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A Vision of Reinvention: Interview with Larry Kunz
2007, Q4 (January 06, 2008)
Larry Kunz, in his 25th year as an STC member (all of it as a member of the Carolina chapter), has been nominated to run for the office of STC second vice-president. If he wins the election, he'll become president of STC in 2010 after serving for a year as second vice-president and a year as first vice-president.

Larry has served the Carolina chapter in many capacities, including as president in 1987-89 and again in 2006-07. He is also currently serving on the STC board of directors as a director at large, previously having served on the board as a regional director and as Assistant to the President for Professional Development.

Carolina Communique: How has our profession changed since you’ve been a member of STC?
Larry Kunz: We know a lot more about technical communication, and how to do it effectively, than we did then. The tools and technologies have become more sophisticated. But even more important, we now know much more about usability, about audience analysis, and about how to architect the information. We've progressed from simply developing information to developing effective information.

The business of technical communication has changed a lot too. In the early ‘80s, most of us in the Carolina chapter worked for big companies. Contractors, or "freelancers," were relatively few in number. But today the big companies don't employ as many technical communicators as direct employees, and a lot of us are either self-employed or working as contractors.

One good change is that we're finally moving beyond being simply "tools wonks" to being professionals with a unique, sophisticated set of knowledge and skills. We've always known that about ourselves, but now everybody's catching on. In a job interview, the question is no longer "Do you know FrameMaker Version 7?" It's "Do you know content management and reuse?" This is a really positive trend and it needs to continue.

One good change is that we're finally moving beyond being simply "tools wonks" to being professionals with a unique, sophisticated set of knowledge and skills.

CC: You're currently manager of the STC Strategic Planning committee. Can you give us a peek at what's happening there?
LK: It's an exciting time. We're updating STC's strategic objectives, to replace the preliminary set of objectives that was adopted in 2006. We've learned a lot just in the past two years, for example the need to market ourselves and our profession. The new strategic plan will reflect that.

One thing we'll emphasize is defining the profession. A profession has a unique body of knowledge and expects its members to have mastered that body of knowledge. It has an established culture and a set of ethical principles that every member abides by. We've never had those things, and because of that our work isn't always taken seriously by the people who employ us and the people who buy our products.

This is a major part of proving our value. STC constantly needs to prove its value to current members, prospective members, sponsors, and partners. And we as professionals need to prove our value to the people who sign our paychecks. STC can help by marketing our people and the work they do — we call it "telling our powerful story."

We're going to continue emphasizing the strong connection between the educational community and the community of practitioners. Both of us have a lot to offer one another, and — more to the point — we need each other if we're to succeed at defining the profession.

CC: What trends are affecting the profession and STC?
LK: Our profession has always been changing, and STC has always done a good job of keeping up with the changes. But today marketplace is also changing. More and more companies are willing to outsource the skills and knowledge they used to have in-house. “Just give me the manuals — I'll let you worry about the skills and the training and the tools you need to do the job.” It's a great opportunity for people who are smart and hardworking, but it also represents a danger: the view that technical communication is a commodity — something you can just hire anyone off the street to do — rather than a profession.

The marketplace is also changing for a society that supports people working in a profession. If a society like STC has always defined itself as an “information resource,” what does it do when information is freely available on the Internet to anyone who wants it?

After decades in a steadily growing job market, many technical communicators in North America now face the reality that their jobs are heading offshore. Meanwhile, technical communicators in other places find themselves needed the kind of education, resources, and community that a professional society can offer. How does STC provide value to all of these different constituencies?

CC: How can STC influence these trends?
LK: Technical communication is important in the world economy. Businesses understand that they need good technical communicators — yet at the same time they really don’t have any good way of knowing whether a prospective employee or contractor has the goods. Our profession is desperate for leadership — desperate for a set of core values, an agreed-on body of knowledge, and perhaps a credentialing system. STC is uniquely positioned to provide that leadership.

For 25 years STC has helped me build a network of colleagues that I wouldn't trade for anything.

STC can also raise the profile of all technical communicators by telling our powerful story. That means that STC gets the word out so that our employers, and the world at large, recognize that technical communication is a profession and not just a job.

STC is the organization that’s best equipped to lead the evolution of technical communication into a full-fledged profession. There simply isn't another organization with the resources and the expertise to do this.

CC: What must STC do to accomplish this?
LK: We need to find a way to develop technical communication as a profession and continue delivering real value to our members — all without losing the social and interpersonal aspects that have made us so special in the first 54 years of our history.

For 25 years STC has helped me build a network of colleagues that I wouldn't trade for anything. It's helped me find jobs, it's helped me keep my skills current, and — most of all — it's given me a lot of fun and a lot of great friendships.

We have to assert ourselves as the leaders in the profession, without losing that personal touch.

CC: Why are you running for second vice-president of STC?
LK: STC stands a crucial moment in its history. It can no longer market itself only as an information resource and a means of networking. It needs to step up and lead our profession, and it needs leaders who can bring together the right people and create a climate in which they can plot a course for the Society and for the profession.

I have the leadership skills to make that happen. Nobody is better acquainted with the issues that STC will have to confront as it transforms itself into lead the profession to where we want it to go.

The choices that we, as STC leaders, make in the next three to five years will determine whether the Society becomes the pacesetter for an exciting profession or simply becomes a relic of the past. By motivating and encouraging STC members to come together and generate creative approaches, I can help the Society assume a leadership role. I’m excited at the prospect at being a part of that.

I really believe in the technical communication profession. I think very highly of what we do, and of the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with. It would be an honor to serve STC: to have a hand in moving our profession forward, in guiding STC to a position of leadership and prominence, and in helping my colleagues succeed.

CC: How can people show their support for your candidacy?
LK: First and foremost, vote! The election will be held in March, and I hope everyone will take the opportunity to vote. Not just for me, but for some really outstanding people who are running for other spots on the board of directors and for the nominating committee. (I hope everyone will support Lisa Pappas of our chapter.)

Second, tell your friends. Spread the word in this chapter, in your SIGs, and among your STC friends from other parts of the world. For more about me, see http://lk81924.googlepages.com/home.

Finally, I’d be honored if anyone wrote an endorsement of my candidacy. People do read endorsements, and they can help STC members know who the best candidates are.

Larry can be reached at lk42vp at gmail dot com. End of article.

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