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Pandemic re-emergence? What’s new with TechCommGeekMom…so far.

Exit Darkness, Enter Light” by Fr@ηk is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually updated things. The last few years with this pandemic haven’t actually been that inspiring. And the last year or so has been a whirlwind. As I write this, I just finished giving my husband all my documentation for our 2021 taxes. Wait–it’s 2022 already? There are times my head feels scrambled because there’s just so much going on, and just in 2022 alone, there have been some big changes in my life–or at least how I’m doing things. Let me explain.

First, let’s look at things on the STC front. I’ve worked very hard over the last few years as a chapter leader for my local chapter–doing everything from communications to membership to programming to executive operations (if you want to call it that), and while I still have to do one more transition training after the spring (Easter/Passover) holidays, I’m essentially out of chapter/community leadership for a while. I knew the day would eventually come. I’m still a chapter member, just not in leadership. It was a good run, because the chapter is still going despite a lot of things that went wrong due to the pandemic and just the state of the world right now, and I’ve left it in the hands of people that I trust, so that helps. But this doesn’t mean that I’ve left the STC volunteer schema in any way. If anything, I got lucky as I was elected as a Board Director for the STC Board Director. I will tell you, the process to be a candidate was more intense than any job interview process I’ve ever been in! And I was lucky because there were two spaces and I was one of two candidates…so…you do the math. I really went into it not expecting to be elected at all, and lucky if I got to be on the slate. So, there’s a lot of changes that are coming up this month where I’ll be initiated into the Board. I sat in on an orientation/onboarding meeting this past week, and just had to breathe through it…it’s different, and it’s a lot to take in. I’ve been assured by my friends who’ve been on the STC board that I’ll be fine. I hope they are right. In the meantime, I’m still active on the Community Affairs Committee (CAC) for the Board, so that keeps me busy as well on that front for the rest of the program year. Between Board stuff and CAC stuff, I’m going to especially busy for the next month or so. I’m also presenting at the STC Summit this year, so I have to finish out the slides and such for that. Busy, busy, busy.

The other big thing that’s happened this year is that something that I’ve been seeking since this blog was started was finally achieved. I finally got a permanent placement position that’s remote. While I still had to interview for the position as if I was coming from the outside, I was able to convert my contract position into a permanent full-time employee position. I’m still doing the same job, except now I have the security that my contract isn’t ending at the end of October 2022, so unless there’s a big layoff or I really screw up, I have some job security. That’s taken a huge weight off my shoulders. I finally have employee benefits–better than what my husband had at his long-term position, that we switched it to me taking over medical, dental, vision, etc. Some things that I’m working on, though, is getting out of a contractor mentality. I’m still the biggest advocate for contractors–believe me–but I’m still adjusting to a full-time employee mentality. I haven’t been a full-time employee since 2000–before my son was born! So, it’s a bit of an adjustment in that respect. I also am part of progress checks and performance evaluations, which I’m not used to, and that gives me anxiety. I went through my first one the other day, and so far, so good.

Nonetheless, I’m glad that I’ve found a work “home”, and I generally like the work that we’re doing. Right now, it’s a little stressful as we have a big project going on that is launching at the end of June, and the intensity of getting everything done and doing the due diligence with the content is…challenging. Part of the challenge is me learning to go with the flow of things, and while I know what’s planned for after this project, I can’t think past that project launch. Just so much going on. I will say, at least, that where I’ve landed encourages that I have the opportunity to learn and grow, and I know my manager is happy with my STC involvement, so, that helps.

Some of these things spill over into my personal life, of course. While I haven’t been needing to look for a new position, I had to help my son look for his first apprenticeship/internship for school as he continues his studies to be an auto mechanic. He still struggles with his studies, but I can’t always help him because I don’t know the first thing about auto mechanical-related stuff. But I could help him with his apprenticeship search, and I’m helping him with his onboarding. It’s his first job, and his autistic anxiety is getting the best of him in some respects. I think he’ll do fine. We lucked out because we pushed him to look before the other students did, and he is starting in two weeks where he works once a week for about 3-4 weeks, and then he’ll be almost full-time (32 hours per week) while he continues his studies during the next 16 months. But, he got something, and he’s going to be one tired guy once he starts, but hopefully it’ll go well. He seems to get along with the service manager he’ll be working for, so that’s a good start. When I started this blog, he was still a little boy, an early “tween”. Now, he’s a young adult, and while in some ways he’s still a teenager even though he’s actually in his early 20s, so much is changing for him, too. Oh, and the hubby is fine, too. Readjusting to working hybrid, and he’s wishing he could work remotely permanently.

