When we’re looking for our next job, we send out applications, talk to employers over the phone, Internet or on-site, and put our best foot forward. However, lots of other people do that, making for fierce competition for that one job. How can you stand out? By giving a powerful follow-up message to the people you interviewed with.
We’ve made it through another winter and now we’re anxious for the weather to warm up and the flowers to bloom in the spring. Slowly, we’re coming out of our hibernations and back into the outside world, where we can meet new faces and think of new ideas in technical communication.
As we move into February, I want to take time to thank the community we are a part of. The New England Chapter has almost 200 members, and we know many more people outside the chapter. Their participation in chapter events has been invaluable and has given us insight into how we can better provide for technical communicators, from creating programs and workshops to finding new ways to meet technical communicators in the region. To that end, I’d like to report on some community-building updates.
First, I’d like to welcome two people to our Chapter Council. The first is Steve Jong, who previously served on the Chapter Council and was President of the Chapter. Steve heads our Mentoring Program, where experienced technical communicators can give advice and direction to people who are entering the profession or need guidance in their careers so they can advance to where they want or need to be. In addition, Steve has done a phenomenal job taking pictures at our monthly programs and updating the Chapter’s News website with articles on those programs and other events. The Council is proud to have him back on board.
Second, Jason Dickey has been elected Treasurer. Jason has attended many of our programs and has served on the financial committees of other volunteer organizations. He showed the initiative to volunteer at the end of the November program in Canton, Mass., and the Chapter Council unanimously voted him in. We’re lucky to have Jason on board and we look forward to working with him in keeping up with the Chapter’s finances.
We have two programs that involve expanding our community. Last Wednesday, at Champions Sports Bar and Grill in Cambridge, Mass., was our monthly Scribbling Tipplers meeting, where technical communicators discussed their jobs after work and mingled with their colleagues. This Wednesday, February 22nd, we will meet with Ed Marshall in Bedford, Mass. to see his ideas on how to effectively work remotely with colleagues and collaborate with remote teams to complete work on time and with quality.
We’re going to host InterChange 2017 at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center in Lowell, Mass. on October 20th and 21st, 2017. Having the conference in the fall gives us an opportunity to meet people who may otherwise miss it due to other professional commitments in the spring. It also gives us a chance to meet technical communication students who are just starting another year in their studies. We will be putting out a call for presentations and speakers in due time, and we have some new ideas for events that we think you will enjoy.
Enjoy the rest of the winter, and here’s hoping for a beautiful spring in March!
Hello, STC New England members, fellow STC members, and non-members, welcome to 2017. I’m Paul Duarte, the new president of the New England chapter, and I would like to make my first address a request for help.
I am humbled to be in this position. Just two and a half years ago, I was introduced to this chapter while I was a still a graduate student. I’ve had the chance to serve on the Council for over a year, help set up programs, and serve as Vice President, and now I am President. This chapter has really helped me become the young professional I am today and I want to help continue the amazing work and move the profession forward.
Since our Immediate Past President, Nancy Allison, stepped down last summer, the Council has been trying to run the chapter with a reduced headcount. We have no official committees set up, and the Vice President, Treasury and Secretary roles are vacant, which means that the Council has to do more administrative and program work with fewer people and on an “ad hoc” basis.
We skipped September’s program and Scribbling Tipplers, held November’s program after Thanksgiving, and we’re going to cancel this month’s program as well. Also, due to the reduced resources and time constraints, InterChange will be held in September or October, as opposed to March or April.
I have a vision that the New England Chapter can serve technical communicators beyond our immediate membership. We can include people who work in this region, who interact with technical communication in all its forms, to share ideas and come up with new measures to help others in their careers, or help people transition into new careers by adding to the skills they already have.
I’m reaching out to you to ask you for your help to move the profession forward and to grow our community of technical communicators in New England. Here’s what we need to bring the chapter back to full operation:
- Vice President
- At least one more Council Member
- Volunteers for the following committees:
- Programs (including InterChange)
- Membership Outreach
- Website/IT Management
- News Website & Newsletter Writers
- Advertising and Sponsorship
- Mentor Program participants (Mentors)
Descriptions for these positions are in the Chapter Bylaws.
We need to fill our officer positions immediately. Without them, the chapter cannot function effectively. We need a Treasurer who can monitor the finances and a Secretary who can be responsible for the chapter’s correspondence and meeting records. We also need at least one more Council member, so we have at least four people contributing ideas to the chapter’s programs, outreach, and goals for the year. All officers and Council members meet on the first Wednesday of each month to discuss the chapter’s progress and to plan new events and activities for technical communicators in our region.
In addition, we need volunteers for the committees listed above. These are the lifeblood of our community. They are a way for us to network with each other, meet new members, and share knowledge so that we can take it to our jobs and careers.
