Category Archives: Meetings

May Meeting: Agile and Techcomm

Join us Tuesday, May 13, 2014 for an educational evening of opinions and well, more opinions on the subject of Agile and Techcomm (roundtable-debate).

We have three knowledgeable people who will present various sides to this story, Shelley Horwitz, Mike Ziegenhagen, and Mark Weddle. After a short presentation from each, we’ll go into roundtable mode and discuss the pros/cons among the group.

Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on Agile Software Development.

If you are unable to join us in person, we plan to offer remote attendance via GoToMeeting (possibly audio-only).

Info from Meeting

You’ll hear lots of opinions from the group on the recording .. if you have opinions you’d like to share, please post them as comments below!

March Meeting: Contracts 101

Join us Tuesday, March 18, 2014 for an informative and insightful talk by Sandy Shepard of Good Solutions, Inc. from San Rafael, CA. Even if you’re not currently involved in contract negotiations, you won’t want to miss this one! Sandy has a wealth of information, and is a really nice person as well.

CONTRACTS 101: Contracts govern our work lives. Often we don’t realize that in our excitement to close the deal, we are cutting our own throat! What you don’t know can hurt you! And, those handshake deals” we often have aren’t worth the paper they’re written on! In this informal talk, Sandy will touch on some contractual “traps” that often catch the unwary.

SANDRA J. SHEPARD, Esq.sandy-shepard
Sandy Shepard is President & Founder of Good Solutions, Inc. a strategic business and transactional legal consulting firm. She has extensive general knowledge and experience in the intricacies of business transactions and a results-oriented business perspective. She knows first-hand how “Legal” can often be the killer of a timely deal. She tries to be approachable enough that her clients seek permission – not forgiveness.
Sandy has been “on the Internet” since 1988; her first publication was as a contributor to the first multimedia business/law book in 1996. She has extensively spoken on the subject since this time; her SWATlaw® series aims to demystify the legal arena for anyone believing a Berlitz course is mandatory for mastering “Legalese.”
Sandy’s experience includes working in the Business Affairs department at LucasArts Entertainment; as counsel for Mindscape/Broderbund; and legal director for The Learning Company during its $3.5 billion acquisition by Mattel. She has negotiated and drafted hundreds of small to multi-million dollar deals worldwide, including securing licenses from the likes of Tom Clancy, Stephen King, National Geographic, and Beatrix Potter. She left Mattel for the “dot com” arena; as General Counsel to Scene7, she handled all legal aspects of mergers/acquisitions that swelled personnel from 55 to over 350 and was responsible for helping integrate all procedures, personnel and offices nationwide before making a run for an IPO. She ultimately handled Scene7’s acquisition by Adobe, and left to form her own law firm and coaching business.
Sandy is a member of the Association for Coaching, a non-profit dedicated to promoting excellence and ethics in coaching, and is a certified business success trainer. Her coaching clients pressed her to put her words to paper, and in 2007 her book Fempowerment: A Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Bond Girl was published by Mollydooker Press, and The Fempowerment Playbook, a compatible workbook, was published in 2010. Her latest book, Passive Income 101: a guide to paying for college without selling your soul, written for a high school/college audience contemplating the merits of attending university, reached #1 in its category on in December.
Sandy is a graduate of the University of California, with a quad-major Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University. After a successful career in the business arena, she obtained her doctor of laws degree cum laude from U.C. Hastings College of The Law, and was a lawyer at a prestigious San Francisco law firm. She also has an Associates degree in sexology, and certificates in advanced bartending, feng shui, authentic movement study & practice, and bodywork. She is working on her nutritionist certification. Sandy has been interviewed on ABC-TV a half-dozen times as a coach and author, honored as a “Woman In Action” by Women’s Initiative, and featured in the San Francisco Chronicle both as a legal expert and for pole dancing. She was featured in the coffee table book Fearless Women by MaryAnn Halpin.
Sandy has crewed hot air balloons, and once upon a time was a biplane “batboy” for the Flying Circus Barnstorming Airshow in Bealton, VA. Sandy is an enthusiastic member of several non-profits, including two local land trusts, the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, and the Marines Memorial Association. She has volunteered as a California State Park docent/Civil War re-enacter and baker on Angel Island, and learned organic farming and draft horse training with the Amish. She completed five marathon races in the past year; she has completed numerous triathlons and open water swims (including Alcatraz), and finished the Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile marathon) in 16:58:51 – last woman over the line, but happy. Way to make ABC-Sports.

Good Solutions® legal and business consulting
1537 Fourth Street, #9
San Rafael CA 94901-2737
415-937.1063 (vox) *
SWATlaw®: We get in, get it done, get out — you get the glory.

January Meeting: Making the Most of WordPress

Want to learn more about WordPress and how you can make the most of this useful tool? Join us on Tuesday, January 21!

