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STC PMC Newsletter 2008-04


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STC PMC Newsletter April/May/June 2008

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STC PMC Newsletter 2008-04

  1. 1. April / May / June 2008 1 NEWS & VIEWS Volume 41 Number 2 April / May / June 2008 Election Results In This Issue Membership Report ........... 2 President’s Podium ............ 3 Book Review .................... 4 Monthly Meeting ............... 5 Personal Perspective.......... 7 Active Members ................ 8 Calendar of Events ...........10 Drawing Winners At the May 21, 2008 monthly chapter meeting, a drawing was held to select winners of either a $300 or $150 cash prize for STC Summit attendees who paid for the conference themselves. The prizes were awarded to help offset the cost of the conference. The following members are $300 prize winners: • Barrie Byron • Zippy Goldberg • David Calloway The following members are $150 prize winners: • Al Brown • Gary Samartino Marc Gravez President Marianne Johnston Vice President Gary Samartino Treasurer Gary Sternberg Secretary
  2. 2. NEWS & VIEWS 2 April / May / June 2008 NEWS & VIEWS Newsletter Staff Managing Editor Dave Peirce Layout Editor open Associate Editor open Also Contributing to This Issue Marc Gravez Barrie Byron Al Brown Laura Castle Dave Peirce Submissions and Reprints You may reprint original material appearing in NEWS & VIEWS, as long as you acknowledge the source and author and send us a copy of the publication containing the reprint. ISSN 1078-9952. NEWS & VIEWS, published six times per year, is the official publication of the Philadelphia Metro Chapter of STC. We encourage letters, articles, and other items for publication. Note: By submitting an article, you implicitly grant a license to this newsletter to run the article and for other STC publications to reprint it without permission. Unless otherwise noted, copyrights for all newsletter articles belong to the authors. The design and layout of this newsletter are copyright STC, 2008. Address submissions or comments to Dave Peirce, Managing Editor, NEWS & VIEWS, c/o HBS, Inc., 738 Louis Drive Warminster, PA,18974, phone (484) 919-0866; email SOCIETY FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION STC advances the theory and practice of technical communication across all user abilities and media. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is an organization dedicated to advancing technical communication. Membership is open to those employed in, interested in, or concerned with the profession of technical writing, publishing, or associated disciplines. Contact STC at 901 N. Stuart St., Suite 904, Arlington, VA 22203, (703) 522-4114 or May Membership Report What does your membership mean to you? By Barrie Byron STC-PMC Membership Manager This is a great year to increase your participation in the Society for Technical Communication Philadelphia Metro Chapter (STC-PMC). STC has more than 150 chapters in eight regions worldwide. It is the largest organization of its type in the world with over 14,706 members. STC is an individual membership organization dedicated to advancing the art and science of technical communication. Society membership provides opportunities for ongoing learning and professional networking. STC-PMC is your geographic community within STC international. Your membership in our chapter is a vital part of our Society. With a member count of 247, our chapter includes members from six states. We are a diverse group of technical communication professionals. Your membership in PMC provides you even more opportunities for ongoing learning and professional networking. What does your STC PMC membership mean to you? I encourage you to make the most of your investment. Like a gym membership, your membership works best when you work it! Follow these suggestions to fully enjoy the benefits of your STC PMC membership: • Ensure that you have access to and visit our Web site often. Write if you need access. The Web site provides a calendar of events, program meeting announcements with online registration and payment, and information about competitions and the STC PMC scholarship initiative. As an STC PMC member, you can receive a 30% discount on purchases from O’Reilly books and partner publishers. • Attend chapter programs and workshops. o Even better, volunteer to organize or present at a chapter program meeting or workshop. • Attend the Technical Communication Summit June 1-4 in Philadelphia. This 55th STC annual international conference is in our home town. o Increase your “face time.” Volunteer at our STC-PMC hospitality booth. • Read our award-winning News & Views newsletter. (Continued on page 6) Increase your “face time.” Volunteer at our STC-PMC hospitality booth.