So, that’s the update. Kind of hard to write about much more at the moment. Oh, I will be on the Content Wrangler podcast this week as well! The podcast is A Decade of Observations From TechCommGeekMom: Danielle Villegas on April 20, 2022 1:00 pm ET. I look forward to talking to Paul Perrotta! He and I already just gab and gab when we do get together to talk, so it should be an interesting chat!

How have you started to emerge from the pandemic? Any big changes for you? Share in the comments.

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Happy 10th birthday, TechCommGeekMom.com!

On March 9, 2012, I was in my last semester of getting my master’s degree in professional and technical communications at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). One of the two last main courses I was taking was “Theory and Practice of Social Media”, a course I would later teach a few years later. In the class, we were instructed that we had to create a blog/website. So, I took some blog posts I had created for another class to start, added a few more, and well…the rest is history.

The idea behind this blog was–and still remains–one to express my ideas and issues that deal with various technical communications topics. When I was getting out of grad school, by ambition was to be an instructional designer. Here I am a decade later…someone who has used instructional design, but is not an instructional designer. But between my pre-grad school background skills, plus all the enhanced ones from my studies, I began a journey that continues today to try to find my “calling”. It feels like I’ve done a little bit of everything, but in the last decade, between continuing education through the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and getting some more continuing education certificates in digital marketing and UX Design, I’ve continued to expand and grow to get to where I am today.

There are over 1300 articles in this blog over the years. Often, it would be me sharing an article with some commentary, and sometimes it was baring my soul as I’ve gone through my journey to now. Sometimes, it was good; sometimes, it wasn’t so good. It’s been a rough decade! But I’m at a point where I feel like I might finally be coming out on top.

Anyway, I digress…this is still a space for exploration and learning. I’ve always invited constructive comments because social media (and yes, blogging is a form of social media still) is meant to be a means of a two-way communication, much more than just a one-way conversation, even if it ends up being that way most of the time. It has been a space where I could express myself and show what I know…this was initially a “marketing” tool for myself in helping me find work. Sometimes this has paid off! People get to know me beyond the resume or CV, and get to know me a little better, and understand what I’m learning to grow in my career.

While I don’t write as often as I used to, most of that is due to just being burned out and busy. The last two years, with a pandemic, have been trying on everyone, and my focus has been elsewhere. But I’ve come a long way in a decade.

You know that question that interviewers ask often–that lame question that goes along the lines of, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Where I am not is not where I thought I’d be. I’ve learned not to give an answer to that. I can say, “This is my goal,” but do I always reach those goals? No. But I persevere. And this blog is a testament to my perseverance.

I’ll try to stop in more often when I can. I think things are changing enough in my life that I can start to share articles and add commentary again, or try to post original content like this. But there’s over 1300 articles in this blog. I’m sure you’ll find something worthwhile to read in there. 😉 I’ve updated the layout theme a little bit so that it’s fresh for a new decade, so enjoy!

Happy 10th birthday, TechCommGeekMom.com!

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What’s in a name, like architect and strategist and designer?

Deciding who does what on a ship is not an easy task. (Photo from Star Trek: Prodigy)

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in. I know I don’t write here much any more, but life, as they say, has been busy.

I was going to write up something today, and saw that I had a few drafts of things that I had intended to finish later. So, before I start anything new, I thought I might fix up some of these drafts, and post them first. Perhaps this will get me back on the path of writing in her more often again.

The following post was started in February 2020–yep, right before the pandemic really clicked in. I was back in job search mode at that point, and with the pandemic only starting to make itself known, who knew this would be a big issue for me.  Even two years later, this is still a sticking point for me, and this general perception hold up. 


One of the frustrations that I have with job searching (beyond the actual job searching itself) is job titles and finding the right fit. I’ve found that in the last ten years that I’ve been looking either for permanent positions or contract positions that titles are a huge misnomer–literally. And instead of things becoming clearer, they’ve become worse. This, in turn, makes it difficult for those of us in the tech comm world to find something appropriate based on our experiences and skills at times. In some cases, certain industries have stolen terminology from another or the job from another and muddied the waters, so to speak.

