about auto mechanical-related stuff. But I could help him with his apprenticeship search, and I’m helping him with his onboarding. It’s his first job, and his autistic anxiety is getting the best of him in some respects. I think he’ll do fine. We lucked out because we pushed him to look before the other students did, and he is starting in two weeks where he works once a week for about 3-4 weeks, and then he’ll be almost full-time (32 hours per week) while he continues his studies during the next 16 months. But, he got something, and he’s going to be one tired guy once he starts, but hopefully it’ll go well. He seems to get along with the service manager he’ll be working for, so that’s a good start. When I started this blog, he was still a little boy, an early “tween”. Now, he’s a young adult, and while in some ways he’s still a teenager even though he’s actually in his early 20s, so much is changing for him, too. Oh, and the hubby is fine, too. Readjusting to working hybrid, and he’s wishing he could work remotely permanently.

So, that’s the update. Kind of hard to write about much more at the moment. Oh, I will be on the Content Wrangler podcast this week as well! The podcast is A Decade of Observations From TechCommGeekMom: Danielle Villegas on April 20, 2022 1:00 pm ET. I look forward to talking to Paul Perrotta! He and I already just gab and gab when we do get together to talk, so it should be an interesting chat!

How have you started to emerge from the pandemic? Any big changes for you? Share in the comments.

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Happy 10th birthday, TechCommGeekMom.com!

On March 9, 2012, I was in my last semester of getting my master’s degree in professional and technical communications at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). One of the two last main courses I was taking was “Theory and Practice of Social Media”, a course I would later teach a few years later. In the class, we were instructed that we had to create a blog/website. So, I took some blog posts I had created for another class to start, added a few more, and well…the rest is history.

The idea behind this blog was–and still remains–one to express my ideas and issues that deal with various technical communications topics. When I was getting out of grad school, by ambition was to be an instructional designer. Here I am a decade later…someone who has used instructional design, but is not an instructional designer. But between my pre-grad school background skills, plus all the enhanced ones from my studies, I began a journey that continues today to try to find my “calling”. It feels like I’ve done a little bit of everything, but in the last decade, between continuing education through the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and getting some more continuing education certificates in digital marketing and UX Design, I’ve continued to expand and grow to get to where I am today.

There are over 1300 articles in this blog over the years. Often, it would be me sharing an article with some commentary, and sometimes it was baring my soul as I’ve gone through my journey to now. Sometimes, it was good; sometimes, it wasn’t so good. It’s been a rough decade! But I’m at a point where I feel like I might finally be coming out on top.

Anyway, I digress…this is still a space for exploration and learning. I’ve always invited constructive comments because social media (and yes, blogging is a form of social media still) is meant to be a means of a two-way communication, much more than just a one-way conversation, even if it ends up being that way most of the time. It has been a space where I could express myself and show what I know…this was initially a “marketing” tool for myself in helping me find work. Sometimes this has paid off! People get to know me beyond the resume or CV, and get to know me a little better, and understand what I’m learning to grow in my career.

While I don’t write as often as I used to, most of that is due to just being burned out and busy. The last two years, with a pandemic, have been trying on everyone, and my focus has been elsewhere. But I’ve come a long way in a decade.

You know that question that interviewers ask often–that lame question that goes along the lines of, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Where I am not is not where I thought I’d be. I’ve learned not to give an answer to that. I can say, “This is my goal,” but do I always reach those goals? No. But I persevere. And this blog is a testament to my perseverance.

I’ll try to stop in more often when I can. I think things are changing enough in my life that I can start to share articles and add commentary again, or try to post original content like this. But there’s over 1300 articles in this blog. I’m sure you’ll find something worthwhile to read in there. 😉 I’ve updated the layout theme a little bit so that it’s fresh for a new decade, so enjoy!

Happy 10th birthday, TechCommGeekMom.com!

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An invisible disability is still a disability–even at work.

