February Social: Hopmonk Tavern in Novato

Please join us for a techcomm social at Hopmonk Tavern in Novato on Tuesday, February 9 from 6-8pm. If you’ve got questions about the techcomm profession or related tools or technology, we encourage you to join us!

If you’ve already RSVP’d, see you there, if not please RSVP to <info@northbaycommunicators.org>.

August Meeting: API/Software Authoring Environments

Join us Tuesday, August 11, 2015 in Petaluma at 6pm for a round table discussion on API/software authoring environments. Topics may include discussions around the effective use of lightweight environments such as Google Docs and Wikis, or how (or if) certain authoring environments are more suited to specific types of APIs.

Anne Gentle (www.justwriteclick.com / @annegentle) and Tom Johnson (www.idratherbewriting.com / @tomjohnson) have agreed to join in remotely to offer their perspectives and experience, but this is a round table, so we look forward to input from all!

Audio stream (1.5 hours) or download 60MB ZIP.

Chat log from the discussion. Scroll down for many links and references!

May Meeting: Consulting Pro/Con Round Table

Join us on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Petaluma at 6pm, for a round table discussion on the pros/cons of consulting. We’ll discuss various options for running a techcomm consulting business, as well as whether it’s a good idea at all. We can draw from the first-hand experience of a number of our members, and hopefully address those questions that you’ve been concerned about.

Should be a fun and informative meeting! Please join us and bring your questions and experiences to share.

March Social: Hopmonk Tavern in Novato

Please join us for a techcomm social at Hopmonk Tavern in Novato on Tuesday, March 10 from 6-8pm. If you’ve got questions about the techcomm profession or related tools or technology, we encourage you to join us!

If you’ve already RSVP’d, see you there, if not please RSVP to <info@northbaycommunicators.org>.

February Meeting: Making Yourself Marketable in 2015

Join us on Tuesday, February 10, 2015, in Petaluma, for a presentation by Andrew Davis.

Making Yourself Marketable in 2015

I envision this presentation as a mashup of the detailed job search advice I’ve offered over the years — preparation, resumes, portfolios, applying, interviewing, and negotiating — with lots of room for candidates’ Q&A and, if I’m asked, even some advice for hiring managers and other recruiters.

As anyone who has spoken with me realizes, I serve the more technical and software-centric end of the local tech comms job market. I am proud that I’ve helped motivated souls enter that sphere and get good at serving it, creating stable and lucrative careers. My comments will, however, also benefit those who’d prefer to avoid authoring API references and writing code samples in Python. I can’t promise stability and bidding wars, but I do promise attendees the keys to a much more confident and efficient job-seeking experience.

You may leave actually looking forward to your next job search.

I’ll keep the focus squarely on marketability, so will redirect questions about LinkedIn and ageism, my two most recent speaking topics, to those presentations’ slide decks and speaker’s notes viewable from my LinkedIn profile.

Slides from Andrew’s presentation:

Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis has recruited technical content developers in the SF Bay Area since 1995. He is a former software industry Technical Writer and has a reputation for both understanding and championing the role of content development.

Andrew enjoys helping those who communicate complex information get ahead by recognizing and refining their value to technology companies. He’s candid and connected and, just as importantly, he likes to help tech industry workers achieve their goals and achieve independence from intermediaries.

Andrew ran Synergistech Communications during the Internet Gold Rush years and has recently returned to solo recruiting mode. He remains focused on recruiting great technical content development talent for discerning local technology companies. Join him on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/synergistech) to learn more.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @synergistech.

December Social: Pub Republic in Petaluma

Join us on Tuesday, December 9 at 6pm for a holiday social! We’ll be gathering at Pub Republic in Petaluma!

If you can join us, please RSVP by email.

>> Map to Pub Republic.

October Meeting: Growing Your Tech Pubs Group

Join us on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 for an informative, interesting, and insightful presentation by Rebecca Firestone.

Growing Your Tech Pubs Group

How do you know when your documentation team needs to grow, and how do you make it happen? As a lone writer who’s not accustomed to dealing with upper management, this can be a huge challenge. Rebecca Firestone, Senior Technical Writer at Zep Solar, Inc., faced this problem earlier this year. She had to convince her own management that there was more work than one person could do, and that they needed to create a second job position. Not being a manager, she had no idea how to frame her arguments as a value proposition. She asked a few other professional Tech Pubs managers and HR recruiters about staffing and various ways to allocate resources. A lot of it is knowing which questions to ask, in order to choose an approach that will best fit the company’s unique situation. In the end, however, the first hurdle was convincing people to create a new position. Rebecca will share candidly what ultimately worked and how she successfully persuaded her company to create, and fill, a second position.

Rebecca Firestone

Rebecca is an award-winning technical writer, content developer, course developer, and trainer with 20 years’ experience. Since 2012 she has worked as a Senior Technical Writer at Zep Solar in San Rafael, CA, where she is responsible for product documentation for Zep Solar’s patented photovoltaic rooftop mounting systems. In the past, she worked with various Bay Area architectural design firms, creating over 90 full-length articles for two blogs: The Architect’s Take (thearchitectstake.com), and Green Compliance Plus (greencomplianceplus.com). Prior to moving to architecture in 2006, she spent 15 years producing documentation and training materials for complex enterprise software applications. As a trainer, she developed and delivered industry-specific hands-on courses for the Arbor/BP telecom billing platform. Rebecca has a keen interest in the effective use of graphics for effective communication, and has created product brochures, presentations, and video storyboards to showcase products and projects. She has also worked with supply-chain analysts to create business articles and white papers on a variety of OR/MS topics such as the use of expert systems for supply-chain optimization.

