Author Archives: Liz Miller

Summit Recap – 7 Jun 2018 [Meeting]

Our presenters will enlighten us with their thoughts and notes from the 65th STC Annual Conference in Orlando, FL, held in May 2018.

This is what STC Summit is all about:

People from all over the world and from all different backgrounds attend the STC Summit! And it’s not just technical writers who attend: project managers, consultants, content architects, web managers, professors, developers, illustrators, and policy writers are just some of the many people you’ll meet at the Summit.

The STC Summit session topics cover many aspects of technical writing: editing, project management, usability, content management, intelligent design, and publication production.

Come and hear about the sessions our panelists attended, the people they met, and what they learned.

Panelists include:

  • Jane Wilson, STC President
  • Gale Naylor, EBSTC President
  • Philip Powers, SV STC President
  • Liz Fraley
  • Maybe more!

To get ready for the meeting, read posts by Summit Attendees from other attendees:

Meeting Logistics

Date: Thursday, 7 June 2018.

Meeting Recap

Did you know that a member of the EBSTC chapter is the newly elected President of STC? We were both proud and honored to have  Jane Wilson at our June 7 dinner meeting to share thoughts on the 65th STC Annual Conference in May. At her side were Philip Powers, president of the Silicon Valley chapter and Liz Fraley of Single-Sourcing Solutions. Liz Miller also introduced a special guest and a new EBSTC partnership. Read more…

Project SEED wants you

During the chapter business meeting, Liz Miller introduced Elaine Yamaguchi, featured in our recent article Planting a SEED to STEM Careers announcing a new EBSTC partnership. The Summer Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged (SEED) program welcomes any STC member who is willing to provide editorial support for a student applying for a college scholarship. Making 350 words in two boxes sing is no great effort for us. But the outcome of a couple hours and a few emails with a SEED student could result in a life-changing transformation for a budding young chemist’s college prospects. Learn more about the STC partnership in this short presentation prepared by Liz, Planting a SEED to STEM career. Once you are inspired, contact Elaine and CC Liz Miller.

STC Summit panelist summary

Philip Powers saw the importance of constant skill acquisition in a world where the tools of our trade are constantly evolving. With today’s improvements and uses for artificial intelligence (AI), technical writers who learn new skills and tools to navigate the shifting landscape are less at risk of being usurped by chat bots who (yes, who not that) are just smart enough to deliver “good enough” content. He hopes the integrated human+machine future for AI (think Ironman) wins out over the full robotic approach.

A writer with a sound systems engineering background wondered whether a machine could replace a human’s skill to design an effective integrated circuit. (The consensus was not yet.) A job seeker pointed out that having a great writing portfolio is not as valued today as having the depth of social media and multi media experience that younger candidates tend to have.

President Jane Wilson cited a few of STC’s ideas to maintain overall global society health and help smaller chapters survive, including a minimum chapter baseline (two officers: president and treasurer; quarterly meetings mixing social with educational; and a half dozen required financial, comunity engagement, and membership functions ).

Since the president was sitting right there (!), discussing the evolution of STC’s annual fees was irresistable to a couple of long-time members. Jane stressed that STC is already operating at a “bare bones” budgetary level, and STC leadership is looking towards ways to maximize the value. Among other ideas, a new Women in Technical Communications special interest group (SIG) coming and possibly another SIG focusing on medical and health writing.

Liz Fraley took time in advance of the June 7 dinner meeting to post Gale’s report as well as two other reports of the STC Summit on our web site:

Liz also mentioned a new program pairing writers with academics to author articles for the STC publications.

