This just came out in the news today, which I saw through the Mashable feed. Google’s AI Assistant is really learning how to interact using natural language in a big way. The future, if it’s not now, is coming very soon!
If this is truly working, and I’m guessing it’ll be available to the public soon enough, it’s going to be kicking the back end of Siri and Alexa and Cortana. I’ve used Siri for a while now, and it’s not perfect, but it’s okay–it’s gotten better over the years. Alexa has been a bit of a disappointment to me–Siri can usually do better. With mixed results from those two, I haven’t really ventured into trying Cortana, but I’m willing to bet that it’s still not as developed as the Google Assistant.
How does this affect technical communicators? Big time. From what I can tell, this is about the chatbots and machine language learning that’s been talked about recently. But at the same time, it affects how we communicate through rhetoric or voice. Sometimes we take actual speaking for granted, and it’s when we try to describe something that one sees clearly that it becomes difficult. Or, sometimes we can write it out well, but can’t explain well in voice. This means that plain and very clear language is going to be helpful going forward as we develop the content for these AI assistants that will be developing.
Soon enough, we’ll be talking to HAL or to our starship’s computer with ease.
What do you think about this development? It’s exciting to me–enough to make me want to purchase a Google Assistant! It definitely raises the bar for Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, for sure. Let some healthy competition begin! (And more tech comm jobs associated with it!) Include your thoughts below.
OK, so it’s been a while. I know. While I wish I could say that I’ve been on an Intrepid-class Federation starship named the U.S.S. Voyager, sadly that is not the case.
It’s a little hard to be writing blog posts when a) you don’t know exactly what to say after having written hundreds of posts before, and b) you’re just REALLY busy.
2016 was a rough year, but 2017 has also had its challenges so far. You know that I’m always in some sort of work search mode, and that’s already had its ups and downs for the past few months. I was excited to get my first independent contract. It was an opportunity to finally flex my e-learning muscles, and do it on my terms. I started to create a curriculum matrix, to make storyboards, to write transcripts, test questions, and study guides, and created video training–21 completed videos in about a month. But the contract ended before the full project was completed, and I don’t know what will be happening going forward. There was a big learning curve involved, and after the fact, I’ve realized where I made some wrong moves, but I also learned where I made many right moves as well. I’ve been mastering TechSmith’s Camtasia during this time, and feel pretty comfortable with it now. I sometimes feel I missed out on one of my many callings as a video editor (although you never know–that might change going forward). I know that I was producing good content, if I say so myself, so I have to be satisfied with that for now.
I also was the co-chair of the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter (STC-PMC)’s annual CONDUIT conference. Thankfully, that came off with few hitches, and it was well received by everyone I heard from. Some people hadn’t been to the conference in years, and it was a great opportunity for them to see how our conference has grown! Next year, at this point, it looks like I’ll be the main chair for the event, so it’s going to feel a little overwhelming, I’m sure. Just being co-chair felt overwhelming at times, while trying to work with client deadlines. It stressed me out enough that I even got physically sick for a while. For CONDUIT, the payoff is worth it, and I hope that everyone who is reading this considers coming as a presenter or attendee for next year.
Oh, and I can’t forget that I’ve been studying my DITA by helping someone who is writing a book about it, and I was asked to contribute edits as a beginner who wanted to ensure that they understood the author’s instructions. That was cool, and helpful.
All through this time, as I said, it’s been a bit overwhelming. I realized some missteps with all of it the hard way, as I usually do, but thankfully I have a lot of good people who help me get back up and fight another day. (Photon torpedos are loaded, Captain.)
I spoke to veteran tech comm consultants at CONDUIT and through Single-Sourcing Solutions’ TC Conclave, as well as just talking to other technical communicators when I had the opportunity offline. All have provided me with advice about how to move forward in the future as an independent consultant, and massaged my ego just enough, knowing how battered and bruised I felt at times. For that, thanks to all of you. You know who you are. This is why I get involved with the STC and with other technical communicators. Five years of networking is finally paying off–you know me, I know you, and I can learn more about things that they don’t teach you in grad school. I benefit from your experiences and I’m grateful.
So now the question is…what do I do going forward? I’m in limbo once again with timing, figuring out what to do next. At this writing, I’ve decided to lay low for a couple of weeks. I’m concentrating on my VP duties for the STC-PMC for the rest of this program year (two more main events to go right now!), reworking my consultancy’s website (a project temporarily postponed when I started my contract in February), and doing a little bit of project hunting, but nothing too deep just yet. I have a few leads on things, but I’ve always been hesitant to “count my chickens before they are hatched,” as the saying goes. I’m looking forward to attending the STC Summit in a few weeks in Washington, DC. I’m getting excited about going, because I realize that it’ll be nonstop tech comm for me almost from the moment I get there! I’ll be with my tribe! I plan to take advantage of seeing all my STC friends–and making new ones as well–in the hopes that my continued networking will help me build my business. I’m looking at things through a slightly different perspective now.
