Posted in Uncategorized

Remembering Carrie Fisher, Writer

As the list of favorite celebrity talent seems to grow even as 2016 comes to an end, I thought it would be good to share this video, created by the website, The MarySue.

Carrie Fisher, one of the latest stars to have passed (just today, at this writing), is usually thought of for her iconic role as Princess/General Leia Organa in the Star Wars movies. But while I enjoyed her in those roles, I think I appreciated her more as herself. She wasn’t only an actress who appeared in other roles than the Star Wars movies, but I was always impressed by her success as a writer. I admit that I haven’t read her books (but I think I need to look into them now), but I saw the movie based on one of her books, Postcards from the Edge.  I always enjoyed watching interviews with her, especially in recent years. I know she was very open about talking about her battles with substance abuse and mental illness. She made it okay for people to realize that you can “have it all” and still have some serious issues, and come out of it in one piece. She helped to de-stigmatize mental illness and show that there can still be a smart, witty person attached to that mental illness who can contribute to society.  And for that–I am grateful she made her mark.

The video below also showed a related talent that used her writing skills, specifically as a script doctor. Now doesn’t that sound like a cool job? What struck me in this video was what she’s quoted as saying in the end of why she stopped doing it. It was something that as a technical writer/communicator, has happened to me, and I think happens to a lot of technical communicators these days. We contribute ideas and work for what we do, and don’t get the fair credit or compensation for it. How many times have I done “tests” for companies only to not get the job or hear back from them? Yeah, unfortunately it seems, based on Carrie Fisher’s comments, that it’s not only for technical writers, but script writers as well.

Carrie Fisher was incredibly human–she wasn’t afraid to show her vulnerabilities, and we loved her for it. She definitely knew, by the end of her life, that she had a lot of worth as a person of many talents, and she used them. She will definitely be missed by this geek mom.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Power of Social Media: Chewbacca Edition

There’s a viral video that just came out that I just love, not only because it’s funny, but it appealed to the geek in me.  It’s a woman who bought a fun item for her own enjoyment, and was getting a kick out of how funny it was and how it made her laugh. What can I say? The Force was with her:

Watch here:

It’s a contagious video because it’s so silly, and as she said, it’s the simple joys of life that makes it worthwhile. She has so much fun with the mask, and you can’t help but laugh along with her. My husband and I were laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes.

But wait…did you catch that first part of the video? While she had not intended this to be a marketing video, this ended up being a great marketing video with great content. Where did she get that mask? She got it at a department store chain called Kohl’s.  And with this video going viral as quickly as it did, Kohl’s picked up on her video and this woman’s love of Star Wars, and essentially got free advertising! Not only that, but they took it a step further:

Kohl’s was smart! They not only picked up on her mention of the store and how she was a frequent customer, but also on how much one random item at the store brought her so much joy.  She had provided fantastic content that reflected well on the store! Fortunately for her, they recognized this, and did something nice by giving her all those gifts as a thank you.

Why do you think that Kohl’s did all that? As I said, they realized the value of this social content. It was all in the storytelling. People who love Star Wars items–and there are lots of them–would especially relate to this story. Even people who didn’t like Star Wars would get a good laugh from watch this woman play with her mask.  Kohl’s wasn’t selling anything directly by posting these videos.  (Although when I played the videos later, I did see some marketing overlays trying to sell the masks at Kohl’s did pop up, but it was still after the fact.) They did show, in showing their appreciation to the woman, that there were lots of other Star Wars things they sold as a means of indirect selling. Kohl’s showed that they appreciated the value of her sharing her good experience not only with finding her mask, but that she wasn’t discouraged because she had to return some items simply because of sizing issues, and she still found something else she liked. They showed the value of a satisfied customer, which has more value than almost any other kind of marketing or advertising. The gifts were even intended, if you think about it, as a way of keeping her as a value customer.

Chewbacca and Han Solo
“Chewie, this is content marketing through social media at its best.”
“RAWWR!”

This is a great example of the power of social media through content and content marketing. The woman was simply sharing her experiences on video through her Facebook account, the video went viral, and as a result, she received all these gifts from the store itself to ensure that she continues to be a valued customer.  Kohl’s found appropriate content from a customer that I’m sure will be helping to boost sales for a bit–at least with the Star Wars merchandise–for a while. I’m sure she never expected the attention that she’s gotten, but due to the Kohl’s gift, she extremely glad she shared it!

You never know where good content will come from. This is a great example to show that it can come from anywhere if you have the opportunity to make it or appreciate it.

What do you think of this event? Include your comments below.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

What will 2016 offer? Good question. I don’t know–yet.

Rey and BB-8 are trying to find their way, too, in 2016.
Rey and BB-8 are trying to find their way, too, in 2016.

While I’ve reviewed what’s happened in 2015 in my recent posts, it’s time for me to look ahead, and see what I need to plan for this year.