Highlights from Gale Naylor’s report

Leadership Day

  • WordPress Workshops immediately following the Summit:
    • Recordings of both STC-hosted WordPress Workshops are now available to chapter webmasters. ( is now available to host all chapter WordPress sites)
  • STC Reports
    • Jane Wilson: Have established “minimum requirements” for chapters (Chapter
      Model). Chapter Buddies – coming soon.
    • Jim Bosquet: New requirements for Activity Report and Engagement Plan. (CAC
      webinar on this is coming soon.)
  • Main Session and Pacesetter Awards
    • Ideas to engage young people and students to increase membership through social media and online meetings
    • How three chapters united after six folded to become the dyanmic new Florida Chapter
    • Find out what eight other chapters around the country did to achieve STC’s Pacesetter Awards and read Gale’s impressions of the Florida Chapter’s presention and the Leadership Day breakout sessions she attended in her full report

Summit Session notes (with links)

    • Fueling Your Future – FL Chapter
    • Teaching Tech Writing to Engineers
    • How Tech Writers Will Support SMEs in Writing
    • Structured Content
    • Watch the June 1 WordPress 101 “Basics” seminar
    • Watch the June 15 WordPress 201 seminar and view the associated slides and notes
      • Clicking the link seminar links will take you to a GoToWebinar registration form. Enter the your name and email address, then click Register to view the recording.

From Open Source Volunteer to Full-Time Tech Writer – 3 May 2018 [Meeting]

Open source software projects provide writers (and software engineers) opportunities to develop their skills, make meaningful contributions, and produce authentic work samples. These projects are almost always looking for people to help out, including writing documentation and testing. But how do you get noticed when the primary communication channel is a mailing list, and no one knows who you are? Learn how Gale Naylor leveraged her open-source experience to change careers and become a full-time technical writer at Facebook.

About Our Speaker

Gale NaylorGale Naylor, Facebook, was an aerospace engineer for 15 years, then taught herself Visual Basic and became a programmer/analyst. She started at Facebook in October 2016 as a contract Technical Writer and converted to a full-time employee position in March of 2017. She also has a master’s degree in Education and likes to design outdoor living spaces. She’s active in her local STC chapter and is currently Chapter President.

Meeting Logistics

Date: Thursday, 3 May 2018.

Meeting Recap

Many STC members work as tech writers, but some are still figuring out how to break in to the business. A few years ago the EBSTC’s current chapter president, Gale Naylor, wanted to transition from a career in education into a tech-writing position, so she came up with a clever, methodical and ultimately effective strategy for making the leap. The best thing about it, as Gale explained at the EBSTC’s chapter meeting on May 3, is that her strategy is open to all comers willing to devote some time and energy to the open-source community. And it helped her land a job as a tech writer at Facebook.

So many of the software tools and computer standards the world depends on are not proprietary and not owned by private companies. Instead, it’s all public, or open-source, and managed by committees of academics, government employees, people seconded from regular jobs, and full-on volunteers. The engineers who define XML, TCP/IP and JPG, for example, or the programmers who write the Firefox web browser and the Apache web server, do their work through public committees.

Committee members volunteer on open-source projects for all kinds of reasons: because they want to keep up on the latest developments; because they want to influence the direction of a particular technology; because they enjoy the prestige, camaraderie and recognition that comes from helping out; because they want to give something back to the community. And Gale figured out that you don’t have to be a veteran programmer or highly-trained engineer to make valuable contributions on open-source projects. (Although, full-disclosure, Gale does have an engineering background, with a bachelor’s degree in astronomy and experience as an aerospace engineer before going back to school to become a teacher.)

Gale started out by researching what was hot in the open-source world and finding what interested her. She settled on the Apache Taverna project, a set of APIs for defining experiment workflows, including those used for astronomical research, joined its mailing list, and learned everything she could about Taverna. And though she didn’t have the skills to write code for the project, she got noticed by developing diagrams that helped the coders keep the project organized. She also began helping a coder with limited English to write up documentation explaining his work. As she continued to make herself useful in similar ways, she accumulated an understanding of APIs, knowledge of essential programmer’s tools such as Markdown and Git, and familiarity with how programmers work. When Gale applied to Facebook, she went in with a reputation in the open-source community and the skills that Facebook needed for documenting its developer APIs.

The open-source community is always looking for volunteers, so if you’re ready to get involved, check out the links to open-source groups on page 19 of Gale’s presentation.

EBSTC get-togethers are always the first Thursday of the month. On June 7, we’ll hear the impressions of members just back from the STC Annual Conference in Orlando . Hope to see you there, at our new meeting room in the San Ramon Marriott’s Bishop Grill.

Planting a SEED to STEM careers

SEED, a program designed to help promising disadvantaged youth launch science careers, is seeking mentoring help from technical communicators.

