Tuesday, June 2, 2009

2009 STC Summit in Atlanta – My Top 10 List

I was fortunate this year to attend the STC Summit in Atlanta this year. Attendance this year was much lower than last year, due to the economy, but somehow the experience seemed much more intense than last year's. Here were some of the highlights for me, in no particular order:
  • The Opening Keynote Speaker, David Pogue. He’s perhaps the most famous tech writer, a reviewer of gadgets for the New York Times. His talk was hilarious, inspiring, and useful all at the same time. His basic message was that simplicity sells. This is an important lesson for us writers, who often get caught up in the jargon that surrounds us. Here’s his list of jargon that we should avoid in our documentation: content, dialog, enable, user, support (verb), and URL. You can see a similar presentation to the keynote at: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/david_pogue_says_simplicity_sells.html.
  • The Usability and User Experience SIG lunch. I was fortunate to sit with a bunch of interesting people, including Whitney Quesenberry. She was full of good ideas of how to do usability testing when you don’t have access to your audience. Later in the day she gave a presentation about choosing the right usability techniques filled with lots of practical information. Her site is http://www.wqusability.com.
  • A presentation about game-based learning. This was presented by Mark Oehlert, who develops game-based learning for the American Department of Defense. I’ll admit it: I picked this session for non-professional reasons -- my 7 ½-year-old son aspires to being a game developer one day, and he is already developing his own games. But the session was fascinating. And we learn best when we don’t realize we’re learning. Here’s a good learning game that illustrates this: http://itmanager3.intel.com/en-us/default.aspx.
  • A presentation about comics. Continuing with the youthful theme, I went to an interesting presentation by Alan Porter, VP of Quadralay (publisher of WebWorks) about what tech docs can learn from comics. It turns out that in addition to his day job, Alan is an accomplished comic writer. WebWorks came out with its own comic book at the conference, and Google’s Chrome comic is also well known. I co-authored a comic about technology, which you can see at http://www.sericontech.com/solution/read-the-autossl-comic.
  • A fun workshop. By far the most fun education session I went to was one where I wasn’t allowed to talk. (My husband will be very surprised.) This was called Building Cardboard Castles, and it was organized by leaders of the North East Ohio STC chapter. We divided into teams and built cardboard castles (supplies provided) without talking with our teammates. It was lots of fun, and taught us that there are other ways to communicate. In my opinion, we made more progress this way than if we’d actually been discussing everything first. Did I mention I was on the winning team? The picture at the top of this post has our winning entry, me (in the middle), and some team members.
  • Facebook time. The Summit was full of education sessions about Web 2.0 and related topics. I got a bit overloaded. I enjoyed a refreshing presentation by 2 student members about the benefits and pitfalls of social networking sites. It was educational and full of practical tips for using these sites to your personal and professional advantage. I’ll admit I have some interest in this topic. A recent venture is http://www.testfacebook.com.
  • A presentation about Amazon.com. One of the best sessions I went to was “Revealing Design Treasures from the Amazon,” an amazing presentation by Jared Spool, a leading UI designer. He talked about why Amazon is so successful, how they have managed to create a community, and how they test new ideas. If you ever feel that your creative writing talents are slowly draining out of you as you document boring technical stuff, then take a break, go to http://www.amazon.com, search for “Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz.”, and read some of the 1,076 reviews. This will inspire you and wake you up. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
  • Useful info about topic-based authoring. I went to a session by our own Rob Hanna full of practical tips for getting started with topic-based authoring. Rob’s presentation was excellent and full of useful information.
  • Knowing that I'm not alone. Meeting and talking to other writers all day long was great! Working as the lone writer on a project, where documentation is forgotten by my colleagues or at best an afterthought – it’s so good to be able to connect with so many other people who face the same issues. It’s like going to one of our chapter socials but on steroids.
  • New ideas. Getting energized by hearing new ideas about how other people are organizing information, and solving the problems that we all encounter everyday.
And though I'm through my top 10, on a more personal note... when I was in Atlanta I had some free time to connect with an old friend and colleague from my days at Mercury. This was great.

My only regret was that I was so busy with the conference was that I didn't have a chance to see Atlanta. Next time.