Photo by Ola Dapo on Pexels.com

Today was a typical day for me, in that I had to deal with my son’s frustration with his schoolwork. For those who haven’t read this blog for very long, he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. And I have it too, but we are different in how we display it. (I’m older and more experienced in trying to work with it or around it.) He’s having difficulty with keeping up and understanding what he needs to do with his class, and he texted me today to say that his instructors were claiming that they had never received his accommodations form at the beginning of the year. I remembered when that came in, and I was sure that he had sent it to the head of the department at least (he’s only taking classes in one department). Since my son has given me permission to go into his school email, I was able to find the accommodation form as well as the original email, and so I emails the professors on his behalf, forwarding the information to them, and saying that if he needs to get more accommodations that will help him succeed added to his form, he’ll work with the school office that helps with that stuff to make it happen.

It made me think about everything that I’ve had to do in my life, not knowing that I was autistic as well for most of my life. I can definitely sympathize with my son, and I didn’t have the same kind of encouragement and help that he gets. One of the things that we have in common–which is definitely a sign of our autism–is that when we get overwhelmed, we shut down. We won’t be able to move forward or back or any direction until we get help. This is often misinterpreted as being lazy. Now, this is not to say that we can’t be procrastinators or lazy like others in the world. We absolutely can. But we need to differentiate what’s being overwhelmed and what’s being lazy. Sometimes the difference is razor thin.

One of my son’s fears in speaking up for himself is that he doesn’t want to look stupid in front of the class–or his instructors, for that matter. He’s afraid to say, “Hey, I’m confused, and I’m not sure what I’m doing,” even if the instructor just gave him the instructions. You can imagine his frustration that with the topic he’s learning, he knows he has to learn it as part of the curriculum and certification process that he’s going through because it’s going to be an important part of what he’ll be doing for his career, so he does need to understand how to do it. I’m the first to say my son is not an academic, but he IS smart, but is learning-different. And being learning-different is invisible. He’s still learning how to speak up for himself and advocate for himself, and this is when Mom (me), his dad, and people in the disabilities office at school try to advocate for him or teach him how to advocate for himself. When he’s frustrated, he gets overwhelmed and it’s hard to separate what he needs to do to advocate for himself and his anger and frustration. It’s tough.

But I understand it. It wasn’t until I was much older–twice his age–until I understand how to do it for myself. Now I’m a little TOO fierce when I advocate for myself sometimes! LOL But the difference is that accommodations at school and having your parents intervene is not the same at work. There are those in the workforce who think that accommodations is solely for needing wheelchair access, visual readers, closed-captioning, and ergonomic chairs and wrist rests. What’s often ignored in the workplace is the invisible disabilities–autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory integration, anxiety, and things like that. When someone is in school, there are support systems put in place to help people with these kinds of invisible disabilities. Sometimes, at the college level, they’ll have it, depending on the college, but it’s limited (this is what we’ve tried to take advantage of at my son’s college when possible). But at work…nope. Nothing.

For me personally, I’ve usually divulged my autism after I’m hired and settled in, because most of my career has been done without that knowledge, and I want to be hired on my accomplishments and merits without that information. But once I’m in, I try to make sure that my manager and my teammates understand some of my limitations. For example, I can listen and take notes, but I can’t process the information at the same time. I can’t condense it quickly to take down the notes, and move on. The person giving me the directions or talking about something might have moved onto the next thing before my brain actually can process whatever’s being talked about. So I find I have to tell people to SLOW DOWN, and I have been taught to review my instructions back to the person to make sure that I understand them. The last thing I need to do, which is a natural reflex for most people, is to say, “Sure, I understand,” when I don’t, and then mess up the entire situation. This used to get me in trouble–a lot more than anyone else who was around me either at school or work. So, I had to learn to do this so that I didn’t mess anything up. Other times, I’ve had to learn how to step up and say I’m overwhelmed, especially if everything–meaning many tasks assigned–all became a “priority” or “urgent” at the same time. I have learned how to gauge my own bandwidth, and call out if something is unrealistic, and ask my manager to prioritize the priorities as well, because I can only do so many things at once without feeling overwhelmed and having a meltdown. I will even have to make sure that I say something that I’m on the verge of feeling overwhelmed, and ask for help to navigate, because I do want to do a good job and do well. Some of this is the sort of thing that my son is still learning how to navigate, and I can only teach him so much about this without being with him at all times.

