While I was unable to go to the STC Summit last year, I am looking forward to going to Anaheim this year to not only being a presenter at the STC Summit, but also to learn and connect with other technical communicators again!
I realized that one of the events I’ve always liked attending is the Adobe pre-conference event. They always have great information to share. However–what’s this? No Adobe Day this year? Nope. But wait…there’s something better.
That’s right! Saddle up, and gain some skills through this FREE Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop! This looks like a great event, cowboys and cowgirls! There are industry leaders leading the workshop, you earn a certificate for participating (which you can include on your resume, it’s that good), and lunch and snacks are included in the afternoon. And did I mention it’s free? Who says you can’t get a free lunch AND a free certificate? Evidently not Adobe!
Oh, did I also mention that even if you can’t attend to earn the certificate, you can still follow along on my Twitter feed found at @techcommgeekmom that day, as I’ll be tweeting highlights of the event for all who come to the Twitter corral!
Now, there are some caveats in registering, namely that you have to bring your laptop, and download the Adobe Tech Comm Suite Release 2015 Trial Version (if you don’t already have the full version). Other than that, it should be like riding into the sunset.
This is a great opportunity for those who would like to either get to know the Tech Comm Suite better, or brush up on some skills. Space is limited so you should register as soon as possible to get your seat on this great event!
It’s been a quiet start to 2016 for me, even though there have been some things going on for me “behind the curtain”. I wasn’t ready to share just yet, but I think I am now, since things have settled down for the moment.
My contract as a knowledge management specialist ended early. The projects that they kept saying to me, “They are coming…we’re waiting for approval…” fell through. Two of them. They also didn’t have any other work for me to do, so understandably, they cut the contract short. Unlike some other jobs, I was greatly relieved to be released. I did not feel that this particular position and company was a great fit. Even though I truly tried to give it a chance, I remember not having good feeling about the place from my first day of work there, and my gut instincts were right. It wasn’t a good match in the end, and the fact that they didn’t plan well for my presence there proved that.
In the meantime, I had two events that changed the picture rather quickly.
First, I was invited to be a panelist/presenter for a meeting that combined the Philadelphia Area New Media Association (PANMA) and the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter memberships. The meeting was about freelancing and contracting. Each group contributed two speakers, and I was one of the two representing the STC (the other was my friend, David Calloway). I was the last one to present or speak, and to be honest, I came completely unprepared. I thought it’d be a quick introduction thing, and then moderators would ask questions based on our experiences and background. (I guess I’ve been watching too many American political debates lately.) I was glad that I went last of the four presenters. Although the other three presenters covered much of what I would’ve said, I still had a few things to contribute. David and I took the stance of being contractors rather than freelancers. And as you might remember, several months ago I started my own freelancing company, but it hasn’t quite taken off yet.
But I will admit, listening to the others, I had a big realization of my own that night. I’ve been a contractor for several years, but not of my own choosing. I’ve tried finding full-time employee jobs, and it hasn’t happened in years. I think the last time I was not a part-time person or a non-contract person, it was still the 20th century! Yet perhaps, without my knowledge, I’ve already been a freelancer by default of being a long-term contractor.
That was my “A-HA!” moment, as Mitchell Levy likes to call it. I realized that yes, perhaps I have been a freelancer all along, and perhaps it really isn’t so bad to constantly be getting contract jobs. After the meeting, I told my husband about the discussion, and he pointed out that there was great opportunity in being a contractor. The biggest thing he pointed out was that each contracting job was an opportunity to learn new things. I would learn more about different industries, and often I’d learn more about new software, new procedures, and generally pick up a few new skills. I would also learn more about myself, namely what I’m good at, what I’m not as good at, and what I actually like doing. The more I thought about it, I realized that he was right. These are all opportunities to hone different parts of myself, both in improving what I do well, learning new things, and gaining insight about what is best about my capabilities and how to use them.
Now, not everyone can be a contractor. It’s not easy because of complications of being a non-employee, thus you don’t get the same rights and benefits, like affordable health insurance, as a contractor. Some agencies that contract out do offer these benefits, but they are usually at a higher rate than at a large company. But, at the same time, there are certain flexibilities that a contractor has. If a contractor is careful with personal finances, he/she can take time off, or work more than one position over time. Granted, in 99.99% of cases, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. So, for example, when I go to the STC Summit in May for about a week, I won’t be paid for “paid vacation”. In fact, a contractor doesn’t get any paid vacation. You get paid for the hours that you work. So, that can be good, and can be bad. If you are a good contractor, you communicate these occasions with your manager, and you ensure that you are caught up with your work to be able to do this, it provides a little flexibility that an employee doesn’t have.
