A View from the Summit is the first of a series of blog posts, curated or new, discussing key takeaways by individuals and STC communities from STC’s 2018 Technical Communication Summit & Expo. If you would like to contribute a post, please drop a note to the series editor, Ben.firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Becky Smiltneek | STC Member
As I walked through the sparkling, modern Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, huge hallways and ballrooms opened up before me with towering windows revealing palm trees outside. Just as I felt simultaneously small and refreshed by the wide-open spaces in this new environment, I felt my perspective on the technical communication industry widening even as I keenly felt my small presence within it. Six years working full time as a technical writer at a small engineering company in Sheboygan Falls, WI hadn’t exposed me to a whole lot of other people working in my field. I knew attending this conference would help open my eyes; and it delivered on that expectation. Through the education sessions and my interactions with fellow writers, I began to understand where my company and way of doing my job fit into the industry as a whole. I learned that the type of company I work for, the software we use, our workflows, and our challenges were the same or different from others’ challenges.
I loved the immediate comradery and constant connection with other conference attendees throughout the day as we ate, drank, and navigated the resort together. I used every opportunity I had, even waiting in line, to meet new people and ask questions. I met with representatives from vendors and consultants who really knew their stuff and could help my company, which felt empowering. Issues I’d been having for years suddenly looked like they could be solved with the snappy-looking software packages presented by smiling faces who understood my pain.
All of the education sessions I chose to attend were interesting, but some were more immediately applicable than others. Here’s my thoughts on some of my favorites:
Add UX Methodologies to Your Portfolio
It was the first day of the conference for me, and I was eager to make new connections, so I arrived at this 8-hour session early and sat in the front. This worked out well for m, as I was picked to be part of the usability test simulation and got a free book to boot. I was instructed to come up to the front of the room and sit down in front of a computer with a poorly designed expense report software. The instructor gave me a list of instructions on what tasks to perform on the software as the rest of the class observed and took notes. The instructor stayed calm even in the midst of technical difficulties and asked me a bunch of open-ended questions to find out what I was experiencing while trying to complete the tasks. Through this process, I realized how nuanced usability is and how our user experience creates a negative or positive feeling toward that software in the future. Making products fun and easy to use is crucial. I became inspired to work on making our customer documentation more appealing and easy to use.
Tech Writing Meets Translation: Tips and Tricks
This might have been my favorite session, especially because my company is trying to cut down on translation costs. Filled with practical insights, this session gave some great tips I felt like I could start using as soon as I got back to work. Sometimes what you learn as a technical writing student is actually not the best practice for translation. For example, I learned to only spell out what acronyms mean the first time the acronym is used in a document, assuming that from then on readers will understand it. However, we have to think about how users actually use our content. They only read chunks of content that they need at that time and don’t read the full document in a sitting. They search for what they need and only read that section, so we need to explain relevant acronyms in every major section they are used. The session was filled with other such useful tidbits that never would have occurred to me.
Future of Technical Communication: Findings from Adobe Tech Comm Survey 2018
I remembered getting this survey in my inbox at work, so I was excited when I realized that an expert from Adobe would be at the conference to present the results. This session helped me understand both where my skills and the work processes in my company sit within the industry, and where the industry is going in terms of publishing outputs and responding to technological developments such as artificial intelligence. I found out that the way I do things at work is very common in the industry, but that we could be more on the cutting edge than we are now.
I got back to work and started reviewing my notes and forming a plan for how to present my learnings to the rest of my team. I knew some ideas were bigger than others and would require more time and money investment. I also knew that there might be resistance to some ideas simply because of how big of a change they would mean for our work processes, but I also felt inspired to present my ideas well to give them the best chance of taking root. Gaining the perspective, tools, and inspiration to make waves at work was definitely the greatest benefit of attending the S2018 STC Summit.
Becky Smiltneek is a Technical Writer at Curt G. Joa Inc. in Sheboygan Falls, WI where she creates machine user manuals and training. Becky also helped found a grassroots anti-human trafficking nonprofit, Freedom Cry Inc., where she currently serves on the board of directors and as the writing/communications coordinator. This year, Becky was named one of the top 10 young professionals in her community. She loves using her organizational and leadership skills to make a difference in people’s lives. Becky graduated from the University Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in professional and technical writing and communication. She likes playing volleyball, hiking, and tent camping.