STC day 1: Truths (inconvenient and otherwise)

STC’s decision to honor Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth as an example of exceptional technical communication was a controversial one. Debate exists about whether global warming is purely human-produced or if it is a result of solar activity and natural climate change. An Inconvenient Truth and Simon Singh‘s keynote do show a truth about our field: We’re not just technical writers anymore.

In his keynote, Singh focused on the making of the documentary that became the basis of his book, Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem. He talked about how he presented complex mathematics so that a general audience can understand them, and how he showed the passion that eminent mathematicians have for their work. In the beginning of the film, the mathematician who is the subject of the story, Andrew Wiles, wept as he described how an accomplishment like his could only happen once in a lifetime. It is feeling anyone who achieves something can understand.

The sessions I attended also show how technical communicators are more than writers. Two of them were about usability and design. One was an interview of the guru of usability, Jared Spool. The other described best practices in designing Web forms. (If you’ve ever had to navigate through a form with pages of fields, and then lose all your data because you clicking Cancel instead of Submit, you would appreciate that session.)

Not only do we need to be knowledgeable about designing usable interfaces, we also often have to be politicians and advocates. Spool cautioned “You can’t stop someone from sticking beans up their nose,” meaning that our best efforts may not be enough to convince companies to implement usability. There are cases where companies may opt to forgo usability to get new technology to market, but they need to add it in later as the market changes.

Another truth I learned: You won’t get many people to come to your Springboard session if it isn’t promoted. 🙁 We did have a few people wander in, especially after one of the other Springboard participants opened a curtain that separated our area from the rest of the expo. A few people stopped to speak to me about technical writing in Scrum, and I had some good conversations.

The biggest truth I learned at the conference: Wear comfortable shoes. I’ve been doing a lot of walking in the past few days.

Here is my updated album with photos from the conference: