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So, how was your 2020? Good for you, too?

Let’s face it–2020 was a horrible year for everyone for a variety of reasons. And it was no different for me. One of the things I’m trying to do as I reflect back is understand how lucky I was in so many respects. No one in my immediate family has gotten COVID at this point. No one in my immediate family had died from COVID. My husband didn’t lose his job (since he’s the main breadwinner of the family), we didn’t lose our house, no one got horribly sick with anything that couldn’t easily be treated, no one went hungry–nothing like that. In that respect, I count my blessings.

Things that weren’t so good were included that we lost my father-in-law during this pandemic. He was located in another country, and my husband couldn’t even travel to say goodbye or pay his respects. He had to be on a video call with his half-brother to watch his father be buried. I lost two friends this fall from STC, which made me sad, and one of my best friends lost her mother a few weeks ago. A year ago exactly, I was let go from a job I wasn’t happy with, but the release from my contract was sudden and without much warning and was not handled well. I thought I had something lined up…a friend from graduate school had given me the lead, and I got the job. It would’ve been the most lucrative thing I’d done, and I was up to the challenge, but that fell apart before the pandemic hit. Having missed the new year window of job opportunities (most job listings are around the new year and the fiscal new year in July), I struggled to find opportunities and get interviews. And then…the pandemic hit, and hiring freezes were abound. While I had unemployment insurance funds to get me through for a while, it was a good thing that I am always saving money and conservative with my money, because I had to go into my nest egg for most of the year. I did pick up a few small side gigs–and that helped to not only buoy my finances, but also my confidence when it was at an all-time low.

You see, for most of this year, I was in a deep funk of depression. People would call me “inspirational” for constantly trying to pursue work and keep things going. I can assure you now, there’s nothing inspirational about it. It’s called survival and doing what you have to do, even if you aren’t up to doing it. 

Job hunting constantly is exhausting in and of itself, but constantly getting “ghosted” and rejected takes a toll on you after a while, or getting some big rejections when you thought you were getting close to securing that job that you wanted…it can be a big blow to your ego. Now, imagine doing that for almost a year. I even had one job offer that I was looking forward to, only to have an opportunity–for the second time in the same year–retracted due to no fault of my own. I mentioned the first one at the beginning of this year. It was a situation where I was the sub-contractor, and the client decided that they were not ready to go through the project after all, so they dumped the project, so I had to be dumped in the process as well. No fault of mine.  The second one was the fault of the recruiter. Because of some sort of legal mumbo-jumbo going on with drawing up the contracts for my consulting employment with the client, the deal didn’t go down–after I had already faced some daunting and difficult interviews to secure the job in the first place. I was really starting to lose hope, and I spent a good part of my year trying to figure out the answer to the question, “What’s my next move?” Frankly, I had no idea. Part of that involved reminding myself that I probably wasn’t doing anything wrong at all–it’s just the circumstances of what’s been going on with a pandemic. 

Add to that other stresses going on. My son started college at the local community college at the beginning of the year. He’d had problems with the program he was in during the last quarter of 2019, and he’d been asked to leave–essentially because the educational facility where he was didn’t have any clue how to support his special needs appropriately. It was a blessing in disguise, because now he’s in a good program at this local community college. However, he still has to get general education requirements out of the way, and those have been a challenge. Between his dad and I (mostly me), he’s halfway through the general education classes, and passing with what’s probably a mid-to-low B average.  He was just starting to gain some independence when that was taken away because he couldn’t go into classes on campus. That was a big step for him. and the pandemic set him back quite a bit.

The last stressor was my chapter–STC-Philadelphia. For whatever reason, pulling in new volunteers has been difficult for the last few years, and I knew that if we continued in the same way we have been, the chapter wouldn’t be sustainable for much longer, and it would fold. We lost some money due to the CONDUIT conference we had to eventually cancel due to the pandemic. So, a big part of my year was trying to reorganize and try to keep the chapter afloat, bring in new people, and set new expectations to stay afloat. I couldn’t bear the weight of it all on my shoulders anymore.

Things didn’t finally start to turn around until the end of October, which was good because I thought I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown by that point. But they started to improve, just in time.

