Search icon Looking for something?

2009 STC Summit: One Unemployed Man's View
2009, Q2 (July 21, 2009)
by Chris Benz, STC Associate Fellow, past Carolina Chapter President, past Region 2 Director Sponsor

Chris Benz
Chris Benz
I had a lot of difficulty deciding if I should attend the STC Technical Communication Summit this year. I had been unemployed since early January, and money was getting very tight. Two things finally convinced me to go, though. First, the Carolina Chapter offered a scholarship to unemployed members, which with careful budgeting, would cut my total expenses almost in half. Second, and more important, was my wife, Kat's, reaction to the idea. “Will it help you find a job more quickly?” she asked. Maybe. “Will it reenergize you?” Absolutely. “Then go!”

This was my tenth Society-level conference, but it was very different in several ways:
  • I hadn't attended the conference since 2004, so I was able to reconnect face-to-face with dozens of friends.
  • I didn't have many side responsibilities. No checking work email, no frantic calls from clients, no board-member or speaker activities. This allowed me to be with others more, and to listen more attentively in each session.
  • I was unemployed, so while it was useful to learn more about new technologies and effective management techniques, my goal was to find the best ways to land a great new job.
  • The mood was very different. At past conferences—at least as I remember it—discussions focused on celebrating recent accomplishments and discussing how to accomplish even greater things moving forward. This year, the predominant topics were much less positive: unemployment, the economy, low conference attendance, and STC's financial difficulties. (Attendance this year was about 800 people, compared with peak years when attendance was capped at 2,000. And like many organizations in today's economy, STC is operating at a loss.)

On the job-search front, the conference organizers made the wise decision to add a Career Makeover Institute to the conference. The Institute consisted of five sessions about seeking work, from résumé and interview tips to an overview of STC's job-hunting resources. I attended three of these sessions, and despite being in this field over 20 years, I learned a lot of new things. A couple weeks later, I even re-presented John Hedtke's Seeding the Clouds: How to Make It Rain on YOU Even During a Dry Spell presentation. (You can find a copy of this and John's other presentations online.)

Regarding the overall mood, it certainly wasn't all doom and gloom. I think we all realized that the economy probably would improve soon enough, and that good jobs were out there despite the additional effort and time required to find and land them. Plus, there were plenty of bright spots:

  • Shawn Henry opened the conference with a presentation on accessibility. Shawn clearly demonstrated that those who know how to make information more accessible to those with special needs—and a good percentage of the population will have special needs at some point in our lives—will have plenty of good work for years to come.
  • David Pogue, who writes the popular “State of the Art” column for the New York Times and has almost 330,000 (yes, 330 THOUSAND!) followers on Twitter, delivered a hilarious but highly relevant keynote address, and even regaled us on the piano with his ode to the iPhone. (You can see and hear YouTube version of this ode.)
  • Executive Director Susan Burton talked about STC's efforts to get the U.S. government to more accurately reflect the work and salaries of technical communicators. In a recent coup, the next edition of the Occupational Outlook and Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will for the first time have an individual report on technical writers. This means we will no longer be lumped with non-technical (and generally lower-paid) writers such as journalists and poets. And, because many countries coordinate on occupational issues and labor statistics, this should be good news for many non-U.S. technical writers, too. For more information, see this link.
  • There was a lot of excitement about social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Imagine, for example, a Help system where each topic collects user comments and shares them automatically with all other users. So, if you document a feature incorrectly or incompletely, your user base will quickly know that. Scary? Sure. The future of product documentation? Probably. Our role in all this? That's for US to figure out!

Did attending the Summit re-energize me? Absolutely! I arrived in Atlanta downtrodden by several months of unsuccessful job hunting, and left feeling good about myself, my prospects, and my profession.

Did attending help me find a job more quickly? YOU decide! While I was in a session at the Summit, I had a call to bounce to my home phone. Kat told the interested employer that I was attending a professional conference. I imagine he was impressed that I was engaged in professional development activities despite being unemployed. When I interviewed later that week, I presented a very positive attitude and a high level of confidence. Exactly nine days after the Summit, I received the offer. Thank you, STC, and thank you, Kat!

Chris can be reached at cjbenz at cjbenz dot info. End of article.

More articles like this...
Comments powered by Disqus.