It’s the Information Age, so why are technical communicators so nervous
about their professional futures? Because with electronic distribution, downsizing,
outsourcing, offshoring, and other business changes, we feel the ground shifting
under our feet. How can we secure a future for ourselves in this new world
John Sweney, co-founder and CEO of Brookwoods Group, notes that even
in times of less change, “Too often we find ourselves squandering our
real talents, ignoring our reputations, blind to the trust that others have
for us, and selling
ourselves as commodities. The result is not usually obvious, but emerges as
an underlying discomfort with the state of our professional lives, a sense
that somehow things could flow better, and an uneasy realization that the source
is within ourselves.”
At the November chapter meeting, Sweney will present
key concepts from his professional workshop, “Pillars of Professionalism,” that
have helped to transform the careers of others. He’ll provide an overview
of the roots of our talents as technical communicators, a reinforcement of
the value of trust and reputation, and a roadmap for enrolling others to work
John Sweney’s company, Brookwoods Group, has been offering
contract professionals in marketing and marketing communications to Fortune
500 clients since 1998.
For nine years before that, Sweney was responsible for product public relations,
mergers and acquisitions, and Internet initiatives at Compaq Computer Corporation.
In prior lives, he was a public information officer for the Metropolitan Transit
Authority of Harris County, a speechwriter to the President of IBM, an advertising
and PR executive for General Electric Company, a press secretary to the Mayor
of Providence, Rhode Island, and an all-news radio anchor.
New Membership Drive
To encourage new membership, the STC Houston chapter will waive the November
program meeting fee for each nonmember that signs up as a new member prior
to or during the November program meeting. Membership applications will
be provided at the door, so new members can register and pay during the meeting,
or they can register and pay online prior to the meeting. If you register
online, bring proof of payment to the meeting. If you decide to register
at the door, remember to bring a check or money order for the full membership
A drawing for various prizes is held at the end of each general meeting.
Proceeds benefit the Marx Isaacs Student Scholarship Fund.
September Meeting Report
Hone Those Critical Networking Skills
by Deborah Long, Contract Editor, BMC Software, Inc.
At STC Houston’s 2004–2005 kickoff program meeting in September,
we reconvened after a long, hot, summer break. It would be nice to think that
the Houston job market for technical communicators heated up as well, but we
still have a less-than-perfect scenario, with some folks experiencing difficulty
in finding work and others accepting less money than their work is worth.
Enter Carolyn Harvill, a professional coach and storyteller, who presented
her light-hearted take on how to hone your networking skills. Although Carolyn’s
humorous anecdotes made us laugh, they also caused us to look at our own behavior
and think about how we come across to others—in the company cafeteria
line, at professional conventions, just about every place we go.
Attendees listened closely as Carolyn encouraged us to “talk to everyone” we
meet and unabashedly promote ourselves (even to the person running the neighborhood
dry cleaners). The idea being, you never know who knows someone in need of
your skills. We cannot get anywhere in this tough market by being shy and retiring,
expecting someone else to notice us. Today’s competitiveness demands
that we lift our heads up from our computers and do something simple, like
smile, strike up a conversation, and essentially make a memorable impression.
Yes, it is a reality that people hire and promote those that they “like.” You
want to be the one who comes to mind when a project lead has an opening on
the team. Get the picture?
President Cindy Pao making announcements prior to the program
Speaker, Carolyn Harvill, at the book table
Speaker, Carolyn Harvill
Audience participation during program
Attendees meeting new people during the networking hour
October Meeting Report
Usability—Time to Become a Customer Advocate!
by Deborah Long, Contract Editor, BMC Software, Inc.
October’s STC Houston chapter meeting featured yet another relevant
topic: “Basic GUI Design Principles for Information Developers.” Sound
a bit on the “techie” side? Not really, when you consider that
usability has many faces, some of which we already know about. For example,
we are already on track as we strive to understand the users or audience for
which we are writing. Next, we need to watch out for familiar things such as
alignment, grouping, clutter, consistency, redundancy, reading ease, and so
forth on the GUI (much as we do in page layout of hardcopy and especially in
online documentation). Are you with me? I don’t mean to oversimplify
or take all the mystery away, but this is not rocket science.
So let’s get with the program because technical communicators are finally
being asked for our input pertaining to graphical user interface design. And
in some cases, we are moving more aggressively into writing the text that appears
on software screens. Yes, content is another frontier where we can add value
as user advocates; this is a good thing. Now is the time to bone up on the
basics that Susan Tacker of NetIQ Corporation presented.
Usability, according to Tacker, goes beyond just expressing a general “opinion” about
the look and feel of screen layout. If we are to be taken seriously, we have
to back up our ideas with facts. That means providing specific rationales for
why certain screen elements do not serve the user’s best interests, which
are to receive and learn information via simple, natural, and logical navigation
and flow. Susan showed many examples of common pitfalls in user interface design.
The design should support usability concepts (including prevention of errors
and creation of a low-risk environment). She also stressed the importance of
trying out an application on actual users and then making changes according
to their feedback.
Susan recommended books on usability, such as User and Task Analysis for
Interface Design (Hackos and Redish) and GUI Bloopers (Jeff Johnson), to gain more knowledge
and hone our visual skills in recognizing the do’s and don’ts of
user interface design. For further information, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary Foster leading discussion at the Employment table
Lisa Alvardo accepting entries for this year's competitions
Speaker, Susan Tacker
Susan Tacker and Linda King conducting raffle drawing