First, I was grateful that I had those smaller gigs, because when I needed a little boost that validated that yes, I do have the skills and experience needed to do something, I had it. Thanks to Kevin Siegel for being one of those people who gave me a chance, even though it was short term. I enjoyed the work very much. But I was also happy for finally finding work that I’m enjoying now and getting compensated appropriately for. I like working for a manager speaks the same content design and UX design language as I do. One of her requirements was that she wanted someone who’s active in STC, and I’ve got that in spades! My suggestions and recommendations are not nixed, and I actually feel valued again. That’s all anyone really wants with their job, if you think about it. They want to feel productive in what they do, valued for what they do and think, and compensated fairly for being productive and valuable. I’m getting that now, so just for that, much of my depression has been lifted.

Next, my chapter is still afloat. We have a new team that’s starting to come together now, and the new chapter president is doing fine. I still advise, but the weight is off my shoulders. In fact, I was able to move into new volunteer opportunities. I was invited to be on the STC Education Committee and the STC Community Affairs Committee (CAC), both of which are high profile groups at the Society level. I’ve been working hard in those groups, and finding my value there, and getting great support from the chairs of those committees.

And…while the deaths of friends and family weren’t due to COVID, COVID did have an impact. I’m hoping that now that the US has a new president and vice-president elected, things will get better. Like many in the US, I was on pins and needles until that final count came in. I cried for joy for hours–something I’ve never done in a situation like that before. Why? Because of the relief that some semblance of “normalcy” and decency is going to be brought back to our government. The US is not out of the woods yet–it’s still going to be ugly for a while, but decency and morality and ethics prevailed in the end. That anxiety was alleviated a bit, too.

So, as 2021 begins, we still have a pandemic. We still won’t be able to do what we want to be doing. Not having a vacation or leaving the state is taking a toll. I need to break away, but being slightly immunocompromised, I really don’t want to take my chances outside my immediate area where most people are generally good about wearing masks and all the other stuff. (Yes, even in hard hit New Jersey.) I was looking forward to going back to conferences and seeing my friends. I’ve seen them online and in video chats, but it’s not the same. I haven’t seen any friends for ages except one and that’s only because she’s my dermatologist, too.

I think when all this pandemic stuff started, it hit me very hard and pulled me down hard because there seemed to be no end in sight. As a person with high-functioning autism, and just as a human being–I needed something that gave me some structure and something to look forward to. I couldn’t look forward to a vacation or anything like that all year. Now that a vaccine is out (even if I am not probably able to get it for another year), that means there’s some hope again–that there is an end in sight. In my eyes, it’s about a year from now. I’m thinking that things will be different this time next year. I will have probably finished up my current contract, and will be sad to go but on the hunt again. My son will have started the classes in his major and gained his newfound independence again. And “normalcy” will start to bloom again, albeit slowly, but surely.

One of my tech comm friends recently was down on herself because she didn’t hit any of her goals this year. Frankly, neither did I, except for one that I made later–stay alive! This is my goal for this year as well. We shouldn’t be hard on ourselves for not always attaining what we want to do. First, we’ve been in a pandemic, so we need to adjust. Secondly, this year, as horrible as it has been, has helped many people–including myself–realize what’s really most important to us. Survival and supportive personal relationships are key. You do what you have to do–physically, mentally, and emotionally to stay alive. Most of us have been on “Red Alert” all year, and haven’t had a chance to back down to “Yellow Alert” (sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek this past year), but I’m hoping that 2021 is that “Yellow Alert” year–where we still have to be cautious and use our heads, but pure survivalist instincts will take over. 

I’ve often reminded people of two things– humans are adaptable creatures, so anything thrown our way, we can learn to adapt. This was definitely a year of learning how to adapt! The other part of it is that life is not a race. Only matters of life and death should be rushed–all the rest is nice to have sooner than later. Even earlier today, I was talking to my husband (who is an IDL developer/programmer) about this, especially in relation to IT or tech comm work. Forcing patterns and speed help nothing. Agile is good in theory, but I’m seeing more and more often that good content and UX is sacrificed for the sake of speed getting it up. The “bling” of UX layout and visual design is still overridden over content. We talked about SCRUM and DITA, and where is works and other instances that it wouldn’t work. All of these things are worthy discussions and have valid guidelines for practice. Perhaps in light of what’s going on, it’s time to take a few steps back, take out time, and rethink things. What’s REALLY important? What’s more important to you and your users–that they get the info they want and need, or that your site looks “sexy”? 

My goals for 2021 are simple:

  1. Stay alive
    1. Get the vaccine when eligible
  2. Eat more veggies this year
  3. Move a little more (not exercise or exercise more regularly, just move)
  4. Stay in touch and support the people who I care about and support me in return
  5. Stay flexible and learn what I can in my current position. 