The California Section of the American Chemical Society’s Summer Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged (SEED) program is:

  • A nation-wide program run by the American Chemical Society
  • A chemistry-oriented, hands-on research internship program
  • Focused on low-income high school students who are paid for participating over 1-2 summers
  • Full-time work for 9 weeks under the supervision of scientist mentors in industry, academia, and government labs

Continue reading

What User Experience Is and Why Tech Writers Should Care – 4 January 2018 [Meeting]

Back in the day, tech writers were the vanguard of software usability; the way to make software easier to use was to write a better user manual. But then along came usability, and writers discovered that they could better serve their readers by helping engineers to make software easier to use. Writers also made their instructions more accessible by providing user assistance in the form of UI text, tooltips, and context-sensitive help.

Nowadays we hear less about usability and more about user experience. In fact, the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) recently changed its name to the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). How did this happen, and what does it mean for the future of our profession? What is the role of technical writing in this new universe?

About Our Speaker

Nicki L. Davis, Ph.D. wrote her first user manual in 1980 while studying for her Ph.D. in chemistry. She has worked as a technical writer for over 35 years and conducted her first usability test in 1992. Nicki has served the Berkeley chapter of STC as treasurer, secretary, and most recently as president. She holds the honorary rank of STC Associate Fellow.

Meeting Logistics

Date: Thursday, 5 JANUARY 2018.

Meeting Recap

Summary: As a 35-year tech comm vet, Nicki Davis knows a thing or two about how to help engineers improve their designs to enhance user experience. Her presentation on January 4 revealed how technical writers can contribute, and inspired more than a few nodding heads, war stories and chuckles. Read more…

HCI aka Human Computer InteractionHCI snip

EBSTC members, you really should have attended Nicki’s presentation in person to appreciate these best moments:

  • How a 6’ x 6’ minicomputer with 64k of RAM inspired this PhD candidate to became a technical writer as well as a chemist
  • OK/Cancel cartoons (Copyright © 2003-2010 Tom Chi / Kevin Cheng) illustrating the many challenges of an HCI pro and often, writers too
  • Nicki’s visible delight at her audience’s enthusiastic reception and related stories

Writing and HCI teams face common goals and challenges

While HCI folks are primarily focused on visual design and patterns within a graphical user interface, they share the writer’s goals to minimize wordy text, maintain a consistent vocabulary and deliver what users actually need. As fellow technical communicators, they too are champions of task and user analysis, usability testing and taking the end user’s perspective. But both groups also share the difficulty of getting respect, recognition and early access to make the most impact for a positive user experience.

We also share the challenge to influence developers, project managers and UI designers who don’t feel guilty saying, “They’ll learn!” when we point out poor design, often too late in the project. An especially galling point was Nicki’s observation that at one old-school company, learning a particularly difficult software interface  was considered a rite of passage for new team members.

Eyes rolled when Nicki presented common challenges faced by both writers and HCI staff:

  • Various Dilbert strips by Scott Adams (Dilbert © 2018, Andrews McMeel Syndication) in her presentation featuring Tina the Tech Writer
  • Measuring ROI by page count or words per day rather than fewer calls to technical support
  • “It’s too early for your feedback right now, just make it pretty.”
  • Last minute, token additions to project budgets to cover usability
  • Disrespect and rudeness when we point out a usability flaw
  • Short-sighted project managers, developers and designers who just don’t get usability
  • Content sourced from Marketing rather than the writing group
  • Organizational silos that separate HCI from writers

What can we writers do to impact user experience?

  • Seek out your company’s HCI group, which may be named UI, UX, or Human Factors
  • Learn how your company approaches usability
  • Seek ownership of customer-facing text (button and tool names, context sensitive help, dynamic user guidance)
  • Volunteer to perform design Verification and Validation tasks ahead of implementation
  • Advocate for usability testing by real users where the project team can witness their struggles

Ultimately, if you want to influence and improve the user experience of products produced by your company, you need to communicate internally to inform, educate and demonstrate how your core skills can contribute to project teams and end user satisfaction.

Meanwhile, enjoy Nicki’s presentation and its cartoon illustrations.