by Paul A. Duarte
I first learned of the New England Chapter’s InterChange conference last year, when I was preparing to attend Summit 2014 in Phoenix. However, I was preparing to give a student progression, “Articulating Technical Communicators’ Value to Employers,” at the summit, and I could not devote time to attend InterChange. However, I vowed to attend the next InterChange conference, and I registered for it in this past February. Now that I’ve visited the conference, I found it a fun, rewarding, and fulfilling event and would recommend it to any technical communication professional, not just in New England, but anyone in the STC.
I arrived at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center on Friday and found the facilities quite pleasant and well suited to the event. The food was delicious and the staff was friendly to help the chapter run the event. The hotel also provided fine accommodations for overnight guests, such as myself, who were unable to or didn’t want to commute to the hotel. The main lobby for the conference was a good place for informal conversations with colleagues, meet new people, and take part in Autodesk’s “giant Jenga” game, which also functioned as a good team building activity between colleagues.
There were two rooms, each of which held a different presentation throughout the conference, and they filled up quickly, showing how interested professionals are in this event. The presenters themselves were quite fascinating, offering different backgrounds in technical communication. Their insight and stories added depth to their presentation topics and gave me ideas I can take back to my technical communication students at UMass Dartmouth and use in my career.
One of my favorite presentations was Rick Lippincott’s “Writing for Hardware: You Can’t Always Touch It.” In his presentation, Rick disproved the myth that writing for hardware is easier than writing for software because of the supposed ease of interacting with a device. He pointed to his experience with Boeing and elsewhere to explain that the users of the documentation may be in challenging environments, such as in tight spots in an airplane, and that documentation must be easy to read, easy to scan, and easy to understand in multiple situations. I’m teaching iFixit, a technical writing project that involves repair manuals, and his notes about how to properly write troubleshooting guides and adding visuals will be valuable when I teach those stages of the project.
Another great presentation was Kimberly Lacerte’s “Customer Success=Documentation Success.” In it, she hit on an idea that I found very valuable to interacting with users: “Leaning In.” She explained that if technical communicators “lean in” to user communities and became a part of them, they can build a transparent, honest relationship between their company and its customers. Kimberly explained that the goal for a company is to first find a prospective customer who can become a first-time customer, then a repeat customer, and finally a brand evangelist who can help sell products based on the reputation of the company they trust. This “leaning in” technique is great to learn as I begin my career in technical communication and need to learn about a company’s relationship with its user base and how I can be a part of it.
Overall, this was a fantastic conference. I networked with some of the professionals I’ve been meeting with since Summit 2014, and met some new professionals along the way. I’m transitioning from a graduate student in professional writing to a technical communication professional. The insight from the presenters, colleagues, and other professionals was eye opening and gave me an even greater look into the profession than I had seen before.
I am very confident that I’ve found my career and I want to continue my involvement in the chapter. I will definitely attend InterChange 2016 and maybe someday present to the next generation of professionals. As Steve Jong said in his presentation “Four Ways Mentoring Strengthens Our Profession,” the current Baby Boomer technical communicators cannot let their “tribal knowledge” fade away when they retire, they need to pay it forward to the next generation. I can proudly say that I’m willing to receive this knowledge and will pay it forward as I develop my career and the opportunity to pass it on presents itself.
About Paul Duarte
Paul A. Duarte is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, soon to receive his MA in Professional Writing. He’s been interested in technical communication since he began his studies 18 months ago, and he attended the InterChange conference this year.