We never know what’s going to happen from year to year–despite the best laid plans. Keeping your plans simple will help you achieve them, and also help keep you feeling sane. Self-care and self-love can go a long way, so do it when you can. 

Here’s hoping for a better year ahead in 2021. Let’s be stealth and jump to Black Alert. (Really–it’s worth it if you watch a lot of the current Star Trek series. Great entertainment as well as mental motivators.) 

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TechCommGeekMom reviews 2014 – So, how was it?

This was part of the Chiluly exhibit that was at the Botanical Gardens while I was at the STC Summit in Phoenix, AZ. It was cool!
This was part of the Chiluly exhibit that was at the Botanical Gardens while I was at the STC Summit in Phoenix, AZ. It was cool!

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.

Happy New Year–welcome to 2015!

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STC-PMC 2014 Conference – Better than last year!

NJIT's MSPTC program in the house at STCPMC14! L to R: Dr. Bernadette Longo, director of the MSPTC program; Jamil Wilkins, current MSPTC student; Danielle M. Villegas, MSPTC alum and STCPMC presenter.
NJIT’s MSPTC program in the house at #STCPMC14! L to R: Dr. Bernadette Longo, director of the MSPTC program; Jamil Wilkins, current MSPTC student; Danielle M. Villegas, MSPTC alum and STCPMC presenter.

In a nutshell, the 2014 STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference was better than last year, in my opinion! A slightly different format, a different day, more networking, and excellent speakers made for a fantastic event.

Okay, now for more details.

First, having been a member of the conference’s planning committee this year, I know that a lot of work went into making this event a success. Kudos to my fellow volunteers! Special care was taken to choose the best proposals submitted, and it definitely was reflected in the best of the best! There were so many great subjects to choose from that even among the presenters, some were saying to each other, “I want to go to your presentation, but I’m presenting at the same time!” I think some of the attendees also had hard choices to make, since sometimes they couldn’t decide between topics during a given session!

Nicky Bleiel, who is currently the President of the STC, gave the keynote address for the conference. She talked about flexible content with responsive design. The main message of her talk was that with responsive design, technical communicators can create and deliver a single responsive output that will work on thousands of devices, including new devices, old devices, and even ones that don’t exist yet. She showed us a few examples, such as Microsoft and Lycos websites in which the content remains the same, even though the output in different browsers changed to work with the size of a particular browser size. Many companies started making separate mobile sites, but the content was not the same as the full site. Responsive web design is Google’s preferred configuration when ranking sites. Mobile users want content parity, meaning they want everything that desktop owners have, thus they want one Web. Fluid layouts, fluid images, media queries in the coding, and stacking or collapsing grids are the key to creating responsive design.

During the first breakout session, I gave my own presentation, “Blogging Out Loud: The Basics of Blogging,” so I didn’t get a chance to see anyone else’s presentation during that time, obviously.  I did have a lot of people in my room, which pleased me, and we had a great discussion during the question-and-answer time. It was a great group, and smart questions were asked.

After a lunch break filled with awards, volunteer recognition, food, and networking, I chose to attend Todd DeLuca‘s talk about volunteering your way up the career ladder.  Todd kept the presentation fairly open, sharing some of his own insights about volunteering from his personal experiences and how they were able to apply to his professional life. The group attending participated by sharing ideas and experiences themselves about volunteering, bringing about a great conversation. Todd’s main idea was that it doesn’t matter how big or small the contribution, or if the volunteer opportunity is inside or outside of work. The experience fulfills you when helping others, but also fulfills you by allowing you to gain skills and experience that helps yourself. I think one idea he presented resonated with me, which was that volunteering is an offer to help, but it’s also a promise that evolves, as it’s a commitment that is followed through and builds trust. I also liked his point that volunteering is a safe environment to grow because usually there is less risk and some mistakes are expected, so the environment is often more nurturing than work. That’s a great environment to learn! Todd has been volunteering for things inside and outside of his job for years, related to tech comm as well as unrelated, and felt that he’s reaped benefits that apply to where he is professionally. I know that Todd will be speaking at the 2014 Spectrum conference for the STC Rochester chapter in a few weeks, and he’ll also be speaking at the STC Summit on this topic, so I encourage you to attend to get more details and ideas!

