What is a global tech comm association?

As our tech comm jobs are getting more and more global in scope and reach, it seems professional associations haven’t quite kept up with the times.

I’m a tech writer working in Germany for a Danish software company. I write in English for customers across Europe, North America, and other places. And it’s been difficult to find a professional association that represents my interests.

The options

tekom logotekom, the German association, has a regional chapter which regularly meets in my hometown. I attended several events, but found few fellow tech writers who documented software, let alone did so in English. Heavy machinery, yes. Industrial part catalogues, yes. But it’s been years since I’ve worked in German, and I’ve never written a standardized warning for life and limb. I just didn’t find I had much in common with my German colleagues. The tekom/tcworld conference does have “Associations World” where other organizations exhibit, ISTC among them, but not STC, if I remember correctly.

STC logoSTC, the American association, has as one of its goals to “promote STC as the global leader in technical communication”. But it has only 3 chapters in Europe, none in Germany, and has limited offerings and hamstrung operations for Europeans. See the discussion in the STC’s blog for details. (To its credit, the STC has sent out strong signals at last months’ summit that it understands these issues and will work to improve the situation!) At the STC Summit, I didn’t see any mention of other associations, though two tekom officials were present.

ISTC logoISTC, the British association, has a large share of people in software, and most of its members work in English, so that suits me well. It was actually coincidence that theirs was the first door I knocked on, and they welcomed me warmly, both at their conference and as a contributor to their quarterly magazine. So joined ISTC, even though it’s not present in the two countries I work. At the TCUK conference, I don’t think I saw any mention of other associations.

A modest proposal

In my opinion, there is no global tech comm association at the moment. Some are global leaders, but I don’t think any one is the global leader.

And that’s probably fine: While our scope and our customers become more and more global, we still lead local lives. Most of us have very few locales where we work long stretches at a time. That’s where we want to meet other tech comm’ers to network – or complain – over a beer, that’s where we look for jobs.

A federation of tech comm associations is my modest proposal: We probably don’t even need a global association, but existing ones should make it easier for its members to network, travel, and move. Maybe offer reduced event rates for members of other associations – as I know some of them already do.

I regularly meet with tech comm’ers in Denmark, and I look forward to visiting some in the US. The tech comm community is already international. And I think it’s time the associations also get along. Tech comm’ers do. Even their topics do! It’s the tech comm way.

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Getting ahead as a lone author, my TCUK presentation

I’ve just held my first presentation at a technical writing conference: On September 22, I spoke about “Getting ahead as a lone author” at the ISTC’s conference “Technical Communication UK” near Oxford.

If you’ve been following this blog, you will recognize the theme: I’ve covered several angles of this topic throughout the year. My presentation was basically a condensed version of many of the ideas on this blog, neatly wrapped into 5 best practices, and with the opportunity to ask questions or to comment.

I was glad to have the first slot after the opening keynote, so I could get my presentation out of the way: As much as I was looking forward to it, it did interfere with my attention and general enjoyment, as I kept thinking about whether it was too long or not appropriate in some way.

The opening keynote then set a very comfortable tone: The topic was serious, yet delivered with an ironic sense of humor. “Yeah,” I thought, “I can follow this…”

I counted 23 people in my audience – not a lot in a conference of 180, but it suited me just fine. While my pacing was brisk, I think, it was still easy to follow and engaging.

I finished after 30 minutes to leave 10 minutes for questions and answers. After all, I can’t claim to have any more experience or any better answers than any other lone author. Most of the questions asked for clarifications or further explanations and showed that many lone authors have similar concerns.

As I’ve found out from the comments, one of the weaknesses of the presentation was that I didn’t make all of my assumptions clear. For example, someone helpfully pointed out that authors in a (well-defined) agile programming environment don’t have many of the problems of authors in a waterfall project model as I described it.

On the whole, it was a very valuable experience: I now know I can hold a presentation and get a point across to a room full of fellow tech writers. And I hope to do it again someday.

I had some help on the way: I thank Linda Urban for first suggesting that I could do this. And Karen Mardahl for keeping me pointed in the right direction when I was getting nervous the evening before.

If you have something you are passionate about in your job, I can only encourage you to “get it out”. Write an article, start a blog or hold a presentation at a conference. Chances are it will mean something to your colleagues, either because they are concerned with the same topic or infected by your enthusiasm. And don’t be afraid to seek out help, none of us has been born an author or a presenter, and you’ll find many people willing to help you along.

Resources

  • My presentation slides: You can see and download my slides which have been enriched to link to blog posts and web sites with more resources.
  • How to hold a presentation: There are a lot of web pages about this, these two have helped me to prepare and to make me confident that I didn’t forget anything.

If you have any feedback on the presentation, whether you attended it or not, I’d be happy to hear it!