All of the above positions are a great way to build or hone skills outside your job or classes, and they require no more time than you want to put into them. If you’re interested in any of these roles, please contact me at email@example.com and discuss what role you want to volunteer for. I’ll be glad to hear from you and I’ll invite you to the next Council meeting, on February 1, 2017, where you can meet the other officers and the chapter Council. Do keep in mind, officer positions must be filled by current STC members registered with the New England Chapter.
How many words do we need to use in our work? As it turns out, just 889, according to John Smart of Smart Communications, Inc. Smart described Simplified Technical English to the New England Chapter at the Waltham Public Library on the evening of May 11th.
STC New England President Nancy Allison presented technical communication disasters she experienced in her 32-year career, and told attendees how she resolved them, in a monthly program called “Disaster Recovery: Fixing a Documentation Mess,” at the Hilton Garden Inn in Burlington, Mass., on April 20th.
I proposed this article at the End of Year celebration last June, after I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with my Master of Arts in Professional Writing. Earlier that month, I accepted the first job offer that came to me, a technical writing/documentation specialist position at Canary Systems, Inc.. Located in New London, New Hampshire, Canary Systems is a small company that creates instruments called dataloggers, which collect data from structures like dams and mines, and they relay the information back to users through a proprietary software suite, MultiLogger®, which manages an entire network of these dataloggers and their data.
I was excited to finally end my job search and I stood ready to take on the world. I moved from Connecticut to New Hampshire in early July and was prepared to begin my job. I walked in, built my own desk, received my laptop, and sat down, eagerly awaiting my first task. I quickly learned that I was going to have quite an ordeal.
My first few months were a trial by fire. Upon arriving, I learned the company had fallen behind on its documentation obligations, and that the documentation duties went to different people, like the company president or the software support engineer. My first task was to update the documentation for the 2014 release of MultiLogger, and I had to ideally have these updates in time for the 2015 release, which was scheduled for the end of August. In addition, I had to acquaint myself with MultiLogger and learn how to use it so I could properly document these features.
This was a tall order, and to compound the challenge, the subject matter experts I needed to talk to worked remotely and could only be in the office once a month at best. My solution was to sit down and learn the software with some of my co-workers, when they had the time to spare. I used what information I had to update the documentation. I was introduced to SnagIt, which I used to capture high-quality screenshots from the software to place in the user’s guides in Microsoft Word. Also, I learned how to create and edit help files in Doc-to-Help 2011. I improved the organization and readability of the user’s guides while I implemented the new information I learned from my own use of the software.
When I handed my first drafts of the user’s guides and help files to the subject-matter experts, they commented where I wrote information incorrectly. I thought I had the right information, from my coworkers and my own observations, but I missed documenting certain features that were not readily apparent. So I tried again until I reached an acceptable level of technical accuracy. Eventually, the user’s guides and help files were updated, albeit a month after the 2015 version was released.
As I began work on the 2015 documents in October, I needed to implement a structure so that they could be completed in a timely fashion. I decided that after I drafted a user’s guide, it would be sent for review of technical accuracy. Then, I would send that updated draft to the marketing director for readability. After I addressed all his comments, I would give a printed copy to the president, who would give a final review. Once he approved of the user’s guide, a PDF version could be put on our website. Because our help files are based on the user’s guide, I would wait until the user’s guide was complete before building the help file.
In addition to my documentation duties, I worked on pet projects to improve the company’s procedures. I created a style guide that would set standards for all software user’s guides. I and my successors would adhere to it and update it as necessary. I used the features in the current documents and incorporated them into the style guide. In addition, thanks to our chapter’s November 2015 program, I piloted a video tutorial workflow, helping fulfill the marketing director’s desire to create a library of videos.
Of the six user’s guides and three help files that accompany a software release, I have completed four of them, as of this writing, with a fifth undergoing revision. I also have completed one of the help files. I am now at the tail end of the 2015 documentation. Our 2016 release is coming up and I will have to change gears to update the documents to account for the new features by the time it launches in the spring.
The biggest challenge for me in this role is to speak up and suggest changes to the documentation workflow. I was skeptical about proposing new ideas to my president early on, as I did not want to rock the boat. Now that I’m six months in, I feel like I have enough experience to pitch new ideas to my president so that I can make a difference at the company.
I want to implement a document management system so that I don’t have to juggle versions of documents that sometimes don’t sync up properly. I want to hold reviewers more accountable to their tasks by checking in with them twice a week, so I can ensure timely feedback. I want to be more hands-on with the subject matter experts, so I can receive the knowledge I need, and they, in return, can see where the software can be improved. I want to set up a testing environment, so I can explore MultiLogger and recommend improvements to the user experience.
Finally, I will acquire more robust tools so that I can work with the information in a more versatile way. They would also improve my productivity and free up time for other tasks—creating video tutorials, updating the application notes, and maybe even updating the hardware documentation. When I attend the Summit in Anaheim, California this year, I will see what’s available and choose the one that fits our needs the best.
About the Author
Paul A. Duarte is a Documentation Specialist at Canary Systems in New London, New Hampshire. He holds an MA in Professional Writing from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Paul is Vice President of the New England Chapter.
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.