I’ve lamented the woes of being a consultant recently, and it was especially because I was in a bad situation. It was not a good fit, and the worse parts of being a contractor were at their absolute worse. But now that I’ve been away from that, with the help of this PANMA/STC-PMC panel last week, I’m starting to change my attitude a little bit.
With that in mind, I took a new job that started this week…as a contractor. I will be working for a global insurance company as a content writer/copywriter for their global self-service websites. This is a big change for me, because while you’ve known me as a social media writer, I really haven’t done any writing for a company this way before. I originally was reluctant to take the job, as it’s a far commute than what I’m used to and I’m taking a significant pay cut to do this job. But, I saw it as an opportunity to actually put my technical writing, editing, and UI/UX experiences to work in a different way, so it’s worth a try. After all, the contract is only for six months with a possibility for extention. Unlike the last position I took in which I had a sinking feeling about it (and my instincts were right about it), I have a better feeling about this position. After completing my first day, I think it’ll be a challenge to do things from a different perspective, but I liked the group of people I’ll be working with, the environment was more inviting, and I could tell that the work we’d be doing is much more in line with my experiences. While I’ll be learning to do copywriting the way they want, I’ll still be using skills I’ve acquired from all the conferences, webinars, grad school, and social media experiences I’ve had. In other words, I think this is a much better fit, and I think I can learn something positive from this position, which makes me feel much better about taking the position. Everyone was speaking tech language that I understood, and I was deep in the mix with information architects and visual designers as well as spending a lot of time with the other copywriter on my first day. I think it’s going to be a good thing!
I’ve also been continuing to work on a part-time basis with my old content strategist/management job at BASF. It’s my “moonlighting” job, as I call it, but it helps keep those skills fresh at the same time while working with another company that I truly like.
These next months are going to be obviously very busy, but I think they’ll provide some good insights into something new for me. I’ll be able to truly write blog posts from a technical writing and UI/UX perspective based on new experiences. Hopefully, future contracting positions will also be providing great learning experiences along the way. Perhaps embracing being a contractor means that I will be more of an adventurer than I thought.
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.
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….
As the year 2014 winds down, many have summarized the past year, as a reflection of all that has transpired. When I started to think about the past year, I wasn’t sure that it was all that great of a year at first, but the more I thought about it, I realized that despite some less than desirable things transpiring towards the end, there were actually a few good things that happened that were worth noting.
1) This was the first year that the number of hits my blog received for the entire year topped over 10,000 hits. It was a goal I had hoped to achieve, and I had to work for it. My stats would falter if I didn’t write an original blog post (like this one), and I think, despite the new achievement, my stats didn’t reflect what I had hoped, but I put that on myself. This was a very busy year, and it was difficult for me to keep up with writing original posts. So despite that, I’m glad that so many people still enjoy the content that I share here, whether it’s original content or shared content. I try my best to share what I find interesting in the hopes that others will find it interesting, too, and perhaps learn from that little piece of information as well.
2) I was able to travel to some new places and do new things. I went to the Intelligent Content Conference in San Jose, CA back in February, and went to the STC Summit in Phoenix in May. Not only did I have an opportunity to enhance my knowledge during these conference through the fantastic learning sessions, I also met a lot of new people. I love that I have some wonderful new professional connections as well as new friends. These conferences also gave me the chance to strengthen professional connections and friendships with technical communicators I met in the year before and the year before that. Becoming more ensconced in the tech comm community has meant a lot to me, and I have appreciated every connection I’ve made or deepened in the last year.
3) My writing opportunities changed. While I was writing mostly for my blog this year, I also wrote for other outlets instead. Some of those opportunities folded or didn’t work out, but other opportunities arose from the ashes, including two top ten articles for Content Rules’ blog, and a new opportunity to write for STC Intercom (which will be seen in the new year). I thank those who helped make those opportunities, and appreciate your faith in my abilities when I’ve sometimes doubted them.