I admit that last year, I had big plans. I knew that I wanted to sample some new conferences so that I could have some new experiences and meet new people. I also knew that I wanted to try to launch my own consulting company. Additionally, I knew I needed to learn something new to enhance my skills. I achieved all these goals on some level, so that’s good.  However, it’s more difficult this year.  If last year was a transitional year, this seems to be more of a transitional year than before. Last year, I had some direction on what I wanted–and needed–to do. This year, I really don’t know where to go, and that’s problematic.

While I earned a mini-MBA in digital marketing last year, I don’t feel strong enough to take on a content marketing job. I could certainly try, but most of the job listings need someone with a stronger marketing background than a digital background. While I understand marketing concepts, my experience fails me on that front.  I’m open to taking more coursework in something to enhance my job seeking opportunities, but…in what? Two avenues that I’ve considered is learning more about Agile/Scrum, and the other is looking at getting a certificate in localization practices. I think both would be beneficial, and are things that I’m interested in, but I don’t know how much they would actually help me in the job market where I’m at. I’ve thought about getting some coursework in project management–which is what originally brought me into the IT world almost 20 years ago. Project Management has morphed quite a bit since that time. I’ve also thought about learning more about either WordPress or AEM development, which I think would be good, but I’m not sure where to find the right education for that, or know if I’m up to it, since I’m not really a developer. I’m not sure if any of these are the right direction, either.

I launched my company, but I’ve hardly gotten it off the ground. Part of the problem is that I know I need to focus on what I’m best at, and figure out what I can offer that other consultants can’t. I’m not sure what that is quite yet. I think I have a lot to offer, but honing into what makes me special, unique, and valuable to a client is much harder to define, especially when you are trying to figure it out about yourself. I also need to figure out how to find clients–that’s important, too!  If I can get that off the ground more, I’d love that. I’m open to any part-time or full-time projects–even being the sub-contractor for someone else. I’m very open to remote possibilities. I don’t know where the opportunities lie. I know they are out there, but I don’t know how to tap into it.

I’d like to continue trying out new conferences, and perhaps go back to some that I’ve already attended in the past. I’m already set to attend the STC Summit this year, as I’ll be a workshop speaker. I’ll also be attending the STC-PMC Conduit conference–for the first time strictly as an attendee, and not a speaker! But other conferences? A lot of it has to do with time and money. Money is something I don’t have a lot of, and time–well, I don’t know what my time is going to look like a few months from now, let alone later this year. Perhaps I’ll go to the IEEE ProComm which will be in Austin, Texas in the Fall. I’m not sure yet. I thought about going to the Big Design conference in Quito, Ecuador (I heard it’s going to be great, and an opportunity for me to visit cousins-in-law at the same time), but it’s very close to the STC Summit, so I don’t know if I can swing two conferences so close to each other time-wise or financially.

I think the biggest issue, as you can sense here, is that I feel direction-less. It’s almost a dilemma between having too many choices and not enough choices. It’s one of those times that I wish I was a kid again, and someone could see through the clouds better than I could, and help point me in the right direction. But alas, I don’t have such a luxury. I have to figure this out for myself.

You can see that I have ideas, and I’m open to suggestions, but there are too many unknown factors this year that prevent me from committing to anything right now. I don’t know what direction my career is going in right now. Last year was the year that I thought I would turn things around and start in a new direction, and it would be a clear path.  I think I had some good ideas last year–and they were, and I could try to continue with them, but I’m not sure how to do that.

So where do I go from this point? As I said, I’m certainly open to suggestions or leads. I have a concept in my head of where I want to go, what I want to do, but I don’t know how to get there. There are no Google Maps to take me there.  If you have felt like you didn’t have any direction in your career before proceeding towards next steps, what did you to break out of that rut?

Include your comments below, as I’d really like to hear about some ideas that might benefit me, but could also help others who are facing the same dilemma as I am.

Don't worry, kid. You'll figure it out. The Force is strong with you, Padawan.
General Leia says, “Don’t worry, kid. You’ll figure it out. The Force is strong with you, Padawan.”

This is not to say I’m not optimistic about this year. I will say that over the past several years, I’m glad that I’ve built a great support network professionally around me who can certainly lift me when I’m down, and I’m grateful for that. Also, who’s to say that I have to set out any goals right now? When I decided to lose weight and get healthy, I didn’t make the plan in January, but rather in May or June of that year. Who’s to say that I won’t have this figured out a little better in a few months? Time will tell, but for now, I’m hoping the Force will provide me with some direction….

Posted in Uncategorized

Do we take our technical abilities for granted?

Princess Leia is thinking, "Geez, I hope these guys understand how to update my laptop."
Princess Leia is thinking, “Geez, I hope these guys understand how to update my laptop.”