Let me give you some examples.

My brother is an architect–the regular kind that makes designs blueprints for buildings and understands engineering and stuff. Years ago, when he decided to move to a new location and find a job, everything he was finding was for information architects, not his kind of architect. What do we even call what my brother does now? He eventually found a job, but it was after going through countless information architect jobs that he found the real architect jobs.

Nowadays, things haven’t changed. I think for a technical communicators, it’s even harder. There are now UX architects to add to the mix as well. Or in the case of strategists…social media and marketing have dominated that and taken that over. If you look for a job as a content strategist now, it’s not going to be for someone who understands content management and understands how to best organize your content for maximum output results. It’s usually a marketing job. Now before you jump on me and say, “Well, content marketing jobs are ‘in’ right now,”–I know. After hearing overtures about it for years, I took some initiative to get a credential in digital marketing a few, and now I’m bombarded with jobs in my inbox for marketing positions. And any content marketing position is usually looking for a person with a marketing/business background and experience who understands content strategy and management with marketing as the primary responsibility. It’s not the other way around, which I’d be game for–someone needing a content strategist/manager who could help them organize what marketing campaigns they’ve already come up with. Those latter types of jobs don’t exist or are very rare.

The world of technical communication is constantly morphing, and it’s difficult enough to keep up with all the changes in tech and the needs of the tech, let alone be able to find a job in tech with all the various titles and overlapping responsibilities that venture into other fields. I think about all the undergraduate students coming out with a technical communications degree only to find out that they probably should have learned about 5 different programming codes, know how to build multimedia and training, and have some specialty in an industry like financial, pharma, manufacturing, etc. While technical communicators can be all that, most of us aren’t. For example, I know how to manipulate web-based codes for HTML, CSS, XML, Javascript, and PHP. Can I write any of it? HTML to a degree, yes. The others–in dribs and drabs for some things, and not at all for others. Most jobs want software developer who can write. They are out there, and I know several. But I’m willing to bet that your average technical communicator coming out of school is not that.

The other thing about technical communicators is that we have overlapping skills, which muddies it up for us as well. Yes, as I said, knowing a little bit about programming languages can help–even if you aren’t writing APIs or software documentation, but what about having some basic graphic design skills, instructional design skills, or UX design skills? How many technical writers know how to use a content management system properly and understand how it works? We need to be able to be multifunctional like a really good pocket tool, even if we only use some of those tools more often than others. I don’t know how many times I would fill in and fix graphic design items, or end up fixing items in a CMS or KMS because I understood how to tweak the back end HTML. So am I a programmer? A graphics designer? More skills that we acquire make use more relevant and useful, but it makes the job searching based on keywords and metadata more difficult, for sure. 

We know that technical communicators are a valuable commodity. We are multi-talented, we do have great skills and experiences that can help companies produce great content. However, if employers decide that they want a jack of all trades that has skills that most would find impossible with job titles that can’t be understood to describe the job clearly, then how are we going to be found?

What are your thoughts? Include your comments below. 

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An invisible disability is still a disability–even at work.

Photo by Ola Dapo on Pexels.com

Today was a typical day for me, in that I had to deal with my son’s frustration with his schoolwork. For those who haven’t read this blog for very long, he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. And I have it too, but we are different in how we display it. (I’m older and more experienced in trying to work with it or around it.) He’s having difficulty with keeping up and understanding what he needs to do with his class, and he texted me today to say that his instructors were claiming that they had never received his accommodations form at the beginning of the year. I remembered when that came in, and I was sure that he had sent it to the head of the department at least (he’s only taking classes in one department). Since my son has given me permission to go into his school email, I was able to find the accommodation form as well as the original email, and so I emails the professors on his behalf, forwarding the information to them, and saying that if he needs to get more accommodations that will help him succeed added to his form, he’ll work with the school office that helps with that stuff to make it happen.

It made me think about everything that I’ve had to do in my life, not knowing that I was autistic as well for most of my life. I can definitely sympathize with my son, and I didn’t have the same kind of encouragement and help that he gets. One of the things that we have in common–which is definitely a sign of our autism–is that when we get overwhelmed, we shut down. We won’t be able to move forward or back or any direction until we get help. This is often misinterpreted as being lazy. Now, this is not to say that we can’t be procrastinators or lazy like others in the world. We absolutely can. But we need to differentiate what’s being overwhelmed and what’s being lazy. Sometimes the difference is razor thin.

