Just renewed STC Membership for 2010 — here’s why

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tony Chung: Creative Communications - technical writing, web development, multimedia, and music
Tony Chung: Creative Communications

This message is long overdue. While I can’t go into specifics as to what has kept me from my blog for the past few months, I felt it necessary to post a message to celebrate the turn of 2010. Several technical communicators have had a hard time reconciling the value-add proposition for renewing their membership with the Society for Technical Communication. Some have been very vocal about the society’s lack of support, lack of expertise, lack of understanding, and lack of relevance for the communications field. In blunt terms, the STC is a dinosaur, with a business and operations model that doesn’t fit the current trends.

Some of the outspoken include volunteers like myself who thought we could help initiate and support change from the inside. When my own project, (the STC Forums), got pulled I felt the sting of bitterness which may have clouded my judgment. Fortunately I am involved in the very active Society for Technical Communication – Canada West Coast Chapter, which is experiencing a new wave of volunteers who thrive on connecting within this community. As well, I participate in a couple of really experienced special interest groups, the Single Sourcing (officially), and Contractors and Independent Consulting (locally).

Volunteering: Strength in numbers

My back door into the STC was its newsletter. For some reason I really like newsletters, having cut my teeth on manual paste up on a community centre youth newspaper during my teens. What can I say? I love the smell of hot wax. Desktop publishing was a natural progression, so I leaped at the opportunity to leverage my Pagemaker/InDesign skills on the STC CWC newsletter. I maintained the web version after our chapter executive weaned us of print, and this year I tasked myself with revamping its page layout to new design specs (a work still in progress–ergh! Maybe with this announcement I will finally start working on it!)

While it’s true the cost of STC membership skyrocketed this year, and I don’t have an employer to foot the bill, I realized the main reason I didn’t want to renew my membership was because the strategic initiatives committee shut down the STC Forums, which I had just upgraded to the new version on a new server. To me, the forums were a good resource for discussing relevant TC issues. Its sister site, the STC Wiki, was a good place to store the resolution of various issues for future reference.

Note: read only versions are hosted at the STC Carolina site (forum | wiki). Thanks to Rick and the team for putting that together.

Another time, another place

What made the forum shutdown sting so much was the familiar feeling of something I was used to. I worked for fourteen years in a very illogical logistics department. While I knew I had the skills to move beyond my job, I held to some ancient notion that the hard worker got noticed and was given more opportunities to grow and succeed.

It took a long time, but that idealistic vision eventually came to pass, when a long time colleague started a new data integrity and verification team in our office, and she specifically asked me to help lead the technical end. She considered it a promotion, and I agreed. After the first few months my extra efforts were squashed by new management. I equated the death of my STC volunteer work to the death of my data integrity leadership position.

Just like starting over

However, in the dead forum’s wake arose many new content silos on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Some STC members created new social networking sites using the Ning platform. At the time, I commented how we as an organization failed to consider that we sanction single source content, but work in silos. Instead of a single unified resource came the flood of many resources of different flavours.

As I review the events since leaving the forums behind in July, I began to see these different silos as positives, not negatives. Think about it. Now we have a variety of sites, mailing lists, discussion groups, and repositories:

  • Combining different levels of STC influence
  • Dedicated to further the field of technical communication
  • Catering to the unique communication styles of their contributors
  • Harnessing a variety of social media networking tools and technologies

Where before I wanted to focus on only one method of communication that reached a small percentage of the population, several rose in different arenas to reach people based on their preferred communication methods.

Tom Johnson posted an introduction to his screencasting webinar on the STC Notebook. While not directly related to the subject, it definitely got me thinking about the transition the technical communication field is undergoing.

The future of TC (Technical Communication)

After the 2006 summit a fellow chapter member observed that technical communicators are expanding from the traditional plan/interview/write model into the facilitation and editing of user authored content. User generated systems including forums and wikis are part of this model, as are collaborative authoring systems like FLOSS manuals. Other specialties not specifically related to content specialization include usability and user experience.

This exciting trend from writer to enabler has always appealed to me, because as technology gets more complex, it becomes less necessary to understand the details first hand. Instead, we can apply our strengths to making complex information make sense. This shift to enabler may also involve incorporating video and multimedia services–whatever it takes to get the job done.

The future of TC (Tony Chung)

I’ve always been on the periphery of traditional technical writing. While I am technical and I love to write, I also have a passion for music and multimedia, web design and programming, graphic design and illustration, and performing. It’s been difficult finding jobs that match my level of interest in technology and my love to write. That said, I’ve found lots of work in the web development arena, and am excited at being able to harness these skills and abilities in my current job, along with writing and editing.

I’ve always been into the media. I drew comics as a kid, played music in a band, record videos of my various life experiences. More often than not I prefer to watch a video showing me how to do something than read a book on the same subject.

The STC needs me, and they need you.

STC member 2007 to 2010

In light of the current recession, the STC offered several options to pay for our memberships. 400 financially-strapped members will be granted subsidies to balance the difference from last year’s membership dues to this year’s increase. The STC is concentrating on video casting their presentations, and offered a gold membership package that includes seven webinars and a certificate course. Members can elect to pay their membership dues in equal installments over three months.

Great things are happening in the field as a whole, and the STC is working hard to react appropriately. My gut reaction at first was, “too little, too late”, and that the people in charge don’t really have the best interests of the group at heart. But the more I look at it, it’s because of the connections I made through the STC that I’ve been able to break from 9-to-5 office worker to independent communications consultant in only two years. I consider many of my associates my close friends, and count on them for their insight and advice, and the occasional job or two.

So the STC has me for another year. My wife/bookkeeper helped me to realize that I do have a company to pay for my membership.

I am my company.

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