Thursday, December 08, 2011

STC Conference: Making the Most

I attended the STC conference after a gap of three years. Before I go into the details, I would like to underscore the importance of STC conferences.

There are three things you can take away from STC if you keep your mind, eyes and ears open:

1. Learning

2. Networking

3. Visibility

Learning: STC is a great opportunity to gather information about the latest trends in the world of technology and learn about new tools and content management software. You can gain information on how companies are adopting languages, such as DITA and XML for publication and how you can use DITA and Wiki to solve your content management requirements.

To make the most, choose the presentations you want to attend. STC is a three day conference and the most interesting and relevant presentations are squeezed in during the last two days. Three presentations are held simultaneously every 45 minutes at different venues. This means you can attend only one presentation at a time. Make the best use of your time. If you are interested in two presentations scheduled at the same time, ask a friend to attend the other presentation and exchange notes later.

Networking: Meet new people from other companies and find out about work culture, technology involved, and job opportunities. You might not want to switch jobs immediately, but information always helps. Talk to as many people possible - knowledge leaders, veterans, and the presenters. You can gain a perspective into the current employment trend in the technical writing industry in terms of job openings and tools & technology used.

Visibility: Make your presence felt. You might be noticed by hiring managers and offered a job. Talk to management team for an opportunity to present a topic at the conference. In addition to visibility, it helps spruce up your resume. Presenting at a STC conference or writing for an STC newsletter is always a good thing to have in your resume.

Highlights from STC, 2011

STC, 2011 started off with a warm welcome by STC volunteers who were at their best in helping the delegates settle in. The volunteers helped people with registration and then handed over a backpack filled with goodies. Post registration, people headed for the different presentations.

Here is a synopsis of the presentations at the STC conference, 2011:

Artificial Intelligence in Technical Writing…..Future Technology: This session talked about a voice-to-text software that developers can use to record product features. Technical writers can later convert the recorded voice to text, copyedit the content, and have the guide ready in a short time. This software is not available in the market currently.

Yours analytically: This session was about how to measure the effectiveness of your documentation. The crux of the problem today lies in identifying user feedback, behavior, trends and ratings against the published documentation. This problem has been addressed through a statistical tour of the documentation by using web analytical tools such as Omniture Site Catalyst and Google Analytics. Because I have used these tools in my previous organization, I can personally vouch that these are must have tools to be in tune with the changing trends in this content world.

What I learned from films that helped me improve on the job: In this session, the presenter spoke about lessons she learnt from films and how it helped in fulfilling daily responsibilities as a technical writer.

The presenter took the movie – “A few good men” as an example. I am sure everyone knows about this movie, truly fantastic. In the movie, the conversation between Jack Nicholson (Col. Nathan R. Jessep) and Tom Cruise - Lt. (j.g.) Daniel Kaffee, goes like this:

Daniel Kaffee: [to Weinberg & Galloway] let’s go.

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: [Passive-aggressively] But you have to ask me nicely.

Daniel Kaffee: I beg your pardon?

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: You have to ask me nicely. You see, Danny, I can deal with the bullets and the bombs and the blood. I don't want money and I don't want medals! You gotta ask me nicely.

Daniel Kaffee: Colonel Jessep, if it's not too much trouble, I'd like a copy of the transfer order, sir.

Col. Nathan R. Jessep: [Politely] No problem.

Take away from this session: Technical writers need to talk to their stakeholders politely, send gentle reminders for follow-ups, and be flexible while scheduling meetings and so on.

Collaborating with Customer Support: In this session, the presenter talked about the common vision both documentation and customer support team has: Customer satisfaction. There has to be collaboration between documentation, customer support, and product teams. From support perspective, the actual challenge is to reduce calls received for different issues related to a particular product.

The documentation team can use this opportunity to know what the customer wants by collaborating with the support team. Collaboration can be done in following ways:

Buddy jacking with support and listening to the different calls/looking at the case notes.

Identifying issues that are generally major call generators or issues that are very common and do not have sufficient documentation. Discuss these issues with both support and product team. Check on the documentation impact for any roll-up patches related to these issues.

Measuring the effectiveness through web analytics and impact it has in reducing call volume.
Making a conscious effort to build a strong and sustainable relationship with the support team.

Deriving the Highest ROI from Your Migration to Structured Authoring: This session discussed the nuances of structured authoring and highlighted the financial benefit of moving to structured authoring. The presenter also demonstrated how to import comments from a PDF into a frame file for review.

Publishing DITA content to Wiki: This session discussed how to use wiki for collaborative review, use DITA as the publishing format, and how to convert wiki content to help files.

Collaborating With Customer Support: This session covered information on how writers can enable support staff to help the customer better.

Evolving Collaborative Documentation in a Multi-Company Ecosystem: This session dealt with issues organizations face when integrating products and documentation across multiple groups within or outside the company.

Find more information on the conference, go here.


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