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Another Carolina Chapter Fellow!
2002, Q1 (June 29, 2007)
by Emily Toone, STC Carolina Chapter Immediate Past President

For the second year in a row, a member of the Carolina Chapter has been recognized as an STC Fellow. Mary Cantando, a Senior Member of the chapter, joins last year’s honoree, Larry Kunz, in an exclusive group of STC members who have “attained such eminence in the field of technical communication that the board, by a two-thirds vote of all members, deems them worthy of being singled out as one of the select few who have distinguished the Society and the profession.”

Mary served the Carolina Chapter well as Vice President (1992-93), President (1993-94) and initiator and chair of chapter Management SIG (1992-95). She has also served as a publications competition judge (1994-96), and has spoken numerous times at chapter conferences. Mary received Distinguished Chapter Service Award, 1995, and was elected Associate Fellow in 2000.

At the Society level, Mary initiated and chaired the Multimedia SIG. She also chaired the chapter and regional conferences committee, which developed the Chapter and Regional Conferences Handbook. Mary has served as a speaker for ten STC international conferences, as well as Forum 2000 in London and Pan-Pacific Conference in 2000. She is currently serving as chair of management STEM for 2002 International Conference.

Professionally, Mary has excelled in many aspects of technical communication. She received her BA in corporate communication and management from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN. In 1984 she worked as a software trainer, and from there evolved into a technical communicator.

By 1989, Mary had become an executive in a privately held documentation services company, PDR. During her twelve years with the company, she opened five geographic locations, including establishing a Canadian entity. She created employment for over 1000 technical communicators and managers, and served as mentor to many of these individuals. During this time, she also developed and taught graduate-level technical documentation and electronic marketing programs with current Carolina Chapter President, Michael Harvey.

Currently, Mary continues her involvement in technical communication by serving in board positions in publications organizations and as a consultant to multimedia and technical communications companies.

I recently interviewed Mary about her opinions on a whole range of topics related not only to her background but also to the technical communication profession in general. Here are her answers to my questions:

Q. What does it mean to you to be recognized as a Fellow?

A. This is a huge deal to me. This year only six individuals out a membership of 25,000 are being recognized as STC Fellows. I figured out that’s 0.00024% of the membership.

But this isn’t just a number to me; this is something that I’ve worked toward. I set the following goal for myself three years ago: “I will become world renowned in my profession.” And, when I received notification of my Fellowship, I achieved that goal.

Q. What attracted you to the field of technical communications?

A. When Michael Harvey and I developed and taught the Durham Tech Software Technical Writing program back in the early 90s, I remember saying to the participants, “If you don’t like to learn, you can’t be a tech writer. What technical writers do for a living is learn about things and then explain them in very plain language to others.”

I think there’s a real power in that ability to take complex things and make them simple, understandable. That’s what I love about technical communication and what first drew me to the field.

Q. How did you first get involved in STC?

A. I joined STC to recruit a top-notch documentation department to start PDR Information Services (the company I built in RTP). I soon learned not to even interview people who didn’t have STC listed on their résumés.

Q. What did being an STC volunteer at the chapter level bring to you?

A. In a word, “friendship.” I’ve met amazing people through STC over the years. I already mentioned my good buddy, Michael Harvey. Then there are people like Diane Feldman, Emily Toone, Lottie Applewhite, Carol Linden, Andy Lewis, Carol Ryner, Charles Goode…I could go on and on. I had great fun working with these folks and we achieved some spectacular results together.

Q. One of the criteria for being recognized as a Fellow is to have “made significant contributions to the field of technical communication.” How do you feel that you have done this?

A. I think I’ve done two things that have made a difference.

First, I believe I’ve elevated technical communication in the eyes of business executives. As an executive myself, I’ve promoted the value of technical communication by demonstrating the return on investment gained by employing professional technical writers. As a result of this, I was able to create employment for over 1000 technical communicators in the past twelve years. I smile when I think of that!

Second — and this may be the more important of the two — I believe I’ve enhanced technical communicators’ perception of themselves. As a mentor and as a speaker at conferences, I’ve always delighted in teaching others how to analyze, understand, and express their business value. Over the years, people have told me that they received promotions, salary increases, and enhanced job satisfaction by following my advice. I think that’s pretty cool.

Q. What have been some of your most rewarding moments of as a technical communicator?

A. I’ve always loved being able to help new writers start out. I think that’s why I loved our Durham Tech program so much. We took a group of individuals who didn’t even know what technical documentation was, and launched some of the superstars of the RTP tech writing community.

Q. What have been some of your most rewarding moments of as a leader within STC?

A. Here’s a great story: In 1991, Andy Lewis, Neal Keene, and I made a pitch to the STC board about the need to use multimedia at the STC conference.
During the presentation, a Silicon Valley representative, who shall remain nameless, made the comment, “Why would something like that come out of North Carolina?” Well, I took that as a personal challenge, and immediately began to establish the Society’s Multimedia Professional Interest Committee (today, SIG). I set up this group and chaired it for three years, probably just to show folks that not only do we wear shoes, but we also have a pretty good handle on technology in Ol’ North Caroliney!

Q. What has been your biggest challenge as a leader of STC?

A. I’ve always been frustrated that many technical communicators don’t have a high opinion of themselves and their profession. I’m a firm believer in the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy. Here’s how I see it: If I truly believe what I’m doing is important and will have great results, then that seems to happen. And, if I think my work is less important than that of engineers and programmers, it becomes so. Getting others to buy into this way of thinking is my never-ending challenge.

Q. What changes have your seen in the field of technical communications?

A. My first computer job was back in 1965, while I was still in high school. Huge roaring boxes filled the room and all they could do was print out mortgage bills.

Advance to 1990. I was part of a national Hypertext seminar that my company did. We amazed people with the stuff we showed them. That same year I heard an Apple exec speak at an STC conference about how we’d soon be getting up in the morning and printing out individually customized newspapers. He got that right, except for the printing part.

From a management perspective, anticipating the technology has been a wild ride. We made some good decisions pushing into hypertext and multimedia in the early 90s, but I made some dumb mistakes as well. I blanche when I think of what I paid for a touch-screen monitor, just so we could show clients that we had one.

Q. Who is your favorite author?

A. I focus a lot on management and motivational reading, and my favorite author changes based on the book I’m reading. But, if I could will everyone in the world to read one book it would be The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund & Benjamin Zander. Please read this book.

Q. What is your favorite quotation?

A. I currently have a remark by Joan Lunden in a prominent place in my office. She reminds me that “Happiness and enthusiasm are powerfully attractive; they draw people to you and make you successful.”

Q. What closing thoughts would you like to share with us?

A. My personal mission in life is to “Help others experience abundance.” This can be material abundance… nothing wrong with money!… spiritual abundance, an abundance of friends, an abundance of choices, an abundance of love, an abundance of nature…It goes on and on.

I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “Absolute abundance constantly circulates in my life.” And it does.

Below is a list of the other 2002 STC Fellows:

  • Steven M. Gerson
  • Jay J. Goldberg
  • Patricia J. McClelland
  • Dierdre A. Murr
  • John O. Shipman
  • Joyce F. Woods
End of article.

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