In some ways, I’m still scared to death being “on my own”. Having survived through my first experience without an agency, though, was exhilarating, and I liked being my own boss and calling most of the shots, and determining how things should be done. I was able to validate that in many ways, I’m still on the right track, even if things are slow-going right now.
I still have a very long way to go, but I’ll find my way eventually. Sometimes I feel like the very green Ensign Kim, who has some knowledge, but still finding my place while trying to make a difference. Sometimes I feel like Captain Janeway, where I feel like I can lead and figure out what needs to be done. There will be Borg, Kazon, Vidiians, and Hirogen to battle along the way, I’m sure. Hopefully my persistence moving forward will get me where I need to go, even if it takes a while.
I looked at the calendar today and realized that I have about 5 1/2 weeks left in the contract I’ve been at for about 2 1/2 years. You may recall that when I first found out that my contract was ending, I was devastated. I was coming off of a high point in my career where I had participated in a high-visibility project and had done well, and was being recognized for something I had done that was work-related for the first time, and then emotionally shoved down in being told that I wasn’t going to be needed for much longer because they couldn’t find enough work for me to do to justify the cost long term.
Fast-forward to now. There are issues that are still abound, and one of my managers has declared that we needed to work on getting everyone off the “Danielle crack” (which I thought was the funniest compliment I had ever heard). We had to wean people off their dependence on me to get the job done. With 5 1/2 weeks left on the contract, I don’t know if that’s going to be done, but it’s been made very clear that the end of this contract is the end of this contract. That’s it. No more extensions.
I’m actually fine with that now. I went through a mourning period, like I have many times before when losing a job. I think this one was a particularly tough one to get through because I liked the job, I liked the company, and I liked the people overall. It was my first job after getting my Master’s degree, and I ran with it. I was relied on for UX/UI decisions, technical editing, web design, content management, and content strategy. It got to a point where one of my managers would hand me off to an internal client and just say, “Here,” with a minimal amount of information, and he’d trust me to follow through to the end with no to little intervention from him. I was given autonomy to do what I do best, and I did well. I’ve been in my “zone”. I gained some confidence that I never had before. I think I always knew I had the “mad skillz”, as I like to call them, but no one would let me exercise them or depend on me like at this job. If I said, “this really isn’t user-friendly, and I’d like to change this,” I didn’t get the pushback of, “Well, that’s what the end users are used to, so it stays.” I could freely clean up messes that I saw without getting my hands slapped for doing the right thing. It was liberating–so you can see why, in many respects, I would not want to leave that kind of environment.
But as this contract starts its final weeks, I’m kept busy as usual, but I’m looking ahead. I’m ready to run with the next projects. Of all the ironic things, my horoscope today on Yahoo! described exactly what’s going on. It said,
You can’t decide whether you are excited about your future or if you’re scared of the upcoming changes. Either way, you can tell that the tide is shifting, even if you don’t know which way you want to go. Throwing caution to the wind might be the necessary catalyst that makes your dreams come alive. If you don’t take the initiative today, at least imagine what you could accomplish if you set your mind to it. Share your best ideas with a friend; expressing what’s in your heart is enough to lift your spirits.
Some of the changes going forward have already started. I made the decision that I’m going to go solo. The time is right, and it’s right now. This job I’m finishing up put my family in a good position financially, enough that my husband and I decided that we can take the risk. I am starting my own one-person consulting firm soon. The trick will be finding clients! With that, I can say that I have my first client on board at the moment. It’s something that may or may not go full-time–we’re still in the early stages of figuring things out, but it’s something exciting to me. My “client” hasn’t said anything publicly about me joining his company’s team, so I don’t feel comfortable saying too much just yet, but I’m really ready to dig in and get to work with this firm. The person has a lot of contacts in the tech comm field and knows my goals, so he’s also said he can introduce me to others who may need my services outside of his projects, which would be great. All I need is some introductions! I’m working on another small project as well, so I suppose I’m starting on my way.
So, my career has full propulsion going on right now, and I feel like I’m going at warp-speed. As the horoscope said, I’m excited, but I’m also scared. Anything new for me is terrifying, especially because there are no boundaries or structure to keep me steady. I’m usually a nervous wreck for a long time until I get accustomed to a new situation and master it, and then I can fly. I’ve never done something like this before, and I plan on writing about the launch of my little company in the coming weeks. I’m going to be working hard to make sure that things don’t collapse early, and that I can make this independent go-of-it sustainable.