One of the big things that the pandemic and the last four to five years has been about is people trying to encourage each other to be kind, patient, and flexible with each other. There’s no better place–outside of your own home–than your workplace, where people spend almost as much–and sometimes more–time with co-workers than with family. So many practices came into play a century ago that are still used today that don’t work. This isn’t “feel good” talk, but rather common sense and decency towards each other. We don’t all work the same way. We don’t learn the same way. Heck, even I get frustrated with other people when they don’t understand something that I do! But, having an invisible disability or not, we all need to figure out the best way to work with each other and make compromises. Sometimes that starts with someone who’s at a natural disadvantage that they can’t help.

What do you think? Do you think corporate society does enough to accommodate invisible disabilities? Include your comments below.

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A plea, to everyone – from content designers, everywhere

Content design is an actual thing It sounds obvious, but content design is a real thing. Before trying to advocate what content designers are, it’s probably easier to explain what they’re not.

Source: A plea, to everyone – from content designers, everywhere

Thanks to Rahel Bailie, who retweeted this article on Twitter.

In the ever-changing world of technical communications, resource needs morph constantly. It’s not enough to be just a technical writer or just a–anything anymore. It’s bad enough that other professional disciplines have co-opted job titles from the tech comm world like “content strategist” when they really want a marketing strategist. Or calling us something that isn’t right. For example, I had the title of “Senior Copywriter” when I either did content strategy or UX writing, not really copywriting.

I like this title of “Content Designer” based on the description. I would like to get more involved in a position that’s like this. However, how long will it be before UX designers or even visual or graphic designers start to co-opt the description for themselves?

One of the difficulties of being a technical communicator is that job titles or descriptions aren’t always clear–especially these days. Something that’s a little more succinct would be nice. For example, it’s usually pretty clear what the requirements for a doctor, a mechanic, a financial advisor, or even a programmer. It used to be clear what various technical communicator positions were. It doesn’t seem to be that way anymore. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good in that we are not limited in doing just one thing–we’re allowed to go out of bounds and explore and be multi-disciplinary. At the same time, it can be bad because those multiple disciplines can be endless, and sometimes finding what fits your multiple disciplines doesn’t align in many places, making it hard to find work.

What do you think of the concept of “content design”, or the idea of tech comm job titles having…issues? Include your comments below.

–TechCommGeekMom

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Content in the Age of Coronavirus

Man watching TV intensely Welcome to day 4-ish of my self-quarantine from the coronavirus pandemic. I say 4-ish because I went out on Sunday, but once I came back, I’ve stayed home every since. I went for a walk with my husband around the neighborhood yesterday for a little bit of fresh air, but now most of the weather is expected to be wet and soggy for most of the next week, so other than a doctor’s appointment that hasn’t been cancelled yet, I plan to stay indoors.

This post was inspired by something that I just watched on Twitter. Normally, I don’t watch Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show much (we’re more Late Show with Stephen Colbert people), but I saw he had posted a “home edition” post, and I was curious. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but he said something in his conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda in passing that perked my ears up. He mentioned that right now, it’s “all about the content”.

BAM!

In the conditions that all of us are in right now, with most of us on self-imposed quarantines, many don’t know what to do with themselves if they aren’t doing their work from home or helping their kids with schoolwork. Being generally sequestered indefinitely, they yearn for content to keep them abreast of what’s going on in the world as well as something to entertain them to help pass the time. Many business-related companies that have means of broadcasting through webinars or the like are already taking advantage of this, and trying to help the “cause” of needing content to help people get through these times. So many people are not used to staying at home for long periods of time, unless they’ve been seriously ill, or snowed in from a blizzard or other natural disaster. Perhaps because I’m a bit of an introvert, and I’ve worked from home for a long time, I’m used to staying home and not going out for long stretches of time. I am a natural couch potato–my mother used to criticize me for it, but I’ve always loved watching TV to watch all the comedies, action shows, and documentaries I could. I swear half of my knowledge comes from pop culture from those years of intensely watching TV from the 1970s-1990s especially.