The last presentation I saw for the day was by Neil Perlin. Neil and I have known each other through both e-learning and tech comm social media circles for a while now, but hadn’t met before. It was a real treat to meet and chat with him, but to also hear him speak, as I know he’s rather popular on the e-learning and tech comm circuits. Neil’s talk was about emerging technologies, which is a subject he’s excited about and presents frequently. Neil covered a wide range of topics that are currently in use now and look to be expanding in the future. These topics included more mobile content that needs content strategy to steer it, more use of analytics to understand what our users need and use, using social media extensively, augmented reality, wearables, the use of the “cloud” and cloud-based tools. He also stated that there is a need for standards in order to future-proof our materials to avoid problems as technologies come and go, since it’s so hard to predict what will everyone use. He advised us to stay current by going to conferences and staying on top of general business issues and trends. Business issues can kill a technology, so staying current on your company business is a show of tech comm’s support of corporate strategy. His last bit of advice was to review your tools regularly for environmental change, accept the rise of content and social media, don’t denigrate tools in favor of writing, and embrace and help shape change!

After the conference, WebWorks and Publishing Smarter hosted a nice post-conference get-together at the Iron Abbey, a pub-restaurant down the street from the conference venue. It was a great treat of libations, appetizers, and networking further with tech comm peers.

Overall, it was a great experience. I liked the format this year because it felt more relaxed with fewer breakout sessions. Presenters weren’t rushed as they often are at events like these, and more time was allowed for networking with everyone. Perhaps it’s because I’d had a different experience last year as a total newbie that it was so different to me, but I don’t think so. The topics of the conference, the agenda, and the camaraderie of those hosting at the “City of Brotherly Love” came together into a pleasant Saturday of learning. As a smaller, regional conference I think the more intimate setting helped it be a more personalized experience for all, thus it was a big success.

(To any of the fellow speakers I reviewed here–if you’d like to add or correct anything that I summarized here, please feel free to do so in the comments area below!)

If you are in the Philadelphia area next year around mid-March, I highly recommend coming to next year’s STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Conference. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

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Join me at the STC-PMC 2014 Mid-Atlantic Conference!

STC-PMC logo

One of the things I like about the STC having a chapter set-up is that even if the closest chapter isn’t next door, it’s usually still close enough to find people from your region with whom you can connect. For me, I found my “tribe” with the STC – Philadelphia Metro Chapter, or “STC-PMC” as we call it.

Every year, the STC-PMC hosts a Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference that people from around mid-Atlantic region–and beyond–come to learn and present information going on in the world of tech comm. My first exposure to tech comm conferences–and presenting–was at last year’s STC-PMC conference, and it was just a positive experience. I met many people whom I had only known through social media, and met new people as well. Philadelphia is known as the “City of Brotherly Love”, and it’s evident with this STC chapter. I immediately felt welcomed both as a member and as a new presenter as well.

The conference itself opened my eyes to new possibilities and new ideas as well. I also felt that it validated many of my own experiences as well–that I was coming up with similar ideas and solutions as others in the field. I also liked that unlike the STC Summit or some of the other conferences I’ve been to, this one is a little smaller and more intimate, allowing everyone the opportunity to get to know the speakers and the other attendees on a more one-to-one level.

This year’s STC-PMC conference is on Saturday, March 22nd just outside of Philadelphia in Willow Grove, PA. This all-day event is going to be jam-packed full of good information that’s timely and will be helpful in your tech comm evolution. I’m presenting this year, and my presentation is called, “Blogging Out Loud: The Basics of Blogging.” It seems I know a little something about blogging and am willing to share. 🙂

But I’m not the only draw–Neil Perlin, STC President Nicky Bleiel, Ellen Buttolph, Roger Renteria, Ben and Marilyn Woelk, Donn DeBoard, Todd DeLuca, Traci Browne, David Dylan Thomas, Bernard Aschwanden and Christopher Ward will all be presenting as well. There’s lunch, prizes, and lightning talks, too! All at a very affordable price!

Afterwards, there will be a free networking event at the nearby Iron Abbey restaurant sponsored by WebWorks and Publishing Smarter. (You don’t need to go to the conference to attend the networking event, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you do both!)

So, it’s a fantastic event that the STC-PMC is setting up, and gee–it’s on a Saturday! You don’t have to worry about missing work to take advantage of this great networking and learning opportunity.

If you’re relatively nearby and want to participate, there’s still time and still some spots left! Register today by going to

You won’t regret it! (And if you do come, make sure to seek me out and say hello!)

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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.