  3. 3. April / May / June 2008 3 NEWS & VIEWS President’s Podium Helping Hands By Marc Gravez STC-PMC President It’s an exciting time to be part of STC-PMC! We have a lot to which to look forward. Our May 21 chapter meeting on Career-Centered Progression was a success with four stimulating presentations. Also, that night I truly enjoyed holding the drawing for and announcing the members who have won either $150 or $300 awards to help defray some of the cost of their STC International Conference registration. From June 1 to June 4, the STC International Conference comes to our town. I hope you'll be there if it’s at all possible. Only rarely does an opportunity like this come within an easy train ride for most of us. Since our chapter is so much about helping each other, I also want to mention mentoring this month. Many, if not most, of us have benefited from someone's help at some time or another. My greatest mentor is a faithful member of our chapter, although I'm not sure whether he's ever attended a meeting. He's more the quiet type, but I'd be very happy if he did appear some time. This gentleman took me “under his wings” many years ago when I first started as an editor/formatter. When I "moved up" and started writing, he'd make my pages "bleed" red. But no matter how extensive the criticism, it was always delivered with kindness, sometimes even with apologies. He never emphasized the gaps in my learning to management, but he always made sure they knew when something was my unique contribution. I can't think of a way I could have better learned the attention to detail necessary to be a good technical communicator. Although I know it’s awfully belated, I want to thank you now for teaching me so much! Your help changed my life in a very positive way! I've tried to keep you anonymous, although people who know us both probably know who I'm talking about and probably think the world of you as I do. There are many other STC-PMC members who also deserve my thanks; for example anyone who ever reviewed my resume or provided some other help. The point I'm trying to make is that it’s so important for all of us to remember the importance of giving back when we can. It makes a difference. For example, STC-PMC always needs volunteers. That's one great way to help our profession! If you can't volunteer for STC, remember that any time you help another writer in some way, you help our whole profession. Passing along a job lead may mean one fewer unemployed writer. We all have opportunities to help. I've already signed up for my shifts manning the Hospitality Booth for the Conference. I look forward to meeting many of my friends in the technical communication world, regardless of whether they live on Rittenhouse Square, Pittsburgh, London, or even further! Are you as excited as I am? See you in Philly! ♦ STC-PMC LEADERSHIP Chapter Officers President Marc Gravez Vice President Marianne Johnston Treasurer Gary Samartino Secretary Gary Sternberg Immediate Past President Lori Corbett Chapter Committee Managers Careers Stephen Adler Marianne Johnston Programs Anthony DeRose Membership Barrie Byron NEWS & VIEWS Dave Peirce Website Steve Lungren Stephen Adler Public Relations Lori Corbett Education Timothy Esposito STC-PMC Conference Gary Samartino & Steven Lungren Competition Marc Green Barrie Byron Send correspondence for the Philadelphia Metro chapter of STC to:
  4. 4. NEWS & VIEWS 4 April / May / June 2008 Book Review Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrat: How to Win in the Information Age By Archibald Putt Reviewed by Al Brown You probably know about the Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his [sic] level of incompetence.” The pseudonymous Archibald Putt points out that in hierarchies involved with science and technology, two factors act to subvert this principle. First, many technical people employ creative incompetence, i.e., obvious incompetence in areas that don’t affect job performance but make it unlikely that they will be promoted into management positions they don’t want. On the other hand, competence criteria for technical managers are extremely difficult to establish. Failure to meet goals and objectives may result from uncontrollable factors; further, a failure may lead to an unanticipated but successful outcome or product. A clever manager can therefore be promoted from one level of incompetence to another. This leads to a dictum you may not have heard of, namely Putt’s Law: “Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.” The forces mentioned above eventually create a “competence inversion,” in which many outstanding technical people collect at the bottom by choice, while the more ambitious but less technically gifted are promoted into the highest levels of management. Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrat spins this notion into a series of aphoristic Corollaries, Rules, and Laws. A few examples: The Second Law of Crises: The maximum rate of promotion is achieved at a level of crisis only slightly less that that which results in dismissal. Rule of Project Leadership: When leading a high- tech project, keep your eyes on the exit doors. First Law of Advice: The correct advice to give is the advice that is desired. Second Law of Advice: The desired advice is revealed by the structure of the organization, not by the structure of the technology. Fourth Law of Decision Making: Technical analyses have no value above the mid-management level. You get the idea. Interestingly most of the rather cynical advice advises the manager on how to navigate a course to the upper levels of incompetence; there’s very little for the techie wanting to find a comfortable and rewarding place at the bottom of the pyramid. Mr. Putt strings his laws together with real and fictitious examples, the latter populated by characters with names like Bob Plodder and Dr. I.M. Sharp. The result lacks coherence, in spite of its humor and insight. Apparently Putt’s Law was first promulgated in a research and development journal in 1976. It appeared in book form in 1981 (Exposition Press) and has been out of print since 1985. A cult classic among engineers, Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrat was revised in 2006, the version under review here. I haven’t been able to locate a copy of the earlier edition for comparison, but I strongly suspect the revisions include a fair amount of padding. Part two, “The Successful Technocrat,” for instance, charts the rise of a technical manager from mediocre student to presidential science consultant in almost novelistic detail. This would account for its indifferent structure. The sections dealing with contemporary information technology and the Internet seem to disregard the book’s likely tech- savvy audience, not to mention the average teenager. For example: “Of greater concern is outright fraud and theft practiced intentionally by bogus Web sites and unintentionally by legitimate sites that are victimized by the crafty thieves and hooligans who pervade the Internet.” Hooligans? Even so, this book will elicit frequent wry smiles of recognition on the faces of technical communicators. Part five of the book, “Putt’s Canon,” lists all of the various laws in sequence. This eleven-page section will give you the meat of Putt’s Law in about five minutes. You could even read it in the store and save the cost of the book. ♦ _____________________ Putt, Archibald (pseudonym), Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrat: How to Win in the Information Age [second edition]. IEEE Press. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006. ISBN 0- 471-71422-4.