Wish me luck…and be ready for my inhaler! (I have exercise-induced asthma, so running is not good for me!)
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.
Another 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.
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.
My husband’s first language is Spanish. As a result, naturally, most of his relatives speak Spanish exclusively. I, however, do not speak Spanish. I took two beginner courses, but I know little Spanish in comparison. I have had more French in my background, and with the similarities between French and Spanish, I can sometimes understand enough written Spanish to get by.
Recently, my husband’s aunt was celebrating her birthday, and I wanted to send her a brief line or two on Facebook to acknowledge the day. She only speaks Spanish–or at least her English is very outdated, so I knew it’d be better to write in Spanish. I used the Bing Translator to help me write a note to our “Tia”, and I had enough of a Spanish background to know it was correct. I think.
I started thinking about how translation is advancing with technological changes, and how writing for translation in tech comm is becoming increasingly important. It occurred to me that we are certainly not at the stage that we can each have a Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer from Star Trek, at our disposal. Even in the 23rd century, she still had to learn several languages and would depend on her software–and even the occasional book–to help her get through a difficult translation. This scene from the film, Star Trek VI, came to mind when I thought about it:
So, things aren’t perfect even when we do have universal translators.
Back in the present, two people who have spoken about translation in tech comm came to mind. The first person I thought of was one of my favorite content management speakers, Val Swisher. Val and her company, Content Rules, specialize in translation and how it fits into using content management wisely. I always love hearing her presentations about the importance of translation editing, and writing content for reuse that can easily be used for translation. One of the examples that Val uses often is a scenario involving a pet care website. In curating content, one author may use the word, “pooch,” another might use, “puppy,” and yet another might use the term, “canine.” All are different terms to describe a dog, but that doesn’t mean that translation software–or even a human translator–necessarily understands the differences. The same occurs with expressions. There are several expressions or slang that can be used in English that don’t have an equivalent translation in another language, and vice versa. Heck, sometimes slang used between different dialects of English alone need translation! Since translation is often lacking for many parts of the world for things as simple as instructions on how to use everyday, life-saving products, I know Val is very involved with a volunteer group called, Translators Without Borders, for this very reason–to help smooth out that process of getting technical communication out to ALL parts of the world, especially in areas that actually might need it more than one would think.
The other person that came to mind was Ray Gallon. On a panel at the Adobe Day during the 2013 STC Summit, Ray stated very clearly that as technical communicators, we should all know at least two languages other than our own, as it lends to our global credibility. Tying it into what Val has talked about, his statement made sense. Over the years, I have studied five languages other than English, although I’ve mastered none of them. I got up to an intermediate to advanced level in one language (French), but I don’t remember as much as I should. And as mentioned, my Spanish hasn’t been that good despite two separate years of classroom Spanish and 17 years of hearing it from my husband and his family. Nonetheless, learning another language–or several other languages, for that matter–can help an English-speaking writer understand how other languages are structured. During my freshman year of undergraduate school, my roommate and I were taking 300-level classes in foreign languages; she was taking Spanish while I was taking French. When each of us had essay assignments, we’d consult each other, and we actually would have some fun figuring out how to change our wording in English to fit the language architecture of the respective languages we were studying. Even now, while some of my in-laws do speak English, it’s not strong, so I find I have to restructure my sentences in such a way that they can translate or understand the English better. It truly helps to put translation into perspective.
So, imagine poor Uhura. She’s no C3-PO who can translate a million languages or so. Nor does she have the gift of the TARDIS to do her translating for her. Uhura probably had to learn not only how to use universal translation hardware and software for all the human languages, but alien languages as well. So, in that respect, I’m sure that Uhura took Ray Gallon’s advice to make her life easier and allow her to stand out.
I recommend that you also read the following post that I discovered while doing a little research myself, as it covers almost the same topic here from another perspective. It’s very good.
Having an understanding about localization and globalization in language will help all of us be better technical communicators. Translation software is getting better, but it’s not flawless. I know enough of the languages I have learned to know when a translation is wrong, which can often be the case as well. We live in a time that we may see something close to a true universal translator available, but in the meantime, we need to be more aware of how we write for a global audience.
How do you approach your audience? Do you write for a single language or for a global audience–or for that matter, a universal audience? I know I’m not perfect when it comes to writing this blog for a global audience, but I do try when I think about it.
(Val and Ray, please feel free to chime in or correct anything here in the comments!)
Feel free to add any insights to the comments below. I’m definitely curious about how technical communicators approach this subject in their work on a daily or frequent basis.