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STC-NEC Interchange 2018’s Keynote Speaker: TechCommGeekMom


Nighttime image of Lowell, MA
Well, this will be a first!  I’ve been invited to be the keynote speaker for the STC-New England Chapter’s conference, Interchange, this coming fall–October 26-27, 2018 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Interchange is one of those regional conferences that I’ve wanted to attend, and to be invited to speak as the keynote? Wow! I’m truly honored.

They first asked me if I was interested actually when I was in the midst of CONDUIT 2018 this past spring. To say the least, I was surprised. Me? Keynote material? Then I thought, hey, why not? I’m sure I can figure out something to talk about in a half hour (I have until October to figure it out now–possibly sooner).  I know that the STC-New England Chapter is hard at work to ensure that this is going to be a really good conference, and worth the trip north in the fall! I’m looking forward to seeing my STC friends from New England, and meeting some new ones.

If you are interesting in checking out this conference, go to the Interchange 2018 website for more details. I hope that I will see you there, and please don’t jeer or heckle me while I speak (although some people I would expect it from. LOL)

In the meantime, plans are already underway for CONDUIT 2019. We haven’t pinned down an exact date yet, but it will be in the first half of April, for sure.  I’m in the midst of seeing if we can find a new venue for our little conference. I’ve visited one place that’s excellent–and most of our board’s first choice–but I have to do due diligence in visiting the other places as well that we’ve chosen as finalists, and then doing some number-crunching to see which is the most economical. There will be some big changes for next year no matter where we go, but we are confident that it will be worth it.

In the meantime, go register for Interchange 2018, and I’ll see you there!

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Oh, the Academian and the Practitioner should be friends…Engaging TechComm Professionals

The farmer and the cowman--I mean, the academian and the practitioner should be friends...
The farmer and the cowman–I mean, the academian and the practitioner should be friends…

I attended the IEEE ProComm at the University of Limerick, in Limerick, Ireland last week. I was absolutely gobsmacked months ago when a presentation proposal I sent in for this conference was actually accepted. I figured, why not? I’m always looking to expand my tech comm circle, so I had hoped that this would help in this endeavour. I made some great new connections, and I was glad for that, and I certainly enjoyed the sessions I attended.

One thing that was very different about this conference, unlike the other tech comm conferences I’ve attended thusfar, was that this particular conference focused more on the academic side of tech comm. I found out, through inquiry, that while all were invited to this conference, there was definitely a very strong bent toward academia. There is nothing wrong with that, but the depth of this academic frame of mind is not something I’ve dealt with since I graduated from NJIT three years ago.  I understand that academia has its own rules and ways of doing things, but it was definitely…different. Not in a bad way, but different.

Up until this point, I had attended what I’ll call “practitioner” conferences. I’ve chose the word “practitioner” rather than “professional” because in the end, we’re all professionals at what we do in the technical communications, whether we teach and do research, or are out in the corporate world making things happen. Thus those out there in the corporate world I’m choosing to call practitioners. Some practitioners do teach, and some academians do corporate work, but they don’t always overlap. I wanted to clarify this before I move on with my narrative here…

Anyway, as I started to say, up until this point, I had attended conferences that had a stronger practitioner’s bent to them. Most speakers would be people who had been out there battling it out in the corporate masses, and sharing their experiences and knowledge attained from those experiences with others. I often attribute the fact that I got my last job with BASF because of information that learned through one of these practitioner events, because it was something that the company could use beyond analytical theories. Speakers at these practitioner conferences are those who are in the trenches every day, putting to practice all those theories about content strategy, revising them, applying them to businesses globally.

So, attending a mostly academic conference like the IEEE ProComm was a bit eye-opening. Many of the talks were summaries of research that had been done on a variety of topics, and peer reviewed, which was all well and good. I found that the sessions that I could connect best to were the ones that were given by practitioners, practitioners who were also academians, or academians who had a foothold as consultants outside of the academy. There were plenty of sessions whose topics were relevant to the corporate world, but they failed to deliver completely on something new or to provide any revelations to me. There were also summary sessions that provided research conclusions which were incorrect or inaccurate from practitioner perspectives, or elicited the feeling of “…and why are you researching this topic again, and what is its relevency?”

I spent a good part of my time networking with people who happened to be practitioners studying for advanced degrees or had an advanced degree. I particularly connected with one woman who happened to come out of the same NJIT program that I did. (We weren’t classmates, as she started the semester after I graduated, but we knew or had many of the same professors.) She’s been a practitioner much longer than I have, and as she had recently graduated from the NJIT program. NJIT people rarely attend these conferences, so if we do find each other, we tend to flock together a bit. She and I spent a lot of time comparing notes from our experiences and concerns that we had not only about our own program, but other programs as well.

