December 7, 2009

Why I am Renewing my STC Membership

Filed under: Uncategorized — heratech @ 8:25 am

Society for Technical Communication logo When I sit down to pay bills tonight I will be renewing my membership to the Society for Technical Communication (STC). There were major changes in the dues structure this year, including a change to a la carte benefits that resulted in a rather hefty price increase. It’s been a couple of years since I worked for an employer that picked up my STC dues, but even though I’m currently underemployed, I’m still renewing my membership. Here are my reasons why.

Job Bank
When you’re looking for work you need to remember that the candidate screening process is a two-way street. Companies are weeding out candidates that are a poor fit for the job, and likewise, you should be weeding out companies that are a poor fit for you.

If a company lists an opening on the STC job board, I can be pretty sure that they already know that a TW is not an administrative assistant. I won’t have to spend my interview explaining what a technical writer can do for them. Instead I can focus on what *I* can do for their company. I’ve had bad jobs and bad bosses before, and have reached the point in my life where no amount of money makes up for a job that I can’t stand or is so stressful that it affects my health. I’m looking for work that I will enjoy and where I can make a contribution. As Whitney Postus recently posted, “Life is too d*mn short to spend it on things that don’t twirl your beanie.”

Job Definition
The STC has been working with the BLS since 2007 to update its definition of the technical communications profession. “Having the US Bureau of Labor Statistics recognize technical writers as a profession distinct from all other writing professions independently confirms STC’s claim that not all writers can do technical writing,”

This is a huge win for the STC. Previously the US Department of Labor put all writers in the same category. Technical writers were lumped in with playwrights, novelists, journalists, and poets. Yes, some writing skills are universal, but novelists don’t need to know CSS. And Playwrights don’t tend to use writing tools like AuthorIT, Flare, FrameMaker, or RoboHelp. And poets definitely don’t need to know DITA or XML. The list of additional skills that may be required by technical writing is long, and probably fodder for another post.

Salary Survey
When I first made the career change to technical writing, the STC Salary Survey was invaluable. Having salary data broken down by zip code was very helpful, since I live in MA, where the cost of living is higher than in other parts of the country. However the STC has changed how they collect salary data, and the jury is still out on whether or not the new survey is as useful as the old one. If I decide that it isn’t, I may have to resort to using salary.com or glassdoor.com when researching salary data.

Local Chapters / Networking / Workshops
I happen to live in an area that gives me access to two different STC chapters. I am within a half hour of both the Boston Chapter and the New England chapter (which tends to meet in NH), which gives me double the networking and educational opportunities. The local chapters put together workshops that often end up being very timely and helpful. I picked up tips at one workshop that made me look like a hero back at the office the very next week.

I really enjoy having articles about technical writing delivered to my door, wrapped up in a shiny pretty package. I like to leave them lying around on my desk at the office, to read on those days when I’ve got writer’s block, but need to do something productive. Yes, I could read it on the Web, but I’m more likely to read it as hardcopy. And it’s hard to leave browser bookmarks lying around so that your coworkers see that you belong to a professional organization.

Special Interest Groups
I’ve been a member of the STC since 2001, and in that time I’ve been a member of a variety of different SIGs: Indexing, Instructional Design, Single Sourcing, Lone Writers. I joined the Lone Writer’s list when I was still a member of a doc group, and they are one of my more educational and entertaining mailing lists. Definitely worth the pittance that is charged for SIG membership. This year I plan to sign up for the following SIGs:
• Consulting and Independent Contracting
• Emerging Technologies
• Lone Writers

The STC Needs Support in Times of Crisis
I’ve seen moments of crisis like this in my hobby organizations, where members want to flee what they see as a sinking ship. But leaving is not the way to change an organization. Unless the change you want to see is that the organization withers and dies. There are many talented people out there agitating for change in the STC. I want to give them time to make their changes so that the organization can continue to attract newer, younger members.

And I need to recognize that I get out of the STC what I put into it. I tend to lurk my SIG mailing lists. I need to start posting more frequently, to give back to the SIG communities. I’ve also started attending my local chapter meetings again. I’d love to participate in the competitions, but unfortunately they happen in the fall, when my weekends are completely booked with other activities. But since I cannot participate as a judge, I will start working again towards the goal of entering my work as a participant. Years ago I submitted one of my first projects and received some very useful feedback.

Professional Organization
And I have my own personal reason for continuing my association with the STC. Before I was a technical writer I was a secondary school English teacher. When I started my second year of teaching I was strongly “encouraged” to join the teachers’ union. Joining was technically voluntary, but in reality, it was socially unacceptable to be a non-union member in our district. The only reason I’d avoided the peer pressure during my first year was because everyone knew I was planning a wedding, and union membership dues were expensive.

The word “union” means blue-collar workers to me: seamstresses, hotel chambermaids, electricians, plumbers, etc. When I worked briefly for UPS in college, I was a member of the Teamsters union. While there are white-collar professions, like airline pilots, that have unions, most of the professions that require a college education are represented by a professional organization, not a union. I know it is mostly semantics, but it always irked me that teaching, a career that requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s and usually a Master’s degree, is represented by a labor union and not a professional organization.

So I’m thrilled to finally be working in a career that has a professional organization. And even with the increase, my STC dues are cheaper than the initiation fee that I paid to join either the teachers union or the Teamsters. While I know this may not be an argument that sways anyone else, it has some very powerful symbolism for me and the way I think about my chosen career.


Other folks who have blogged their thoughts on STC membership

Paul Pehrson – The STC Crisis: the Take of a “Young” Writer

David Farbey – Does the STC Deserve to Survive?

Reprint of Monique Semp’s letter on the Lone Writer’s SIG


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