One of my son’s fears in speaking up for himself is that he doesn’t want to look stupid in front of the class–or his instructors, for that matter. He’s afraid to say, “Hey, I’m confused, and I’m not sure what I’m doing,” even if the instructor just gave him the instructions. You can imagine his frustration that with the topic he’s learning, he knows he has to learn it as part of the curriculum and certification process that he’s going through because it’s going to be an important part of what he’ll be doing for his career, so he does need to understand how to do it. I’m the first to say my son is not an academic, but he IS smart, but is learning-different. And being learning-different is invisible. He’s still learning how to speak up for himself and advocate for himself, and this is when Mom (me), his dad, and people in the disabilities office at school try to advocate for him or teach him how to advocate for himself. When he’s frustrated, he gets overwhelmed and it’s hard to separate what he needs to do to advocate for himself and his anger and frustration. It’s tough.

But I understand it. It wasn’t until I was much older–twice his age–until I understand how to do it for myself. Now I’m a little TOO fierce when I advocate for myself sometimes! LOL But the difference is that accommodations at school and having your parents intervene is not the same at work. There are those in the workforce who think that accommodations is solely for needing wheelchair access, visual readers, closed-captioning, and ergonomic chairs and wrist rests. What’s often ignored in the workplace is the invisible disabilities–autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory integration, anxiety, and things like that. When someone is in school, there are support systems put in place to help people with these kinds of invisible disabilities. Sometimes, at the college level, they’ll have it, depending on the college, but it’s limited (this is what we’ve tried to take advantage of at my son’s college when possible). But at work…nope. Nothing.

For me personally, I’ve usually divulged my autism after I’m hired and settled in, because most of my career has been done without that knowledge, and I want to be hired on my accomplishments and merits without that information. But once I’m in, I try to make sure that my manager and my teammates understand some of my limitations. For example, I can listen and take notes, but I can’t process the information at the same time. I can’t condense it quickly to take down the notes, and move on. The person giving me the directions or talking about something might have moved onto the next thing before my brain actually can process whatever’s being talked about. So I find I have to tell people to SLOW DOWN, and I have been taught to review my instructions back to the person to make sure that I understand them. The last thing I need to do, which is a natural reflex for most people, is to say, “Sure, I understand,” when I don’t, and then mess up the entire situation. This used to get me in trouble–a lot more than anyone else who was around me either at school or work. So, I had to learn to do this so that I didn’t mess anything up. Other times, I’ve had to learn how to step up and say I’m overwhelmed, especially if everything–meaning many tasks assigned–all became a “priority” or “urgent” at the same time. I have learned how to gauge my own bandwidth, and call out if something is unrealistic, and ask my manager to prioritize the priorities as well, because I can only do so many things at once without feeling overwhelmed and having a meltdown. I will even have to make sure that I say something that I’m on the verge of feeling overwhelmed, and ask for help to navigate, because I do want to do a good job and do well. Some of this is the sort of thing that my son is still learning how to navigate, and I can only teach him so much about this without being with him at all times.

One of the big things that the pandemic and the last four to five years has been about is people trying to encourage each other to be kind, patient, and flexible with each other. There’s no better place–outside of your own home–than your workplace, where people spend almost as much–and sometimes more–time with co-workers than with family. So many practices came into play a century ago that are still used today that don’t work. This isn’t “feel good” talk, but rather common sense and decency towards each other. We don’t all work the same way. We don’t learn the same way. Heck, even I get frustrated with other people when they don’t understand something that I do! But, having an invisible disability or not, we all need to figure out the best way to work with each other and make compromises. Sometimes that starts with someone who’s at a natural disadvantage that they can’t help.

What do you think? Do you think corporate society does enough to accommodate invisible disabilities? Include your comments below.

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I’m a writer. So, explain to me why I should know HTML?

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. It’s been a very busy year! I’ve started articles for the blog, but then forget or don’t finish them. I’ll catch up eventually.

In the meantime, this topic has been really relevant to me lately, and I figured that I’d share my thoughts on it.