So, this is an opportunity to either appreciate the content that is out there or start creating your own. I’ve been watching documentaries, movies, and TV shows that were on my watch list for the longest time, and I’m starting to read some books again. At the same time,  I’m working with my programming chair/vice-president of the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter and another STC person on creating other content and events to go on virtually in the coming months.

Now, you might think that you need to have fancy equipment and lighting and audio to create content. Nope. Heck, this blog post is content. It’s taking up some of your time, and giving you something to think about, doesn’t it? Additionally, it’s not about the “bling”. Again the point is the content itself. What is the big message? What value does the content–whether it be text, video, audio, or whatever–have? Does it need to be “perfect” in order to get that main message through? In my opinion, it doesn’t not have to be glitzy. It’s nice when it is, but it doesn’t have to be. All content, as we’ve been told by content marketers, is about storytelling. Yes, that procedure manual you are writing or those instructions that you are writing as a technical writer are still telling a story. Any kind of entertainment we watch right now is content and it’s storytelling. Content storytelling comes in infinite forms, after all.

Photo of TechCommGeekMom and hubby walking in their neighborhood.
Here’s my contribution. Here’s a photo of me and my husband taking a walk around our neighborhood. It’s usually this quiet around here for the most part anyway. We didn’t stay six feet apart for long!

What kind of content are you either going to consume or create today? For me, it’s watching a mini-series on Hulu, then watching Star Trek: Picard and the Ready Room later today. I might create some storytelling by submitting my resume to another job opening. I know I’ve definitely been having conversations via social media and instant messaging with friends and family during this time. For me, most of this is generally the same as usual–I fill my life with content. Content is storytelling, but it’s also how you fill your life with experiences. Going out for a walk to get some fresh air is still absorbing content–you are using all your senses to create your story of taking that walk outside. You can translate that into further content by either video recording that walk, taking photos along the way, or writing about it later. No matter how it’s processed, it’s content.

So, while it’s frustrating to be sequestered for this long, we all know it’s for our own health and for the greater good of the PLANET. Coronavirus has definitely hit my area, and with my bad asthma, I’m hesitant to leave the house–other than a neighborhood walk–for anything for the most part. I know a lot of people are having a hard time with this, but we really are in this together. My recommendation is to concentrate on the good content that is out there. Be aware of the “doom and gloom” to be educated, but focus on the better stuff. Pay attention to how others are helping each other. Look at the content that people are putting out to ensure that you are recognized, loved, helped, and that your mind is staying active. Watch webinars and video conferences. This is a great opportunity to hone your verbal and written communications skills because working from home involves better communications skills than when you are in the office. Appreciate and enjoy all the entertainment and education that the media offers. You know I learned how to cook better over the years from watching a lot of the Food Network? My husband I have learned a lot about DIY projects and real estate from watching HGTV. It’s an opportunity for you to read all those books that you’ve been collecting to read and “will get to eventually”. This is time to spend with your families. This is a time to break out your creative side and draw, paint, knit…whatever. Learn to exercise at home doing something different–there are plenty of “dance parties” and yoga classes online where you don’t need equipment. Use this time to absorb content that will help you be a better person when you emerge from the quarantines. It will help distract you from the doom and gloom. Contribute content when you can, even if it’s a one-to-one instant message conversation with a friend, or an email. I know an email checking in on my parents lifted their spirits that I was checking in on them. Or heck, a blog post. 🙂

It’s all about the content right now. Learn to absorb and appreciate what’s out there right now that we can use, and help contribute positive content to share.

What are your thoughts? Include your comments below.