Last week, my son celebrated his 14th birthday. He only wanted one present to mark the occasion, namely a gaming computer. Now, this is something that he’s been pining for months now. Originally, he wanted something in the $3000 range. Um, no. I wouldn’t even spend that much on myself, if I had the funds or the need. He only uses his computer for entertainment, whereas his dad and I use ours for both entertainment and business. Over the months, we told him that he had to get the price significantly down on the parts for the gaming machine he wanted to build, and eventually he figured out that he didn’t need the Bugatti (one of the fastest street cars out there) version of a machine, but a Ford Mustang level of speed was fine.  Thanks to Ed Marsh of ContentContent, we found a place called MicroCenter that sold parts so that my son could build his new computer, and the sales guy helped us not only find all the parts, but also helped us find parts that were better and cheaper than some of the parts my son had chosen. As a result, before tax, my son’s new system cost $8 less than his budget. He was pleased.

RedSpeed15 (his own moniker) looking over the goods before assembly.
RedSpeed15 (his own moniker) looking over the goods before assembly.

My son and husband spent the weekend building the machine, and setting up the system. It’s still not perfect, as some of the components won’t work until he can upgrade his OS to Windows 10 next month, but it’s still an improvement over the machine he had. He’s thrilled with his new machine at this point. My husband and I felt that there were some good lessons learned with this birthday gift, which was that he learned to work within a budget, he learned teamwork as he built it with his dad’s help, he learned some patience (not much–he was anxious about it for a few months) in receiving it, and he gained some confidence that he actually knew what he was talking about when he’d talk to the sales guy. Perhaps this it the start to some career skills that will serve him later (he’s only in 8th grade right now).

Coincidentally, I got a new laptop myself. Unlike my son, I spent more money on it because I do use mine for business purposes quite heavily.  Since I’m trying to move data from a Windows 7 machine to a Windows 8.1 machine…well, the transition hasn’t been so smooth. I’m doing it little bit by little bit. The Windows Easy Transfer was not cooperating in any way, no matter how I tried. Some things have ended up working out more easily, like having the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to download programs to the new computer. Other ones…not so much. I’m still moving my own documents and content over as well, and there will need to be some tweaking done as well. It gives me a chance to clean up some of the data on my old computer so as not to mess up the new one too much.

During the process, I kept thinking, “Gee, what would someone who doesn’t have a lot of know-how about these systems do this process, if it’s like this for me?” Between my husband and I, who aren’t hardware/software experts, we still have a better clue than most people on how different software and systems work on a Windows computer, at least. Between us, we’ve been in the IT business in one form or another for 35+ years, so you’d think that we’d have some idea of how this stuff works.

This all lead to me thinking about the technical abilities of my family. My paternal grandfather, who lacked a formal education, was someone who should have been an electrical engineer based on his work and hobbies. He was a natural at that stuff. My brother inherited that mind too, as he is an architect. I was the other “tech” in the family. My father in law is a mechanical engineer, and my husband’s undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, even though he is a computer and web developer now. So I supposed it was inevitable that it would be part of my son’s genetic code (get it, code?). 😉

Luke, use your technical abilities for your technical communications. I mean, USE THE FORCE!
Luke, use your technical abilities for your technical communications. I mean, USE THE FORCE!

I started thinking about it more deeply in terms of how this technical ability has helped my own career, and how it has related to technical writing and technical communication. After all, “technical” is the big modifier when describing these professions. How many of us are actually “technical” in what we do? We probably need to better define “technical” first. Do we mean that we understand the finer details or writing or related work (like web design, etc.) that we can be more “technical” than the average person? Or do we mean that we understand and work with technical content, which requires a higher level of knowledge on less than average topics? In my mind, it’s both. You could be one or the other easily, but probably the best technical communicators are a bit of both.

Don't listen to Vader and become a Sith!
Don’t listen to Vader and become a Sith!

Is this something we take for granted? Perhaps we do. That’s something that we should change, and I think there’s been a movement within the technical communications field to embrace that. We have a special set of skills that many people don’t have. Many can write, and many can be technical, but not many can be both.  You have been gifted with “The Force”, so to speak, so it’s your responsibility to use it for good like a Jedi Knight, and not turn to the Dark Side.

Posted in Uncategorized

Summer 2015 is about propulsion

In my head, I'm running forward. But in reality, I can't run due to my bad asthma. It's the thought that counts! (And I wish I looked as good as this runner!)
In my head, I’m running forward. But in reality, I can’t run due to my bad asthma. It’s the thought that counts! (And I wish I looked as good as this runner!)

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.

"Alright, Chewie, get ready for career hyperdrive..."--Han Solo
“Alright, Chewie, get ready for career hyperdrive…”–Han Solo

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.

"Set course for the next client, Warp 6. Engage!"
“Set course for the next client, Warp 6. Engage!”

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!)