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At the Summit: Midnight Train [From] Georgia

051-Gladys-Knight-Midnight-Train-To-GeorgiaAll good things must come to an end, so must the STC Summit 2013. The last day of the conference was a half-day, but it was still packed with some great presentations and fun. It was time to go home (hence taking the Midnight Train FROM Georgia versus TO Georgia), but it was with the knowledge that so much had been gained in those few days.

Here’s the summary of my last day at the Summit:

At the Summit: Midnight Train [From] Georgia

There will be one last summary written for the STC Notebook, which will also be published here, so stay tuned!

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Is English an International Language? – Part 2

UK vs US peepsEarlier this year, I was asked by the STC-PMC to write a two-part article about the differences and similarities between American and British English.  Part 1 was published in February.  Today, I happily saw that the second part was published in the STC-PMC bi-monthly newsletter.

To find the original article, see the March/April 2013 edition of the STC-PMC Newsletter here.

The article itself is below.

Is English an International Language?
Part 2

David Crystal, author of English as a Global Language, has said that in the pursuit of a World Standard Spoken English (WSSE), American English seems to be the most influential in its development, as American grammar is now starting to influence contemporary British usage.  He also discusses at length how different dialects will allow national and international intelligibility to start developing. He said, “If WSSE emerges as the neutral global variety in due course, it will be make redundant the British/American distinction. British and American English will still exist, of course, but as varieties expressing national identity in the UK and the USA.

Edmund H. Weiss, the author of The Elements of International English Style, also points out that there is clash when trying to come up with a standard version of English, namely between “…globalization, producing a one-size-fits-all solution for a diverse world of English speakers, versus localization, adapting and modifying this universal model for particular readers in particular locales.”  Where English is a second language, Weiss demonstrates, the idioms and figures of speech end up resembling the language structure of the native language. Because of there are about 400 million native English speakers, and about a billion people who speak it as a second language or as a foreign language (for business or a profession), the importance of clear, unambiguous communication is undeniable.

There are many great resources available about this conundrum that can help put everything in perspective, especially in a world in which the Internet is starting to spread the use of English more and more all the time. Some good ones include:

Recent Articles:
Internet + English= Netglish
Learning English online: How the Internet is changing language
Tongue and Tech: the Many Emotions from Which English Has No Words

·         Do’s and Taboos of Using English Around the World by Roger E. Axtell
·         Divided by a Common Language: A Guide to British and American English by Christopher Davies
·         The Elements of International English Style: A Guide to Writing Correspondence, Reports, Technical Documents, and Internet Pages for a Global Audience by Edmond H. Weiss
·         English as a Global Language by David Crystal
·         Brit-Think, Ameri-Think by Jane Walmsley

·         International English by Danielle M. Villegas at

So, what’s a technical writer supposed to do? The best thing to do is to be exceedingly careful of using slang or idioms that relate to one’s native English, and be aware of local usage used on a global scale. This isn’t an easy task at all, yet it’s an important consideration when translating English into another language, let alone trying to write for English speakers globally.

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“A Fear Stalks Our Profession…”

The STC posted this on Facebook today (I was so busy today, that I don’t know if they posted it elsewhere), and I was struck by how focused it is in the message. Credit goes to Rick Lippincott who gave this presentation, and to the STC for posting it!

This Lightning Talk from the 2012 STC Summit in Chicago expresses exactly why I get so excited about technical communications. It’s an fantastic time to be a technical communicator! Enjoy!

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A true test of mobile versus…not.

MP900435893A recent event has made me discover that I will be tested in understanding how my true use of mobile technology will really be in the near future.

How did I come to that discovery?

I recently sent in a proposal to do a presentation, and I was notified over the weekend that the proposal has been accepted! I’m really thrilled for a number of reasons. First, it’s the first time I’ve actually sent in a proposal to do a presentation, so to have it accepted on the first try is pretty good. Second, this presentation will be the first real professional presentation I’ve ever done to a large group. I’ve done presentations, but not on this scale before. Third, it’s going to be for the STC’s Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, hosted by one of my home chapters, the STCPhiladelphia Metropolitan Chapter, in early March of this year. Less than a month and a half away from this writing! So, it’s going to be nice representing my own chapter, and being able to sleep in my own bed instead of traveling too far to do this! 😉 So, for a number of reasons, you can see that I’m actually very excited and honored to be included, especially considering that I’m still a “young” professional in the technical communications field.

But in receiving this acceptance, I realized that now I have to actually put everything together for this presentation. I have the foundation for it, which is what I forwarded to the conference’s review committee, so that’s not the issue. Now the issue is pulling it all together to be a stellar presentation. I know I can do a presentation, but I need to create some sort of slideshow or PowerPoint content that can be displayed while I actually present.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are probably thinking, “But TechCommGeekMom, you are a technical communicator. Surely you know how to do, at least, a simple PowerPoint presentation?” Indeed, I do know how to do that, and do it well. I also know some other tools to use as well. That’s not the issue or the problem either. I have a bigger problem to figure out. The problem is whether to create the slideshow in PowerPoint on my laptop, and bring my laptop with me, OR…create the presentation in Keynote on my iPad, and bring my iPad with me. There’s always the third option of creating the presentation for both, and bringing both, but I’d like to avoid doing that, if possible.