  • Basics – We’ve all heard how easy it is to set up a website with WordPress, but what’s really involved and what are the fundamental pieces?
  • Plugins/themes – Once you’re up and running, how do you add more functionality and customize the appearance?
  • Where is it used and how can you use it? – Not all WordPress websites “look” like WordPress websites. What are some of the different ways the WordPress technology can be used?

Our presenter will be Chris Burbridge – Chris is a WordPress expert with nearly 20 years experience working with technical teams and laypersons to use technologies, combined with a knowledge of writing and business, to communicate effectively.

For more information, visit

If you have specific WordPress questions, send them in ahead of time and Chris may be able to work that in to his presentation.

This meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 21 at 7pm and will be completely “virtual” through GoToMeeting. Space is limited, so RSVP to <> if you’re planning to attend.

November Meeting

Our first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov 21 at 7pm (till 8:30 at the latest). This will be a virtual meeting through GoToMeeting. We’ll discuss the following items ..

  • Future meeting schedule
  • Future meeting venue(s)
  • Website features .. what do you want to see?
  • Call for volunteers to manage portions of the website

We will also have a walkthrough of the website back end (WordPress) to familiarize people with the features and options available.

If you’re interested in attending, please send an email to <>. We will send out the GoToMeeting invitations earlier in the day on Nov 21.

If you’re unable to attend, but want to help out, send us an email and we’ll let you know what’s needed. Feel free to continue to post ideas to the “Ideas” forum and we’ll discuss those items at the meeting.

Attendance is limited to 25, so be sure to RSVP early (I can’t imagine that we’d have that many people, but you never know).

Starting Your Own Business — Virtual Conference Preview!

STC is offering a 3-day virtual conference on “Starting Your Own Business.” This online event will include presentations on all aspects of starting your own business or freelancing shop.

If you are a business owner, independent consultant, freelancer or trainer, you should definitely consider attending. Prices are very reasonable. For more details or to register, visit the virtual conference website ..

Monique Semp, one of our STC NorthBay members, is one of many distinguished presenters at this conference. She is offering to give us a virtual preview of her 30 minute presentation!

Strategy First: Launching Successful Technical Communication Projects

You’ve decided to take the plunge and begin your new career as an independent consultant, but now what? You need a place to work! This session covers important topics such as location, computer hardware and software, furnishings (both immediate necessities and business/tax planning for future purchases), ergonomics, IT concerns (outlets, networks, backup methods, etc.), and building your reference library (both online and old-fashioned print books). You’ll receive checklists and references to help you create an office that you’ll not only want to spend time in, but that fosters productive (and lucrative) work.

This “preview” is scheduled for April 9, 2013, at 7pm. If you’d like to join us, please contact the STC NorthBay webmaster at <> at least 24 hours in advance (Monday evening).

Our June 2012 Meeting: “Hands on with EPUBs – Mini-Workshop,” with Scott Prentice

Those wise and fortunate enough to attend this meeting left appreciating a learning experience one likely would have to travel to an STC conference to obtain. Again, Scott Prentice shared his considerable depth of understanding of the technical details underlying the words we read on the surface, and in the case of EPUB, we got to look under the hood and see how the various components of a document are related and stitched together.

(For the what, why, and how of EPUB — yes, ALLCAPS are back in fashion now — see Scott’s previous presentation.)

For the deconstruction process, we downloaded an ebook of one of my favorite authors, one E. A. Poe, and proceeded to deconstruct it with the oXygen XML editor. (Ever see the decoder table in “The Gold Bug” in XML?) A trial license is free for a month, and anyone interested in seeing how an EPUB document is constructed is encouraged to do the same.

With more and more existing information likely to be repurposed for mobile appliances, it will not hurt to become more familiar with this evolving publishing technology, perhaps the hottest thing since movable type. Standards are still evolving, with the powerful HTML5 standard still more or less on the horizon, and EPUB2 more reliable than EPUB 3. (You can download for free some great resource ebooks from look for “What is EPUB3” and “HTML5 for Publishers.” You can inspect the mysterious workings of these well-formed publications with oXygen, or even the free Sigil, which is also a ebook good reader.

As for ebook readers, Scott provides a good list in his meeting notes. There are many other goodies in those slides, so take a look. If you are interested in this growing area of doc expertise, Scott will be glad to explain.

Our May 2012 Meeting: “Emerging Roles and Hot Markets for Tomorrow’s Tech Writers,” with Andrew Davis

With tight job markets, unique skills requirements, and risk-averse hiring managers, finding work in the world of technical communications is not what it used to be . . . no more mirror test.

However, the world of contract and contract-to-hire can still be rewarding for individuals who have precisely what a company (often a young one) needs with respect to skills (often intangible), but also with respect to attitudes that often go beyond those required by old-school corporations. In short, “skills” and “experience” are not enough — at least in the common use of those terms. As a major recruiter for Content Rules, Andrew Davis has accumulated a lot of understanding of the contemporary job market for technical communications skills.