4) I gave more presentations this year. I presented at the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Conference, but I also did my first presentation at the STC Summit. I also presented for the first time to a non-tech comm audience at the e-Learning 3.0 Conference at Drexel University this year. In other words, I pushed myself to do more this year and put myself “out there” more, even though I think there are others who have more to contribute than I do.
5) I had an opportunity to stretch myself professionally at work. I became more confident in my abilities to be a project manager and content strategist working on new websites at work with assignments I was given. I learned a new CMS (Adobe CQ) as a skill I’ll be able to carry with me going forward, and I was chosen to help with the most important part of the company’s new external site–the Careers section. I spread my wings so much in my job this year, and gained myself back in the process. My knowledge and full abilities were suppressed for so many years, that having the chance to truly use them and have people find them to be valuable helped me immensely.
6) In a somewhat unrelated topic, while I stretched my mind, I shrunk my body. To date, I’ve lost about 40 pounds this year. For once, I kept to my new year’s resolution, even if didn’t actually start until May or June! Part of my success was due to the tech comm community. Many have supported me or taken this journey with me. I love that the tech comm community’s reach goes beyond tech comm–and with this support, I know I will be able to continue to lose another 40 (or more) pounds into the next year.
I took a quick look at last year’s year in review, and in some respects, this year’s review isn’t that much different in overview. What makes this year different was that many of the events were new experiences, new faces came into my life both online and in-person, new relationships were forged, and old relationships became deeper and stronger. Networking connections have become friendships, both professionally and personally. For a person who lives a highly isolated life as I do, this is so incredibly valuable to me. I’ve always supported social media because it supports connections between people all over the world. Social media keeps me connected to all of you who support me–whether it’s through this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or LinkedIn.
Thank you all for being there for me through the good times and the bad. It’s because of these connections that this upcoming year, which is going to be filled with a lot of changes, that I know I’ll be okay. I have a support system that I didn’t have a few years ago. And hopefully, I’ve been part of others’ support systems as well. I know that several people were kind enough to reach out to me after my last blog post, and I felt humbled. I also reached out to a few people who were happy to offer help when I asked. I know that as I go forward in the next year, the tech comm community is one that I can easily crowdsource for feedback in my steps forward. My experiences this year reinforced this for me more than ever, and it’s not one I take for granted.
I’ll come out and say it–I like going to conferences. It’s a great opportunity to learn new information that can hopefully be applied upon my return from the conference. It’s also fantastic opportunity to meet–and later reunite with–tech comm friends whom you’ve previously met either in person or through social media. In the last few years, I found that going to conferences were a great way to truly immerse yourself in the tech comm culture. I’ve said repeatedly that when I’m with my fellow tech comm people, I feel like I’m with my “clan” because I belong with them much more than other groups I’ve been with.
But lately, I’ve started to feel a bit critical about conferences. I’m sure you are thinking, “Why would you be critical about them if you like them so much?”
First, there’s the cost. I know there’s a cost to doing anything, but geez, if it weren’t for waived fees due to volunteering, speaking, or other related work for a given conference, I wouldn’t have been able to go to many of them! It’s expensive! I know that some companies will pay for those travel, accomodation and conference fees, but mine won’t. I’m a consultant who works for an agency. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. The company where I consult wouldn’t pay because I’m not an employee. So for the days that I’m at the conference, I lose pay (even though I’m doing professional development for myself that they can’t offer), and I end up spending almost the same amount as I would have earned during that time away–and again, that’s even with the waived fees I’ve mentioned earlier.
Second, there’s time. Conferences are usually just a few days, but when they are all over the country, and very few near me, it’s not only the cost to go somewhere far away, but also the time that’s needed to fly somewhere and back. For me going to the US West coast, that’s about two days right there. I applaud those who are coming from farther distances overseas, who can afford and make it over here, as it’s not only a huge cost, but a huge time commitment as well. Again, being an hourly contractor, I can’t take too much time off, or it affects my income.