August Roundtable/Social: Hopmonk Tavern in Novato

Please join us for an informal roundtable discussion at Hopmonk Tavern in Novato on Tuesday, August 12 from 6-8pm. The proposed topic of discussion is “best practices and pitfalls of being an independent contractor”. If you’ve got questions or answers, we encourage you to join us!

If you’ve already RSVP’d, see you there, if not please RSVP to <info@northbaycommunicators.org>.

July Meeting/Social: Pub Republic in Petaluma

Join us Tuesday, July 8 at 6pm at Pub Republic in Petaluma!

>> Map to Pub Republic.

STC Conference Notes from Wednesday May 21th

Here are my notes from Wednesday

8:30-9:15 Creating Help Systems for the Modern User – Kevin Siegel Founder of Iconlogic Kevin has been creating help systems for 15 to 20 years.  This session is about help systems that are successful and not successful.  He is big on Captivate.  It was a good session and very well attended.

  • This session will cover
    • attention span
    • no scrolling
    • engage your user
    • planning a
    • outputting
  • Most people will not scroll to get through your content.  They will give up and go to another topic.
  • Graphics are ok but videos are better in your content
  • Videos should be links and not embedded in topics.  This will reduce the scrolling.
  • Kevin is using a button that opens a menu with links as an example.  This reduces the clutter on the screen.  In testing 90% of people felt more comfortable seeing a menu rather than a dialog.
  • Short and sweet videos is key
  • Videos should have length of time so the user has a good idea of commitment
  • 15 seconds is home long you have before your average user starts to lose interest.
  • Google glass and heads up display ( HUD) are both examples of very small displays for content
  • e-ink is another small format display
  • More and more people are accessing content on a mobile device.
  • In testing an overwhelming number of people want demo videos and not interactive videos.
  • Remember to add alt text  to graphics and videos for accessibility.

He ended with a RoboHelp demo.

9:45-10:30 Beyond the Bleeding Edge – Neil Perlin This session was pretty good to just listen to.  This is a case study of a guy that needs to get his content from Framemaker to a Salesforce knowledgebase.  He wanted to populate the knowledgebase with his content to help out the support people.  When they get a call from a customer they can see if the solution exists in the documentation before they write a new solution.  He mentioned the support people have access to help but they never really look at help and he was hoping to get his help content a little more in the face of the support staff.   There is no easy way to populate the knowledgebase in this way his so he had to come up with this work around. I’ll get the link to the slides.  He had to use a list of tools to make this happen.  The process he came up with is very convoluted.  If anything is off or wrong along the way it will not work.  Lots of prep needs to happen to the Framemaker files before you can start the process. One of the many problems I can see is that you now have split the source and you have two streams of content to maintain.  So if you have an update or issue in the Frame docs you need to make the change in two places or run the process over again.

11:00-11:20 Applying Learn Principles to the Documentation – Alan Houser

This was a nice presentation. Lots of people and lots of good info. Alan does a good job with his presentations.

  • What is lean
    • maximize customer value
    • minimum waste
  • Big ideas
    • build/measure/learn
    • get out of the build talk to the customers
    • min viable product
    • pivot being able to change direction if needed.
  • What we tend to care about
    • deliverables
    • schedule
    • tool
    • origination structure
    • office  politics
    • legacy for formats
  • The customer only cares about getting the information they need and getting the issue resolved so they can get back to work.  Help cannot stand in the way of this.

This is not the time for “We’ve always done it that way” thinking

  • How/When does your team pivot
    • Budget cuts
    • Re-org
    • Reduction in force

Try to be in front of this and pivot before these happens.

  • What do we measure
    • Number is pages
    • Number of topics
    • Words/topic
    • Word count
    • And so on

Customers don’t care about any of that.

  • At the end of the day nothing is better than getting closer to your customer
  • Documentation Waste is if it does not provide customer value then it needs to be removed
  • Let it go!  The fancy formatting and perfect page layout means nothing if the customer does not get the information they need
  • Make sure you always ask ‘how is this providing value to the customer’

Recommended books

  • Lean Thinking
  • The Lean Startup
  • Lean UX
  • Running Lean

11:35-11:55 The Creative Habit – Kelsey Ruger This session started early and I missed the very beginning.  It was a great session with good slides. Because it was a short session and the speaker was so engaging it was best to just sit and listen.  Not much of an opportunity for notes. Search around and see if you can find his slides.

12:10-12:30 The Cracker Jack Theory of User Assistance – Ray Gallon  This was another good session and the last session of the day.  It was very well attended and the speaker was great.  Lots of knowledge.

  • Building cognitive demand.  How do we do that in UA?

He used ‘How do you use the camera’ as an example

  • How do I take a good photo what does that mean start using the camera
  • Hands on practice
  • Implicit and factual comprehension
  • Embed concept material in tasks

What is Mastery

  • He talked about what he called the ‘Cognitive Spiral’
  • Learning is a spiral that represents a time of opportunity and time to practice
  • From starting out as a beginner to becoming a master user
    • Retrieve explicit information
    • Interpret explicit information
    • Apply and use the information
    • Reflect on and evaluate the content.  This is where the users can be a big help to us with real feedback
    • Reflect on and evaluate the form of the message
  • These are really expert users
  • He defined Good UA as:
    • Give people the tools to get themselves out of trouble
    • Appeal to emotions and self-satisfaction
    • Crowd source the pain points.  Get the info from the user
    • Collect and analyze failure because if you don’t the social world will.  He used Dell computer as an example
    • Remember that failure is a learning experience.  Fail early and fail often
  • FAQ are solutions in search of a problem.
  • Let’s not insult our users by documenting very basic tasks.