  5. 5. April / May / June 2008 5 NEWS & VIEWS STC-PMC Monthly Meeting Report Career Progression Wednesday, May 21, 2008 – Cherry Hill Library By Laura Castle On May 21, 2008, approximately 15 STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter members gathered at the Cherry Hill Library in Southern New Jersey to network over dinner and learn new ways to progress in the field of technical communication. This was the first STC-PMC meeting that I had attended, but I knew a few of the members from other South Jersey networking dinners. I was warmly welcomed by familiar, and new, faces, and encouraged to get dinner and tell people about myself. After about an hour of eating and networking, Lori Corbett started the meeting with announcements, particularly about the upcoming STC national conference that we are hosting, and election results. Marc Gravez was elected President, Marianne Johnston was elected Vice President, Gary Sternberg was elected Secretary, and Gary Samartino was elected Treasurer. All four were present at the meeting. Before the discussion about career progression started, Lori also announced the winners of the chapter’s conference registration fee raffle. Anyone who had paid for the conference out of his own pocket was eligible to enter the raffle. Five winners were chosen to receive $150 from the Philadelphia Metro STC chapter. Originally, the meeting was supposed to be four different round-table discussions going on simultaneously, but because the group was small, and the presenters wanted to hear the other presenters, we pushed a few tables together and discussed all the topics as a group. Barrie Byron started the round-table discussion by talking about adapting technical communication skills to changing environments. She provided us with practical suggestions on how we can add value to a team and get the most out of a job: • Articulate your vision so you know exactly what kind of job you want • Learn to be flexible, adaptable, and optimistic in dealing with problems • Reuse information and use structured wikis so co-workers can find the information they need and you don’t have to constantly repeat yourself Next, Gary Sternberg talked about how we can use our technical communication skills for volunteer work in our community. He suggested looking for subjects that interest us, and after attending a few meetings, see if there are any places where our skills can be used. For example, since Gary works for the EPA, he volunteered for an environmental action group as the “outreach chairperson.” He gets to create a newsletter and a website, and also write press releases. Gary suggested a few things to keep in mind as we look for places to volunteer: • Let the group know what you can do • Take it slow (don’t jump in too quickly) • Make sure you have enough time to do a good job A few people brought up in the discussion that volunteering does not necessarily have to use skills that we already have, but it could be a very good way for us to explore new skills that we can bring back to our jobs. For example, I can practice different types of writing by creating newsletters, and I can learn new web development techniques by creating websites, two things that I do not get to do on a regular basis at my job. The third speaker, Marc Gravez, offered some practical tips for how to move forward in a technical communication career. He mentioned the importance of networking (such as through a LinkedIn account, college alumni associations, or participating in STC), and having a “30-second commercial” about yourself. When replying to job listings, it is important to match your skills to the requirements in a cover letter, especially if a recruiter will be trying to convince someone else why you should get the job. Two helpful websites that Marc resourced were: • • http://www.reisman- (Continued on page 6)
  6. 6. NEWS & VIEWS 6 April / May / June 2008 STC-PMC Meeting – Career Progression (Continued from page 5) The last speaker of the night was David Calloway. His time was spent discussing the options of consulting, independent contracting, and freelancing. He mentioned that it is important to realize that we can do more than just technical writing for an organization, as evidenced in his career, which started in computer programming. Overall, I thought the meeting was very informative and beneficial. I’m not looking to change jobs right now, but the volunteering discussion made me interested to see where else I could use my skills. Barrie even mentioned that she enjoys “auctioning off” her skills for charity, which is a great idea.♦ What does your membership mean to you? (Continued from page 2) o Our award winning publication brings you feature articles, profiles of chapter members, reviews of books and software, summaries of chapter meetings and presentations, schedules of conferences, workshops, and seminars, and much more! o Do you need a career boost? Become a contributor! Publish an article, submit photos, or review a software product. If you need inspiration for an article, contact for ideas. • Review your work and begin the selection process for your entry in the STC-PMC chapter competition. STC competitions offer an excellent way for you and your team to get recognition for your technical publication, help system, artwork, training, or any other form of technical communication. Each year, • STC-PMC sponsors three competitions: Online Communication Competition, Technical Publications Competition, and Technical Art Competition. Plan for greatness and visit s01.asp for more details. o Even better, volunteer as a judge in our chapter competition. Competition judging is the first week in November 2008. Contact for more information. • Volunteer and become an active member. All chapter leaders serve in a voluntary capacity. We welcome your input and participation. What does your membership mean to you? Try these activities on for size and let me know how I can help you get the most value from your PMC membership.