Desirable Intangible Skills/Experience

What are those intangibles?

  • Do you understand the business goals and business model of the hiring company?
  • Do you have entrepreneurial experience (which comes in handy in a startup environment)?
  • For a given product or service, do you understand the audience’s context, needs, and priorities?
  • Can you visualize and design customized content deliverables?
  • Do you understand what it takes to translate/localize content successfully and at least cost?
  • Are you experienced in making a business case for content initiatives?
  • Do you understand the latest tools and can you demonstrate their use?
  • Do you have project management and consensus-building skills (which also come in handy in a startup environment)?

Desirable Empirical Skills/Experience

In the area of contemporary tools, Andrew lists the following:

  • Hot are HTML5, EPUB3, or iBooks Author: In a multiplatform environment, eBook conversion and delivery can be paramount, through XML, XSL, XSLT, XSL-FO, DITA, DocBook, structured authoring tools such as Arbortext Editor (formerly “Epic”) and XMetaL Author, and (to a much lesser extent) Structured FrameMaker, Author-it, and MadCap Flare.
  • Of particular importance is video production (iMovie, etc.) or screencasting experience (Captivate, Articulate, etc.)
  • Can you implement a Wiki, after convincing an employer of the value of one?
  • Have you demonstrated skills in interface/user-experience (UX) design, especially for mobile applications?

Andrew lists what is not, and what is not, with degrees of temperature in between.

Hot Industry Niches for SF Bay Area Content Developers

This is what employers are willing to pay for, at least for today:

  • Data analytics
  • IP security
  • Big data (Hadoop, MapReduce, NoSQL, etc.)
  • Mobile/GIS (iOS, Android)
  • SaaS-ified apps
  • Data center optimization/virtualization/cloud
  • Open source
  • Social
  • Advertising
  • Games/entertainment

Tepid Niches

The following areas are not suffering, but they are just not as hot:

  • SQL/data warehousing/business intelligence
  • Enterprise applications (non-SaaS)
  • Search
  • Development tools
  • Content translation/localization/internationalization technology
  • Medical devices
  • Biotech/pharma
  • Storage (SAN/NAS technology)
  • Networking (including videoconferencing) – noncloud

Not-so-Hot Niches

Here we can see how the world we used to know so well has changed:

  • Finance/insurance
  • CRM
  • Semiconductors/EDA
  • PCs, tablets, smartphones (hardware)
  • Peripherals
  • Manufacturing (most)
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Law
  • Utilities
  • Infrastructure (transportation, etc.)
  • Education
  • Publishing
  • Graphics (hardware, software)
  • Clean/green tech

Consistently Hot Tech Comm Roles

If you have demonstrated skills in the following areas, you should be fine until the next paradigm shift:

  • Developer-oriented content creation (API references, developer tutorials)
  • Video (scripting, creation) – not just scriptwriting, podcasting, blogging
  • UX design
  • Structured content design/migration (part of “content strategist” work)

Not-so-Hot TC Roles

And here are the old-school skills that you may have, but that employers are not so interested in:

  • Publications manager
  • Editor
  • Proofreader, indexer, formatter
  • End-user doc (for consumers and nontechnical audiences)
  • System/network administration doc
  • Proposal writer
  • Business analyst
  • Trainer (nontechnical, but in recent years also the technical variant)
  • Instructional designer (nontechnical)

How to Get Hot (a One-Page Primer)

Here are Andrew’s tips for success in the current talent marketplace:

  • Avoid academe (with few exceptions, schools are out of date, and more degrees and certificates are not a substitute for specialized experience).
  • Download (and immerse yourself in) trial versions of your niche’s tools (the entry cost is cheap).
  • Participate in open-source projects (this will take a bit of looking around, but the rewards are there).
  • Build a portfolio online and link it to your LinkedIn profile. The portfolio demonstrates initiative, mastery of tools, and subject-matter awareness/interest. Make it easy for your target audience to get the info it wants.
  • Study how others do it, then emulate the best.
  • Intern or subcontract – or just volunteer (for a written reference).
  • Conduct informational interviews (solicited through LinkedIn).
  • Sell your services to the young companies, who really need your experience.
  • Network! Do it in person through meetups (Andrew likes svnewtech a lot), and also use LinkedIn and corporate alumni networks (and even STC!).

Upsell Your Core TC Skills

In marketese, nothing beats repackaging what you have to offer so that it rings with currency in the ear of the beholder. Could you find yourself wearing the following hot terms?

