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Getting Educated at the STC Summit in Atlanta
2009, Q2 (July 21, 2009)
By Elaine Abousalh, Carolina Chapter Member
{img src="img/wiki_up/stc.jpg" alt="STC Summit badge" desc="Goodies from the conference}

When I went to the STC Carolina meeting back in April, I had no idea what was in store for me. The chapter had two scholarships for the STC Summit in Atlanta to give away as door prizes. I entered the drawing and it was with delight, and a sense of disbelief, that I heard my number being called out. I was going to the Summit! I was fresh out of the Duke University Technical Communication Certificate Program – the day before I had just turned in the capstone project required to earn the certificate – and could hardly contain my excitement for this chance to further my education.

My first stop at the Summit was the first-timers orientation session. This year many newbies like me were at the conference and the session was packed. The organization committee did a good job at making us feel welcome and giving us tips on how to get the most out of our conference experience. Their advice could be summarized as follows: plan a daily schedule, take advantage of all conference resources, and network with other participants.

The conference got started for me in full speed with the two big general events: the opening session and the keynote address. The speaker for the opening session was Shawn Henry of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. In her presentation, she stressed the need for designers to understand how people with disabilities use websites and other communication products. She compellingly pointed out that a design that accommodates users with functional limitations is also advantageous to users having to deal with situational limitations. In the end, accessibility is about all of us, and investing in it is, in her own words, “an act of enlightened self-interest.” I enjoyed her presentation so much that I ended up going to the STC AccessAbility SIG meeting to learn about their work.

The keynote address was delivered by David Pogue, a technology writer for the New York Times and author of several books in the For Dummies and the Missing Manual series. He spoke about the power of simplicity in technology interface design. I particularly liked when he contrasted the frustration that many users experience when faced with complicated designs to the feeling of accomplishment and joy that results from using a simple, intuitive interface. Everybody in the audience could relate to that – people were laughing and nodding along. Pogue was a great keynote speaker: he was engaging, funny, and even sang a song on his love for the iPhone!

Winning the scholarship for the STC Summit came at a crucial moment in my development as a technical communicator.

Of the educational sessions I attended, the highlights for me were the SIG Progressions on Technical Editing and Usability. In a progression, about six speakers give short presentations on topics related to a general theme. Each presenter leads a table that seats about ten people, and participants move from table to table to listen to three topics they select. It’s a very dynamic format and it gives participants the chance to interact more closely with presenters.

My favorite presentation in the Technical Editing Progression was Alysson Troffer’s “The Editor’s Role in Building Community”. She talked about how collaboration in documentation projects can be facilitated and strengthened through the use of wikis. In the Usability Progression, my favorite was Ginny Redish’s “Getting the Team to Apply What You’ve Learned”. I appreciated how she asked participants to explain their motivations for attending her presentation and then tailored her advice to fit their needs.

Another learning opportunity I was able to take advantage of was the STC Expo Hall, which had about 50 booths featuring products and services relevant to technical communicators. I spoke with a number of vendors to learn about their services and enjoyed product demonstrations at the TransPerfect and Acrolinx booths.

Throughout my time at the Summit, I talked to several participants about their professional experience and I feel fortunate I could gather their perspectives on the challenges and rewards of working as a technical communicator. I also got to chat about the conference itself, exchange impressions on presentations attended, and receive leads on sessions that promised to be more interesting. These interactions kept me energized and were an essential component of my overall positive experience at the conference.

Winning the scholarship for the STC Summit came at a crucial moment in my development as a technical communicator. I was able to increase my professional knowledge, listen to experts in the field, and meet fellow technical communicators willing to share their insights. Thank you, STC Carolina, for this wonderful opportunity!

Elaine can be reached at elaine dot abousalh at gmail dot com. End of article.

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