On the one hand, using my laptop is a guarantee. We know that a laptop can generally hook up to video/VGA/ HDMI cables that most conference centers use, so that’s not a problem. But I have a BIG laptop–a big 17-inch screen one. It’s a little on the heavy side. I bought it during grad school for the big stuff I had to do, and sometimes still do, with web design, writing large papers, and for the big power-lifting tasks that one needs a laptop.

On the other hand, I am the huge proponent of using mobile devices, and having a means of creating a slideshow on my iPad presents a new option that I haven’t had in the past. I could buy a cable (or two) that could hook up into a conference center‘s video system– I don’t mind the expense of getting the necessary cables to do that–but I don’t want to be left standing with an iPad and a bunch of cables that may not be compatible with the video screen system, thus no presentation other than me and my big mouth. (I could pull that off–just a speech alone, since I remember giving presentations even in my school days before computers were even present in schools, but that’s giving away my age now…) But let’s face it–pictures and words on a screen are much more entertaining than verbal words alone in this day and age. Since I don’t know what this conference center has, I have to second guess what’s there. This is my preference, but this is not guaranteed to work.

So, here’s a crowdsourcing question for anyone who’s reading this, especially if you have done professional presentations on the road. What should I do? Should I plan on bringing the laptop and create a standard PowerPoint formatted presentation? Or, should I plan on practicing what I preach about using mobile devices, namely using my iPad, and create the presentation on that? If I should use the iPad, what extra cables should I purchase? Or, should I just plan on creating it on both, and bringing both?

I especially need the help of those who do presentations on the road often. Who has used an iPad? Who has used only a laptop? What are the advantages and disadvantages in either instance? What has worked best for you?

Let me know what your suggestions are in the comments below. I really would love to get some input on this! Thanks!

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What did you do to get that Tech Comm job?

MH900431660As the news continues to spread that I finally got a full-time job after a year of searching, one of my friends from Adobe suggested that I should write a post about how I got the job, with the purpose of encouraging others that they, too, can find a tech comm job.

Well, I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. And my path may not be the right path for everyone, but I think there are some universal elements that can be recommended here. As this blog has often been a testament of my job searching woes and questioning what seemed to work and what didn’t, all I can do is recall what seemed to work for this particular interview that got me the job, and what lead me to that moment. In a nutshell, it was a lot of hard work.

Let me first start by bringing this recent article to your attention:

Employers may be aggravating the ‘skills gap’

The article explains that in the US, while there isn’t a lack of unemployed workers, there is a lack of skilled workers in specific professions, and that employer demands of finding such workers instead of making a small investment in training otherwise competent workers is contributing to the problem. Gone are the days when, if you had half a brain and could learn how to do things, your employer would hire you and train you on that specialty. Most of my career was done this way. After college, I had a degree in hand, and could show that I could speak, write well, and think on my feet, so I was trained as a consumer affairs rep for a national manufacturing company. I would pick up different skills as I went from job to job, learning and gaining skills as I went along, eventually even shifting from a client services career to an IT career. But when I returned to the workforce after a brief stint away to be a stay-at-home mom, I found that wasn’t always the case anymore. In the last year or two, I can tell you that I KNOW this isn’t true anymore, or it’s a rarity. The article above mentions the loss of the time honored tradition of apprenticeships, something that may need to have a comeback. I supposed that internships are similar to apprenticeships, but they are far and few between as it is, especially for a mom like myself trying to get back into the workforce to help the family finances. Most are for school credit, instead of a small wage to learn a skill or craft. Possibly good for some students, but not that good for the rest of us who have to support ourselves or family.

In a sense, I had to create my own apprenticeship. In economic hard times, necessity is the mother of invention, and this mother needed to invent a new career out of necessity. My first full-time job after the onset of motherhood gave me the direction–technical communications. From there, I had to figure out how to better establish myself as a technical communicator, and eventually become one in the field.

So as not to bore you with my long story of how I finally arrived at this moment of getting a job, I’ll cut to the chase of what I think helped me in the end.

1) Don’t be afraid of being a multi-specialist or generalist. I know that several weeks ago, I questioned this, because this seemed to be a huge roadblock for me. In the end, it was the fact that I was a multi-specialist, I think, that picqued the employer’s interest. Yes, I could work on a CMS system, but I also know a lot about m-learning, social media, web design and yes, I can write. I think that the more I discussed what I knew about each topic, the more I could see eyes of the interviewers light up.

