STC day 3: Lessons from Minneapolis

The last day of a conference is always tough. You’ve been cramming your brain full of information for the past three days. You’re tired from trying to sleep in a strange bed in a room where light always streams in from the hallway. Now, your greatest priority is catching the shuttle to the airport and hoping you don’t get stuck in traffic.

Still, I attended some valuable sessions this final day. Subjects such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Pattern Language may seem esoteric, but they are valuable to technical communicators.

Both address key issues that have been the forefront at this conference:

  • How do we help improve the usability of products?
  • How do we get the information we need to do our work when this material is in short supply?
  • How do we increase our value as employees by showing that we are more than just writers?

In the UML session, we learned how we can expand our roles to serve as business analysts.
Just as technical communicators teach customers how to use what engineers create, business analysts teach engineers what customers want. The same skills of understanding audiences and following established standards apply to both fields.

In the Pattern Language session, we learned how to retain and communicate information we learn from usability tests and establishing best practices so that it can be used throughout an organization. By elevating individual and “tribal” knowledge to established corporate knowledge, we increase its value – as well as our value as employees.

This STC conference provided a critical lesson: We need to think our ourselves as more than technical writers. The same skills we use to write documentation can be used in usability, business analysis, localization, and management of best practices. By expanding our capabilities, we can increase our professional value. This is the biggest takeaway from Minneapolis.