Tool Trends Panel

EBSTC September Program Recap

Lori Meyer was our panel moderator on Thursday, September 10 at Mimi’s Café in Dublin. Lori is a technical communication specialist with more than 20 years of experience as a writer, editor, online help author, and curriculum developer. She is an STC Fellow, and the immediate past president of the East Bay Chapter. She also coordinated the Trends Panels both this year and in 2014.

Meet our panelists

Liz Fraley is the founder of Single Sourcing Solutions, a dedicated provider of PTC’s Arbortext Software and Certified Training services throughout North America. She is also creator/coordinator of the popular TC Camp unconference program held in the Silicon Valley each January.

Robert Hershenow is a senior member of STC and is Co-Manager of the Instructional Design and Learning SIG. He has worked as a writer, editor, graphic designer, and trainer for more than twenty years.

Nicki L. Davis, Ph.D. has pursued her goal of enhancing the user experience by whatever means are appropriate to the task, whether it’s improving the user interface design, the documentation, or both.

Quotable panelist observations

  • A tool is a tool! Use the right tool for the job.
  • Tools are 10% of the success; people contribute the other 90%.
  • Focus less on the tools and more on the quality of the deliverable.
  • Avoid the trap of “same mess, different tools.”
  • Use the best tool for the intended output; dependency on using a specific tool limits collaboration.
  • Resist going after the new, shiny, best-rated tool.
  • Before deciding to adopt a new tool, spend time examining your team’s requirements. What will this tool do to contribute to your goals?

Career relevance

  • Some companies won’t hire you if you can’t at least talk knowledgeably about their primary tool.
  • Keep your “scannable” resume up to date with all of the tools you know. Breadth of tool categories is good; specific, recent tool experience is much better.
  • Conceptual knowledge during an interview at least gets your foot in the door. Once there, we technical communicators are good at learning most applications on the job.
  • Seek out online resources that let you learn about and get hands-on experience with tools you can’t access otherwise.
  • Tools aside, domain expertise is a way to access work in specialized fields, for example medical writing, network architecture, or chemistry.

Tools of the future

  • Emerging tools are frequently designed to help programmers and coders. Rather than resisting or fearing the new and the changed, writers looking to support what these people develop should keep abreast of what’s hot and learn about the concepts driving them.
  • No tool will ever replace the human components that make a good writer or editor. Technical communicators are the user advocates. We know how to organize information to make it as usable as possible for the intended consumers.
  • Having strong core skills counts more than the tools we use: we know how to structure a sentence, interview technical experts, and anticipate the user’s perspective and knowledge level.

Lori closed the discussion by reminding all present that tools may come and go, but maintaining membership in STC — where we have many opportunities to learn from and network with our peers — keeps us informed of tool trends every year.