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; it did deliver 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 how the type of company I work for, the software we use, our workflows, and how 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, 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 here are 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 me 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 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 having to complete work with that software in the future. Making products fun and easy to use is crucial to whether or not users will be excited to come back to using them. 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 class, especially because my company is trying to cut down on translation costs. Filled with practical insights, this class 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 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 search for what they need and only read that section as opposed to reading the whole chapter or document in a sitting, 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 Adobe
I remembered getting the Adobe Tech Comm Survey to 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 also 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.
After a relaxing week and a half exploring Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Key West on vacation, 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 STC Summit 2018.