Fresh from STC Summit

by Jeffrey Kreger on May 21, 2016

Jeff here, with another installment on this year’s STC Summit in Anaheim.

Arriving at Summit!

Admittedly, I did not set up my attendance for maximum success: due to work demands, I was only able to attend one day–Monday–which greatly curtailed my overall experience (Summit is a three-day event, with two pre-conference days). And due to a healthy dose of L.A. traffic that morning, I was off to a rough beginning. Missing the first session, I felt I was off to a bad start.

When I finally arrived at that Anaheim Marriott, my day quickly improved when I was cheerfully greeted by one of the STC volunteers at the check-in table. She eagerly and patiently described all of the important details, including where all the education sessions are held, the Expo Hall, and presented me with the all-important “Program” which listed the complete agenda. I was redeemed!

Since I had a few minutes to spare until the next workshop began, I headed over to the Expo Hall to check out some of the booths. Some I recognized (Adobe, MadCap, ProSpring/LavaCon), and some I did not (easyDITA, IXIASOFT, 36Software) but I was curious to hear more about companies that support our industry. There was even a “book store” that sold various tech-comm publications.

Education sessions

I already had a general idea of which sessions I wished to attend (mostly writing API docs and software-related topics), so I was able to map out my game plan as I scanned the program. Here are the sessions I attended, with a brief description of each:

  • Generating API documentation automatically from the source code (Ed Marshall) – This session covered the basics on how to use several leading tools to automatically add content that “lives” with the code. Ed provided a nice intro on APIs, and then dived into a demonstration using popular tools such as Swagger and Doxygen.
  • Lone Writer SIG and Technical Editing SIG – Having a few minutes between sessions, I attended these SIG “business” meetings. The Lone Writer SIG, in particular, is a group I’ve belonged to since the beginning of my STC membership. The Technical Writing SIG is a group I wish to join. Both meetings were informative, and I even got to meet a few peeps in person who I’ve only ever known online.
  • REST API documentation best practices (Marta Rauch) – Marta is senior tech writer at Oracle, and provided an outstanding presentation on their proprietary CMS that “houses” all of its APIs. She talked about REST APIs, how the UI was developed for Oracle’s repository, and also gave us numerous resources for further reading.
  • Collaborating and contributing in GitHub (Nicky Bleiel)GitHub (and its version control system, “git”), has an interesting history and is quickly becoming one of the most popular repositories for developers and tech writers alike. In fact at my company, developers use GitHub to write documentation in Markdown and then “push” it to our CMS, so this topic was especially useful for me. Nicky is a senior tech writer at IBM/Watson, and uses GitHub routinely at her job. She provided a nice presentation on basic terms, how to use GitHub, and a general demonstration of a demo project.
  • Advancing DITA authoring and publishing using FrameMaker (Stefan Gentz) – DITA authoring is still a bit of mystery to me, so I attended this session to learn a bit more about how it might apply to my skill set. Turns out, DITA has numerous advantages especially for tagging and reusing content (by applying conditional tags to content). Stefan, who is a product evangelist at Adobe, provided an outstanding demonstration of FrameMaker 2015 Release, and showed us how to use FM in “structured” mode to easily create dynamic DITA content.

Annual Business Meeting

STC’s annual business meeting was the last formal event of the day, and certainly the biggest meeting I attended. All are welcome to attend, but you must be a STC member in order to speak or vote on various motions that are presented to the group.

Here are some highlights from the meeting:

  • The meeting was VERY organized, with a clearly printed agenda, and an exact order of items to cover. There was even a “parliamentarian” on hand to ensure that order was always kept in check!
  • After the ‘call to order’ and the ‘establishment of the quorum’ (i.e., enough people to hold the meeting to conduct business), Bernard Aschwanden (immediate past president) announced the newly installed board for the coming year.
  • A treasurer’s report was provided as well as an address by the newly installed president.
  • Membership retention seems to be the biggest issue these days.
  • Another big concern (which was brought to a vote by Li-At Ruttenberg-Rathbun) is the mandate from STC that individual chapters migrate their websites to STC’s free hosting service. There seems to be a lot of confusion around this subject, and very little support is currently being provided from STC in helping chapters accomplish this. A motion was passed for STC to form a “task force” to provide better instructions/details/help on exact steps that a chapter must follow in order to move its web assets over to STC’s free hosting platform. More info to follow!

Time to party!

Phew! I was tired after a full day of meetings, networking, and absorbing all the best that the tech comm industry had to offer at Summit. But, the prospect of hitting an L.A. freeway for the ride back at 6PM was downright depressing.

So, I put on my social cap, and joined a group of out-of-town Summit attendees for an impromptu dinner at an outstanding restaurant at Downtown Disney (Disneyland was just a shortish 15-walk away from the Anaheim Marriott). This turned out to be a highlight for me as I got the opportunity to talk at length over a great dinner with tech writers from all over the country, including Washington D.C., Texas (Houston and Austin!), Iowa, and Northern California. This is truly where Summit becomes a memorable experience, and when relationships are forged for years to come.

The drive home was a breeze at 9PM and even included an incredible firework display from Disneyland to herald my exit from Anaheim!

Final thoughts

Though my experience with Summit (it’s worth mentioning this was my first one) was woefully curtailed and started out a little rough, it turned out to be an outstanding experience, more so that I had ever imagined. There really is no better place in the world to mix, mingle, and learn with fellow tech writers than at Summit. I really wish I could’ve attended the entire 5-day event… yes, it’s that good.

If you never attended a Summit, do yourself a favor and commit yourself to the next one. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make for your own professional development, and you will most assuredly have a great time too! Rumor has it that Summit 2017 will be in Washington D.C.

Oh, Yeah! One more thing: people at Summit love Twitter. If you want to see more from Summit, check out #stc16 where you can view all sorts of cool happenings at this year’s event.

See you at the next Summit!

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