My first disclaimer is that I am not a developer in any shape or form. I leave that to my husband who’s been doing it professionally for about 30 years now. However, as I’m often known to say, I know enough to be dangerous. And that amount I know has actually helped me immensely in my career.

I originally started learning HTML about 22-23 years ago. Yes, HTML hasn’t changed that drastically since the 1990s. I was working for one of the early e-learning dot-com companies. It was the position that in my mind truly started to launch me into a tech comm career, although I didn’t know what tech comm was or know this would be the launching point at the time. We were building a continuing education portal for various financial companies, and in order to make customizations of the splash pages, I needed to learn a little bit of code. As I started helping out with some of the customizations more and more, I asked my manager if the company would be willing to pay for me to take a course at the local community college so I had a better understanding of what I was looking at, and could do a better job with these customizations that were being used in both the splash pages and building the content for the learning sites. They agreed, and off I went. I still have the textbook because the basics were so easy, and if I forget something, then I can still look it up. But taking that course and applying it to that e-learning platform for our clients was just the start of something that helped to propel me in my career.

Years later, I started a content management job using SharePoint. Now, this was long enough ago where the content author/managers could still go into the backend of editing fields into the HTML. People were always being told that they could copy and paste directly from Word, and the formatting would stay the same, but the reality was (and still is) that Word adds all sorts of extraneous code that’s not needed, and when that combines with the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets for those who don’t know–the code that set the general formatting for the page(s)), it wouldn’t always look all that good, especially when it came to tables. This job was at a financial company, and boy, did they like their tables, and they would always look horrible. I would grab the HTML code for the pasted tables, put it into Dreamweaver where I could look at both the code and the front view at the same time, and I would either rebuild the tables or work on taking out that extraneous code that Word would leave in. Once I’d get it to where it needed to be, I’d copy the code back into SharePoint and…voila! A perfect table! I got a reputation for being the “Table Queen”, always fixing everyone’s tables on their pages and fixing the formatting.

Fast forward to now. I’m liking my job, and I’m part of a team that’s worked in SharePoint (no access to the HTML, though) and a new knowledge management system (KMS–similar to a CMS), and sure enough, the CSS that’s been provided by the outsourced developers to customize the system they are using is, well, terrible. We figured out some tricks to work around it, but it’s not unusual for me to get a request from someone on my team asking me to–again–fix a table, fix the bullet points, or the section alignment, or something along those lines. Just today, my manager couldn’t figure out why the bullet points she wanted to make in a text field weren’t working. And so I went into the HTML code on the backend, went through the section line by line (fortunately, it wasn’t a big section), and had to tweak the code and manually fix it so that it aligned properly again and the bullets were done correctly. I’ve turned into the go-to person to fix these things in the system.

Am I a developer? Oh, heck no. Not by a long stretch. There are times even the HTML baffles me, and I’ll ask my husband to look at something and see if he sees something I can’t. He’ll be able to show me where there’s an issue (it’s usually something small in JavaScript, which I can kind of read, but couldn’t write), or determine that it’s not on my side with the HTML, but must be part of the CSS that I don’t have access to. But having a basic understanding of HTML has also helped me understand what I’m looking at in PHP, JavaScript, and definitely understand how XML and Markdown work. In fact, when I taught Technical Editing a few years ago at NJIT, I included several weeks of a crash course in HTML, XML, and Markdown, because so much editing these days–if not done through comments and “track changes” in Word, is done fixing code–not always with an text editor.

HTML, XML, and Markdown are pretty easy to learn once you get the hang of it. Does it help you as a technical writer or technical communicator? Yes, absolutely. You don’t have to be a writing software documentation or writing API documentation to know that having these basic coding languages under your belt can be helpful. Just using standard CMSs and KMSs often will use these. Knowing how to go into the code to add that Oxford comma in the sentence, or to realign the row of a table–it makes a big difference. It also opens up opportunities to learn more and take on more important and interesting projects down the road. It’s a game changer for technical writers because this allows them to be more than just writers–it allows them to be more multi-functional in a technological world. (And again, to put this in perspective, the KMS that I’m helping to build is about Human Resources stuff, and I still help to write the knowledge articles, too!) So I’ve found learning these basic web languages to be instrumental to my growth and my career as a technical communicator. I’m needed not only because of my regular technical writing skills, but I have that extra “something” to contribute as well.

What do you think? What are your experiences? Include your comments below.