♦ Technical writing a big hit at elementary school Career Day By Barrie Byron STC-PMC Membership Manager Eager young minds learned about technical writing and computer science careers on May 8 at Career Day at Poinciana Elementary school in Boynton Beach, Florida. As part of IBM’s EWeek ( initiative to increasing public awareness technical career opportunities through educational outreach. Barrie Byron, information developer, and Diondra Tuck, college senior at Tuskegee University and quality assurance engineer intern, spoke to four classrooms about their careers at IBM. The classroom teachers were motivated by our educational requirements, reminding their students that they must study and plan to attend college. However, the students were motivated more by our work lifestyle, including the option to work at home and have flexible hours. To third-, fourth-, and fifth- grade students, our salaries and work environments were strong motivaters. More than 75 students learned that technical writing is a rewarding career. EWeek is working to expand the pool of skilled, creative engineering talent by reaching out to diverse individuals through educational initiatives. What can we do to expand the pool of technical communication talent? Share your work stories with young people in your lives. You can make a difference! ♦
  7. 7. April / May / June 2008 7 NEWS & VIEWS Personal Perspective Mentoring in the 21st Century By Dave Peirce, News & Views Managing Editor Many of you might not realize it, but it is possible that at different times during your education and career, you have been both a Mentor and a Protégé, which is the term that I prefer to use, rather than Mentee. Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary limits the definition of a Mentee to “One who is being mentored,” rather than the more descriptive definition of a Protégé, “One who is protected or trained or whose career is furthered by a person of experience, prominence, or influence.” As for me, I have been both a Protégé and Mentor during my education and my career. Yet, in almost all cases in which I was one or the other, there was never a formal agreement to establish such a relationship. However, at some point, there has almost always been an acknowledgement that such a relationship existed. This is not to say that a formally established Mentor/Protégé relationship is inadvisable. Many companies have programs in place that are intended to promote good Mentor/Mentee relationships. However, the formal structure of the program might tend to work against its intended benefits. In these cases, companies typically arbitrarily assign a Mentor to a Mentee, without giving much thought to the specific needs of each of the people in their respective roles. Mentors and protégés need to choose each other. More than that, the protégé should have an opportunity to express his or her interest in having a specific person serve as a mentor. A potential mentor, who is receptive to sponsoring a protégé, should not necessarily look for a person with specific skills and qualities. The potential protégé should take on the persona of a “blank slate” or piece of unmolded clay. If a mentor should be looking for a specific characteristic in a person, it should be open- mindedness. However, what the potential protégé should look for in a mentor are characteristics that are unique to the area of knowledge in which he or she is interested. Typically, the less generalized a knowledge area is, the more opportunities there are for mentoring. I believe that technical writing is one of those areas. In fact, technical writing seems to be becoming an increasingly misunderstood profession and area of knowledge. With more and more software products coming to the marketplace every day, there is a tendency within some companies to take the shortest and fastest route to publish both the software and the documentation. Many software companies are startup companies with less than 10 or 20 years of experience. Such companies typically lack formal documentation style and content standards, or if they exist, they are sometimes overlooked or ignored. At the same time there are new writers entering the profession of Technical Writing. Most of these writers have a Bachelors degree — some even a Masters degree. Yet, due to an unevenness in curriculums from one institution of higher learning to another, the level of knowledge and experience of these candidates can vary greatly. So, where does STC and its members fit into this picture? STC members encompass a broad range of skills and experience. If there is a specific type of technical writing that serves a particular niche industry, I would venture to say that an STC member somewhere has done it. In fact, I have wondered why, after all its years in existence, STC has not published a set of documentation style standards of its own that is a compilation of the best sources of information. Such a document would become the recognized technical writer’s “bible.” So, with this vast quantity of knowledge among its members, I feel that STC as an organization should encourage its members to actively make themselves available as mentors to students and potentially new technical writers at the college and university level while they are still pursuing their undergraduate studies. (Continued on page 8) Mentors and protégés need to choose each other.