2) Create an e-portfolio of your work. This was really helpful for me. As much as I could say that I could write, create audio and video files, understood web design, and understand social media, I had PROOF. My e-portfolio could provide samples of most of my skills so that employers could see for themselves. While my e-portfolio originally started as my capstone project for graduate school, it has been enhanced and appended several times after graduation to appeal to prospective employers as well as those who just want to understand my work.

3) Get an education. You don’t necessarily need to go out and get a Masters degree like I did, but if you feel deficient in any field and there is any course available that will allow you to gain some new skills, take advantage of it. Even if I had only taken that first introductory course in grad school, I feel like I would have gotten ahead more than if I didn’t take that class. I knew when I was first unemployed that I had a lot to catch up with when it came to technology, so I took advantage of my state’s re-employment program that allowed workers to enhance their skills.  It paid for the first three courses of my graduate certificate that eventually was transferred into my degree. But there are lots of great courses too, at local community colleges, continuing education programs, and oh yeah–online! Learning more always gives you more to provide a prospective employer.

If you are looking for a technical communications position specifically, there are several accredited schools who offer online programs for certificates, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees. Look at the ID/TC Education Resources in the menu bar above for some suggestions. Being a product of one of these online degree programs, I do recommend NJIT’s MSPTC program, as it did help me get to where I am and prepared me for this.

Or, educate yourself, and teach yourself a new skill. Take advantage of trial offers to use software you haven’t used before, but see what is prevalent in the field. For me, it was Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite. (As a technical communicator, you can try it out too if you click on the ad on the right column at the top!)

4) Get involved in social media. While I had always been someone keeping up with friends and family through social media, I also made a conscious decision during my job search to use social media to gain an advantage in the workforce. How? If I could keep up with trends going on in the field, then I could speak more competently about changes going on in the field than if I just stayed stagnant where I left off. In the past year, I’ve learned so much about technical communications and e-learning/m-learning issues that were never discussed in the classroom. Also, don’t be afraid to start a blog like this one. It allows others to understand how your mind thinks as well as what is important to you. It’s a great addition to the e-portfolio. It can also be a resource in finding positions as well, as many employers and groups are posting job vacancies through social media channels now.

5) Get a part-time job in the meantime. While I was trying to find that great full-time job, I actually held two short-term part-time jobs. One was as an assistant webmaster to a local academic publisher, and the other was teaching a virtual course in technical and business writing to a corporate office in Asia. While they weren’t exactly traditional tech comm jobs per se, they both helped me keep some of my skills fresh, and let me look at other industries beyond those I already had experienced.

6) Network with other tech comm professionals. You always hear how one should network, and it’s true. Just so you know, networking does NOT come naturally to me at all–not even close. In fact, I really don’t like networking, but I forced myself to do it, and I’m glad I did. I signed up with the STC while still a student, and attended one or two events that were local to me, and I was able to make some valuable connections. Similarly, networking is an extension of social media.  While I did use social media to educate myself on the latest topics of the field, I also used it to get to know other tech comm professionals. When I went to Adobe Day at Lavacon a couple months ago, it allowed me to instantly connect with more people because I had gotten to know them online, and for that, I’m grateful.  I’ve also kept in contact with my professors and several classmates through social media, and that’s helped with networking as well.  While it wasn’t the case for this particular job, my last full-time job came about from networking with a classmate who helped get my resume in front of the right person at her office. Even the teaching job was found because one of my professors posted it on LinkedIn. You never know what connections you can make that will either lead to a job, or provide you with an excellent support system to help get you through.

7) Create a functional resume instead of a chronological one. I had a recruiter tell me that a chronological resume that I was submitting wasn’t telling him anything about my abilities, especially since my career was going in a zig-zag direction between jobs. On top of that, my last two jobs, which were part-time, didn’t really say much about my ability as a technical communicator necessarily. He suggested that I create a functional resume rather than a chronological resume to send out to his clients. I balked at first (which I often do when I think I already have something good), but I did it anyway, and I’m glad I did. This is part of what the recent interviewers liked most. I was able to lay out what skills I had in both a broad sense, and then with specific examples of what I did with those skills. The places where I did them and when I did them didn’t matter as much as me being able to do them. My actual skills were able to shine more than where I was last. I still have a chronological resume for those that insist on that type, but more often, I would sent the functional one instead, and I got a better response for jobs that were more in line with what I was looking for as a result.

I’m sure there are plenty of other factors that contributed to me landing this position, but I think these seven items were key for me, and they can easily apply to someone else.

In the end, it boils down to making an effort to put yourself out there, not only with resumes on various job engine websites, but also making something of yourself that can make you stand out a little more, thus providing you with that slight edge over someone else that can land you the position. If you don’t put yourself out there, then no one will ever know who you are or what you are capable of, and that’s self-defeating. Even after taking a year to get a job, I would still pursue all of these steps to seek a job, as I know they are steps that do give me an edge above the rest.

If you are job searching for a technical communications or instructional design position, try some of these if you haven’t already, and good luck!