The main gist of our conclusions was that this disparity between the academy and those in practice was discouraging. We both felt that while there were several technical communications programs that did help with job placement and practical experience while still in the studying process, not enough were. Additionally, some of the information that was being given to students about the realities of working in tech comm weren’t accurate or up to date. This is a disservice to both those who do research and especially to students who have to go out in the “real world”.  In order to not make it sound like I’m placing any blame on academia alone, practitioners also have a responsibility to be active in helping to groom future technical communicators as well. My NJIT colleague and I talked about we might be the first two members of an alumni advisory committee that we’d like to start (of course, NJIT doesn’t know this yet), because we felt that we could bring back our experiences either as instructors or merely as advisors to help professors and students keep up to speed with what’s happening outside the virtual or literal campus walls.

Now, in saying all this, I don’t mean to step on ANYONE’s toes in this discourse. Far from it! While I’m sure you can tell that I lean on the side of being a practitioner, this doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the academic side at all. I’ve been there. I’ve taught, too. However, there were just too many conversations in which I wanted to say to a few professors that only teach and do research, “REALLY?? Are you serious?”, knowing well that they were serious. I understand that many universities also have a hard rule about the need to do publish and research to keep one’s professorial job, so that can’t be easy to balance all of it.

Aunt Eller meant business when she had to "encourage" everyone to get along.
Aunt Eller meant business when she had to “encourage” everyone to get along.

When I first started meeting people at the ProComm conference, they assured me, as a first-time attendee, that this was a friendly group and it was easy to get to know others. This proved to be true. Just like the STC Summit and other conferences I have attended, the people were friendly, helpful, intelligent, and eager to “talk shop” with each other. I welcolmed that, and have found that these sentiments seem to be universal with all technical communicators. However, as time went by, that difference and angst between the academians and practitioners, while mild, was still palpable. The entire conference, I had a song running through my head from the American musical, “Oklahoma” called, “The Farmer and The Cowman (Territory Folk)”. (If you haven’t seen the musical before, you can watch the YouTube video of the song.) Essentially, the message of the song is that the two groups really had the same interests at hand in the end, and they needed to learn to cooperate more to make the goal of being the new state of Oklahoma work. I’m hoping that my role in this, on some level by opening up this conversation, is that I play the role of Aunt Eller from the same musical. She gives the advice at the end of this song by singing,

I’d teach you all a little sayin’
and learn the words by heart the way you should,
I don’t say that I’m no better than anybody else,
but I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!

😉

The Living Bridge at the University of Limerick.  Looks like a good place to start to "bridge" the gap.
The Living Bridge at the University of Limerick.
Looks like a good place to start.

While I don’t think our difference as as strong as the farmers or the cowmen of Oklahoma, I’d like to think that we can come together much more easily and bridge that chasm more quickly and completely. We all have the same goal, after all–to continue to make technical communications a top notch field and create superior technical communicators. How can we go wrong with a goal like that?

My own view is that more needs to be done to connect academia with practitioners. I know that the STC-PMC, for example, has been very active in the past year working with technical writing students at Drexel University in Philadelphia. They are always looking for more local schools to connect with. I’m sure there are other outreach programs out there, but how many exactly, whether it’s through STC or IEEE or any other professional group out there? I know that I’m going to try to reach out to my own program at NJIT in the next week and see if I can offer any help. What can you do?

What do you think? I know a lot of my readers fall on both sides of this issue, and several straddle both. I’d love to hear what you think, and let’s get the conversation started on this!

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TechCommGeekMom’s 2013 Year in Review

IMG_2423
TechCommGeekMom visits Multnomah Falls during her Lavacon/Adobe Day 2013 visit to the Portland, OR area.

Okay, I’ll admit this is going to be a slightly self-indulgent (and slightly long) blog post. I read something recently that said that there shouldn’t be so much “self-promotion” in promoting your blog. This has always been a blog that not only encourages community, but it also tracks my own journey through technical communications, for better or worse. Taking the time to do the year-end review of what’s gone on in the past year is a good exercise for anyone.

At first, I thought my year wasn’t all that great, meaning that it wasn’t exciting. I hadn’t achieved some things that I wanted to do; I did not fulfill all my tech comm resolutions for the year. But as I looked through photos of the past year on my mobile devices to come up with something to put in this blog post, I realized that a LOT of good things still happened this year.

The year started off with a bang, as I was finally working full-time after a year of unemployment.  The new job ended up being a good opportunity. I get to work from home, I’m being paid well (a lot better than I ever had before), and it’s doing something that comes naturally to me–content management. I have had the chance to use my UX and web design abilities during this position, too. Things have gone well enough that my contract has been extended for another year.  I know that there’s a good chance that later in 2014, the company I’m contracted to will be switching CMS software, so it’ll be an opportunity to learn a new system and flex those content management muscles. I’m looking forward to it! It’s been a long time since I had a job that I truly enjoyed and feel appreciated for what I do. In past positions, I would offer my suggestions and advice based on what I had learned from my social media connections, graduate school courses, conferences, and personal experience, and I’d be ignored. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t take my suggestion if there’s something valid that will discount it, but using the excuse of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s what the end user is used to, so why change it?” doesn’t cut it for me. There’s always a better way. This was the first position that actually gave me a chance to use my voice and makes some executive decisions that would benefit the end user. My manager supports my decisions 99% of the time, so that’s been a huge load off my shoulders. Stress has not been a major issue with this job, and I know I’m fortunate to have made this employment connection.