Third, perhaps I’ve attended just enough in these years, but it seems like the same stuff is being talked about over and over. Like I said, maybe it just me. I know that sometimes topics need to be repeated because there are always new people who want to learn, and there can be a shift in interests. For me, I tried to delve into almost everything, and where my professional concentrations and interests lie…I’m not finding anything radically new. It’s more about reinforcing ideas I’ve learned before or experienced by trial and error. Nothing wrong with that. I also find that while a big push right now seems to making sure that silos are torn down between different departments and tech comm pushing for more visibility in company culture, it’s not exactly happening from my standpoint. It’s hard to be a one-woman army against a global company (although I’m still trying and am happy when I achieve a small success). Should I be looking at new topics to learn about at future conferences? Maybe. I’ve also attended sessions where it’s something that I’m interested in, but in the end I can’t apply it, which is frustrating. For example, in content strategy, there seems to be a big push into content marketing, and the company I’m working for is still trying to grasp the basics of content strategy, so how can that help me at this point?Like I said, perhaps that’s my problem, and not the problem of the conferences.
Lastly, the best part of conferences is the worst part too–socializing. There were a few conferences recently that I would have liked to have attended. They were within my field, I’d been to one of them before, and I knew lots of the people who were attending. So many of these attendees are people whose company I enjoy very much, both as professional colleagues and as friends. When I go to a conference, it’s a fantastic opportunity for all those tech comm introverts to hang out together, and feel comfortable being themselves with no one questioning them. I know I can always find someone to hang out with at conferences, and I’ve made so many fantastic friends. So what’s the problem? When they go to the conferences and I can’t, I see all the photos and posts on social media about the great time they are having, and well…I feel left out. I know that sounds childish, but it’s true. I don’t get out much as it is, so conferences are a great way for me to get out an socialize with my tech comm friends, and truly enjoy myself in a relaxed atmosphere with people who can talk about life and “shop” and it’s all interesting to me. When I see everyone else going to these events and I can’t, I’m back to being the kid sitting in the corner feeling left out. I hate it. Again, that might be my personal issue, but I got the sense that I have some tech comm friends who also couldn’t go to some of these conferences this year had the same aching to be there too, but couldn’t, and felt left out. I know we were missed, as those who attended told us that they missed us–and I appreciate that, but it’s just not the same.
There are SO many conferences during the course of a year between STC local, regional, and national events, as well as independent conferences like Lavacon, IDW, Intelligent Content Conferences, GALA, TC-UK and so many more, nobody could possibly have the time or money to attend all of them. Heck, so many are popping up these days, it’s even a struggle to choose which ones to attend! Being a working mom, I definitely don’t have time for all of them. The two that I missed this month were not only because of time and money in general, but because of the big project I’m working on at work needs my undivided time during my work hours because of an upcoming due date, and the load of work that needs to be done. I couldn’t break away even if I wanted to unless I wanted to fall severely behind in my work and work weekends and nights once I got home. Even the few I went to last year had consequences for me going away when I did.
So what’s a person to do? I think the social aspect of it all gets to me the most right now. I truly enjoy the company of technical communicators, and I wish I could spend more time with them. I can’t even attend the local STC meetings for my chapter each month because of distance and time (not so much the cost). Yet, I see several of my tech comm friends always out and about at various conferences during the year, and I wonder how they can pull it off based on the issues I mentioned above?
I’m still grateful for social media to keep me in touch with all these great people I meet at conferences who have become my friends. But I still have to pick and choose conferences, going forward. I might not make it to the same conferences every year, partially because I want to check out new venues and paths. I’ve only committed to attending my local STC chapter’s regional conference so far , but I’m thinking of checking out another this year. I’ll most likely go to the STC Summit, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m thinking of seeing if I could do one overseas (Europe) instead of two on the West Coast, depending on what I can save up and swing financially. I like travelling, andt I need to expand my horizons a little bit.
In the end, maybe it’s my inexperience that makes conferences tough for me. I’m always wanting to learn new things, and I know conferences do their best to bring new information to the tech comm masses. I can easily say without reservation that I have learned things that I could bring back and made me a stronger technical communicator. But how many can you attend before you feel like you’ve heard something before, or because it comes from people who are WAY more experienced than you, you’ll never completely “get it” or never have a chance to experience what they’ve done anytime soon? This is the frustration that haunts me. For me, conferences are the best option for professional development, and yet it’s hard to get excited about some of them. Personal burnout? Maybe. Yet, I ache to see my tech comm friends, because I enjoy seeing them so much. It’s a dilemma.
For those of you who have been technical communicators for a much longer time than me, how do you do it? How do you choose? How are you able to work with the time and cost issues, as well as finding conferences that will engage you other than socially? Let’s talk about it in the comments.