  • Content Strategist (cf. Information Architect)
  • Content Marketer
  • Community Liaison
  • Corporate Storyteller
  • Toolsmith (for wikis, structured content authoring/migrations, mobile content, content management, etc.)
    User Experience (UX) Designer (not UX Engineer)
  • Terminology Manager
  • User Assistance (UA) Expert
  • Content Manager (SharePoint administrator, process/workflow optimizer)
  • SEO Expert
  • Niche Analyst/Blogger/Tech Gadfly/Content Curator
  • Conference Organizer
  • Ghost Tweeter
  • Demo Builder (involves scriptwriting, animation, and marketing)

And Try Successor Careers

Below are all “titles” that you may be able to wear after your years of service — which was not just about “docs,” was it?

  • Business Analyst
  • Project Manager
  • Program Manager
  • Engagement Manager
  • Marketing Communications Manager
  • Corporate Communications Manager
  • Localization Manager
  • Executive Communicator (speechwriting, spokesperson work)
  • Technical Sales (including recruiting)

(As for management, Andrew cautions, it can often be a trap, so wear two hats and keep the managerial skills — but be able to produce content as well.)

Following the 2001 tech wreck, Andrew tracked the fields into which a number of experienced technical communicators moved at “Career Paths for Tired Tech Writers” (, and he would be happy to connect anyone interested in reaching out to these individuals.

Just be ready for the next paradigm shift, and if you find work that works, take it. (For a copy of Andrew’s slides, see

Andrew thrives on inquiries and feedback, so give him a call:

Andrew Davis, recruiter
408-395-8178 ext. 105

Our March 2012 Meeting: “Agile Documentation (Hi, Honey, I joined a cult!)”

Fundamentals of Agile Development
Mike Ziegenhagen, a technical writer and tech pubs manager in the software business for more than 18 years, has also specialized in documenting virtual worlds. One virtual world you may be familiar with is the one that “relates” (read “force fits”) product specifications to actual products. If you have ever suffered from the disconnect between fantasy specs and real deliverables, you will appreciate how the Agile process keeps a tight rein on development, making sure that each feature works properly before subsequent features are added — all executed in cycles of generally a couple of weeks at a time. The Agile approach embodies the principal of iterative and incremental development: Never get ahead of yourself, and keep it real. While “Agile Documentation” is not yet a topic on Wikipedia, it is not hard to extrapolate from stepwise development to stepwise documentation.

Mike spoke from experience. For the past two years he’s worked with a team of writers in a large enterprise software company that embraced Agile software development from the top management team down. (Without proper buy-in and support at the highest levels, it is hard to realize the benefits of this approach.)

Some Basic Principles
An Agile Manifesto lists four fundamental priorities. Favor . . .

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over Contract management
  • Responding to change over Following a plan
  • There remains value in the functions on the right, but these should never dominate.

    Real reality, not the virtual variety, is key. Unlike the all-to-familiar MS Project approach, where 100-page best-laid plans of mice and men soon go stale, Agile requires daily truth-telling sessions in meat space. Each participant stands and briefly addresses three questions: What have you done since yesterday (in an interval known as a “sprint”), what are you doing today , and are you being blocked from what you have to do? A series of sprints comprises a release for the multiple teams, called a scrum (yes, development can be bruising like rugby). In the sport, a scrum restarts the game after a minor infraction — a fair analogy. In development, a Scrum Master ensures that progress is made at each sprint truth-telling session. At the top of the process is the Product Owner — who is closest to the “first customer” and knows precisely what a potential buyer needs, wants, and is willing to pay for. All other features can come after the basic functionality of the product is rock solid. What a concept!

    And the benefits?

  • Avoid the “spec monster” approach, which creates bloatware or (worse yet!) phantomware.
  • Avoid turning the prototype into a product (seen that fantasy before?).
  • Meet changing needs and markets easily, simply by adding or removing iterations (you can always catch up later if you need to).
  • Address bugs early and often, preventing unplanned delays in product releases.
  • Agile Documentation
    Until someone writes the Agile Documentation page on Wikipedia, here are the principles Mike has arrived at from his experience as a writer involved in the Agile process:

  • Don’t sweat providing documentation for discoverable tasks. (Click OK already!)
  • It is virtuous to keep things simple, but only if you provide enough information for the user to accomplish a task.
  • Provide simple documentation for complex tasks (keeping in mind the principle above).
  • Don’t make documentation more than it deserves to be. Documentation is part of the process of users doing their work; it is not the process (communicate rather than “document”).
  • Write the documentation you would like to read. (What a concept!)
  • Follow the principle of Occam’s razor: Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler (see above).
  • Build documents from the center outward, as time allows. Use the software, take notes, flesh it out. Do not write the outline and fill it in with content! (cf. “fantasy specs” above)
  • But Wait, There’s More!

    This should be enough to get you interested and motivated to learn more about Agile. And what better resource for that than the excellent slides you may have missed if you were not at our meeting. Many who attended will have some thoughtful insights to take back to the workplace.

    So dig a bit and see what Agile could do for you!