  8. 8. NEWS & VIEWS 8 April / May / June 2008 Mentoring in the 21st Century (Continued from page 7) In fact, it might even be beneficial to reach out to students in high school and even elementary school, as one of our members, Barrie Byron, did recently. (See Barrie’s article on Page 6.) Even thinking back to my own time in high school, I was making decisions about the career that I wanted to pursue as early as ninth grade. However, for me, it wasn’t technical writing, it was photography. Ironically, my father was a technical writer and technical editor (his title was Literature Scientist). After observing some of his work activities, I vowed that I would never do that — photography seemed much more glamorous and appealing. Yet, ten years later, I found myself on that same career path. Laura Castle, another contributor to this edition of News & Views and a recent first-time attendee to an STC-PMC monthly meeting, revealed to me that in high school, she knew that she wanted to be a copy editor. She has already achieved far beyond that goal. Her undergraduate studies curriculum at an Ohio institution of higher learning prepared her for this field far better than do those of many other colleges and universities. In speaking with Laura, I asked her if during her time at school she had opportunities to talk to working technical writers and even benefit from one being a formal advisor to her, and she affirmed that she had. But not every student has this kind of opportunity presented to them. Over the years I have maintained a close association with a local community college, even volunteering my time to tutor English Composition. Through my experience as a tutor, I discovered that many students, even those in their second year of college, have not yet been inspired to pursue a specific career path. Many of these students thoroughly enjoy writing and at the same time have a strong interest in technically oriented and scientific topics. Yet very few had ever been exposed to the world of technical writing. To add to that, the college itself has nothing in its curriculum that even hints at technical writing. Ironically, many of the computer application- based graphic arts courses, such as those for the Adobe suite of products are not even allowed to be part of the Applied Communications curriculum, which is the one that most closely resembles a Technical Writing curriculum at that school. Thus, I have begun to perceive a widening gap between the academic requirements and programs of colleges and universities and the currently increasing demands of the computer software industry for highly skilled technical writers. However, I believe that STC and similar organizations can help to narrow that gap and help to ensure that there will be a continuing flow of highly competent technical writers from the country’s colleges and universities. If your alma mater is close by, or if there is a college or university in your own community, talk to the appropriate Dean or administrator and let him or her know that you are interested in volunteering your time as a tutor or mentor to students interested in pursuing a technical writing career. Raise the school’s awareness to STC and the Philadelphia Metro Chapter and its activities. Encourage students to join the chapter and offer to help to match them with an appropriate mentor. I think that if each of us agrees to mentor at least one person in the next two years or to volunteer our time as a tutor, we will begin to make a difference. Until recently, I have not observed many younger writers getting involved with STC. I would like to think that this is now beginning to change and more writers who are new to the business will be attending STC-PMC meetings in the future. ♦ Congratulations, Active Members! The following chapter members have earned enough activity points throughout the year to receive an Active Member polo shirt at our upcoming June meeting. • Stephen Adler • Albert H. Brown • Barrie Byron • Lori Corbett • Donn DeBoard • Todd Deluca • Anthony DeRose • Timothy Esposito • Zyppora Goldberg • Marc Gravez • Marc Green • Marianne Johnston • Steven Lungren • Gary Sternberg • Julia Margulies • Dave Peirce • Gary Samartino
  9. 9. April / May / June 2008 9 NEWS & VIEWS
  10. 10. NEWS & VIEWS 10 April / May / June 2008 Calendar of Events The information in the following table was correct at the time NEWS & VIEWS was published. Be sure to check the website ( for details and late-breaking updates to the schedule. For all Thursday meetings, reservations are due by the Monday before the meeting. Date Meeting Topic Location Sun-Wed, 6/1-4 Technical Communication Summit STC's 55th Annual Conference and EXPO Philadelphia Convention Center 1101 Arch St Philadelphia, PA Thurs, 6/19 Conference Summary Snippets from the STC Conference Presented by STC Conference Attendees Plymouth Meeting DoubleTree 640 West Germantown Pike Plymouth Meeting PA See you at the Summit! Deadline for July/August/September Issue of NEWS & VIEWS Monday, August 4, 2008