Having a job, and a good job at that, would make for a good year. But there’s been more.

2013 was the year that I started to go out on the public speaking circuit. It started with my first conference presentation at the STC-PMC Conference in March, followed by two webinars this past fall. Three presentations might not sound like a lot, but considering that I have only presented to my tech comm peers twice beforehand (my capstone presentation at grad school and an Adobe Webinar that Maxwell Hoffmann helped me with immensely in 2012), and all these presentations were STC-related, I figure that’s a pretty good feather to add to my cap.  I’ve been told that the presentations were well-received, and I have gotten some good feedback, so I consider that a big success.

I also added an additional writing credential to my repetoire.  I started writing a by-line for the STC Notebook blog that started out as a column as a newcomer for the 2013 STC Summit. That column has now turned into a regular monthly column for the STC Notebook called Villegas Views. Again, I feel like I’ve received some good feedback on my writing there, so that’s another success.

I attended three conferences this year, namely the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, the STC Summit, and Lavacon (although I was only at Lavacon for a day–hey, I still need to write about that! I’ll try to get to that soon!).  The biggest one, of course, was the Summit, which was mindblowing for me. I loved being able to travel, considering I work from home day in and day out. (I’m not complaining, but it was a welcome change of scenery.) Actually, all the conferences were wonderful and overwhelming at the same time, and that sense of feeling somewhere that I belonged was never more evident than when I attended these events. I’m SO glad I did, and that leads me to the last thing that I found to be the greatest part of this year.

While I had started to develop some professional connections in 2012 through social media and through my first visit to Adobe Day at Lavacon in 2012, both social media and these conferences enabled me to expand my professional connections exponentially. However, it became more than just professional connections.  I’ve ended up making some fantastic friends along the way.  I know most people don’t think of me as being shy or introverted, but I actually am. I’m horribly awkward socially , and I know it.  Social media helped with the introductions, for sure. A few in-person introductions have helped as well. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but I have found that technical communicators to be one of the most friendly and inviting groups of people I’ve ever met. I have appreciated every person who introduced himself or herself to me in person when knowing me from my blog or a social media connection. I’ve appreciated the friendships that have developed over time from these connections. I’ve loved having some of these friendships with those who are industry leaders develop into mentorships as well. When one of those supportive mentors encourage me or tell me how proud they are of my accomplishments, I want to cry tears of joy. (Heck, I’m crying tears of joy just writing this!) For so long, I’ve felt like an outsider, so to have my professional peers look to me as an equal and show me constant support and encouragment is a huge boost that I’ve needed for years.

This blog has grown, too. The numbers aren’t done for the year yet as I write this, but I’ve added a lot more readers and had more response to TechCommGeekMom in 2013 than in 2012. I’m sure I’ll be doing more celebrating when the blog hits its second “birthday” in March, but for the calendar year, it’s been great. I know I haven’t always been able to keep up with this blog as much as I liked during this year, but I feel like the efforts that were made to grow and expand have been supported by the tech comm community.

So, thanks to all of you for reading my posts either here, on the STC Notebook, or in social media. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share ideas with me. Thanks for continually teaching me more about technical communication, and helping me to expand my mind and my understanding of this profession, and teaching me how I can continue to grow in this profession.

2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year as well. I will be attending three conferences before the year is halfway done, of which I’ll be presenting at two of them, I believe. I know, for sure, that one of the conferences I’ll be presenting at is the STC Summit 2014! That’s a big deal to me. I mean, think about it–only out of grad school two years, and already presenting at the annual Summit? Not too shabby, I would think.  I’ll be continuing to write here at TechCommGeekMom, and I’ll still be writing my by-line for STC Notebook, and I’m hoping that there will be some more opportunities to do presentations either in-person or in webinars.

2013 has been quite the year for me…time will tell how 2014 will be!

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Check out the affordable Tech Comm conference, ConveyUX !

WritersUAbanner_mainOne of the things that I hope I can do more often in 2013 is attend more tech comm conferences. There are always really good speakers, and I find that I truly learn so much from them.

So, when Joe Welinske of WritersUA emailed me and let me know about this conference, I had to share. Joe, you may remember, did a really great presentation at Adobe Day at Lavacon back in October.

Joe asked me to pass along the following information:

I’m writing this note to let you know that registration is open for the WritersUA conference….We will be in Seattle, March 7-8. This will directly follow the ConveyUX conference that I am managing for Blink Interactive.

You can find all the details here: http://writersua.com/conference.
Early registration discounts end on Saturday. I’m use a different format for the WritersUA event that offers a more affordable price and a reduced time commitment….Also, I’m hosting a number of free webinars for community groups. If you belong to a group that might be interested, let me know.

Thank you,
Joe

I looked at the website, and it IS one of the more affordable conferences, and I know several of the speakers presenting during the event, and they are all top notch! So, if you fancy a trip to Seattle in March for some great tech comm info, check it out!